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Anselm Feuerbach - The Death of the Poet Pietro Aretino

by Alexandra Tuschka

This painting truly does not look like a laughing fit that ended in a broken neck, as the anecdote suggests as the cause of death of the Italian poet Aretino. Rather, it seems as if Aretino was poisoned, or, as it probably was, died of a sudden heart attack.

Until this incident, it actually seems to have been a funny and above all humidly merry society - three prettied-up ladies are in the right part of the picture. Above them are two more men in a triangular composition. One of them raises his glass to toast. The African next to the base of a column appears to be a servant.

On the left, a man bends down anxiously to the casualty; above him is a couple in a close embrace. The lady still holds the glass in her hand, although the man pulls her by the neck for a kiss. Above them, a view of the sky opens up behind a balustrade. Two statues accentuate this area of the picture.

Remarkably, the clearest emotion of the whole picture emanates from the small dog that is on the ground to the right of the dead man. His expression shows surprise, but also disgust. The three women also react: the two on the left look curiously, the one on the right backs away.

Obviously Feuerbach was not interested in reproducing the historical event realistically. Rather, the association of the moment of celebration and joy with sudden death seems to be a reminder to the viewer. Even if Aretino's hands are still clinging to the ivy and the tablecloth, the fruit basket that has just fallen speaks of the suddenness of the moment. This recalls the well-known admonition: Memento mori.

Anselm Feuerbach - The Death of the Poet Pietro Aretino

Oil on canvas, 1854, 267.5 x 176.5 cm, Basel Art Museum


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