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Luigi Ademollo

(1764 Milan – 1849 Florence)

The Death of Germanicus. Pen and black ink over a faint preliminary drawing in pencil, brown wash, white heightening; borderline in black ink. 44.5 x 70 cm. Circa 1800.

This impressive sheet is a characteristic example of Ademollo’s drawing style around 1800 and owes its appeal to the refinement and detail of its Neoclassicist idiom. The portrayal also shows Ademollo’s predilection for theatrical staging effects, which enable the artist to show a large number of different types of movement and expressions of emotion. Not least among the picture’s virtues is the high quality of execution, which is why Ademollo, together with such artists as Vincenzo Camuccini, Felice Giani and Giuseppe Cades, is numbered among the leading representatives of Italian Neoclassicism.

The subject of the picture is the Roman general Germanicus, who is lying on his death bed surrounded by his wife Agrippina and the members of his immediate family. The scene, enlivened by numerous protagonists, is taking place as on a stage, with the heavy drapery in the left and right background acting like a theatre curtain. Very characteristic of Ademollo is the loving attention he pays to archaeological detail. The architectural settings of the scenes and details, such as the armour of the Roman soldiers, the finely pleated garments of the women and the antique vessels are rendered with the utmost precision, thus creating an impression of historical authenticity.

Nero Claudius Germanicus (15 B.C. – 19 A.D.) was a great-nephew of Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, and an adoptive son of his successor, Tiberius. He married Agrippina, a granddaughter of Augustus, who bore him nine children. Germanicus distinguished himself as a general and was mainly known for his German campaigns. Despite a number of victories, real or supposed, he ultimately failed to pacify the rebellious province. Germanicus was recalled by Tiberius, who put on a show of honouring him with a triumphal procession in Rome, only to be subsequently sent to the eastern reaches of the Empire. In 19 A.D., after spending time in Greece and Asia Minor, Germanicus fell victim to a political intrigue in the Syrian city of Antioch and was poisoned, allegedly by his political rival Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso, who had just been appointed governor of Syria. The exact circumstances of his death have never been conclusively established, however. Unlike his adoptive father Tiberius, the luckless Germanicus was very popular throughout the Empire, and the news of his death was received with great dismay, as is proven by the large number of monuments and memorial services in his honour.

On the verso is written in the artist’s own hand: "Morte di Germanicho datta da Pisone con fatuchierie per ordine di Tiberio / Agripina sua Moglie e suoi figli" (The death of Germanicus by sorcery at the order of Tiberius of Piso / Agrippina his wife and his children).

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