Vincenzo Gemito (1852 - 1929)

Head of a Bearded Old Man (The Philosopher) Sold

Pen and brown ink, with brown and grey wash, over traces of an underdrawing in pencil.
Signed GEMITO at the lower right.
592 x 433 mm. (23 3/8 x 17 in.)
218 x 138 mm. (8 5/8 x 5 3/8 in.)


This large drawing is closely related to a bronze sculpted bust known as The Philosopher (Il Filosofo), executed by Gemito in 1883. Awarded the gold medal for sculpture at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900, the bust was among Gemito’s most popular works, and was frequently reproduced, as well as appearing in several later editions. While the bust is obviously indebted to Gemito’s study of ancient sculpture - notably a Hellenistic bronze of the 2nd or 3rd century BC, known as the Pseudo-Seneca, that the artist would have seen in the collections of the Museo Archeologico in Naples – it is also a portrait of a particular individual.

The model for The Philosopher was almost certainly the artist’s stepfather, Francesco Jadicicco, known as ‘Masto Ciccio’, who married Gemito’s mother in 1875. Masto Ciccio appears in many of Gemito’s drawings2, and posed for several sculptures. He also worked for some time in the artist’s foundry, where he helped to produce the bronzes made there between 1883 and 1886, including The Philosopher. As has been noted, therefore, ‘this bust is thus a double homage, paying tribute to both the artistic verisimilitude achieved by ancient sculptors and the timeless vision of this paternal figure. Perhaps because the bust is clearly based on an ancient prototype, Gemito’s personal intervention in the unruly flow of hair and the hyperintense expression is even more noticeable than if this had been a direct portrait in a contemporary style.’

Gemito’s masterful sculpture of The Philosopher has been described by one recent scholar as a work of ‘intensely eloquent realism...Unlike its classical antecedents, Gemito’s bust has the imprint not only of a carefully rendered physiognomy but of a psychological penetration that lays open the sitter’s whole biography.’

Heim Gallery, London
Purchased from them by Arthur M. Sackler, New York
Thence by descent until 2010.

Vincenzo GEMITO

Head of a Bearded Old Man (The Philosopher)


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