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The Death of Torquato Tasso at Sant'Onofrio al Gianicolo, Rome

The Death of Torquato Tasso at Sant'Onofrio al Gianicolo, Rome
signed and dated 'Rudolph Alt 1837' (lower left)
oil on canvas
20 7⁄8 x 26 1⁄8 in. (52.8 x 66.4 cm.)
The artist.
His estate sale; Galerie H. O. Miethke, Vienna, 12-13 February 1906, lot 12, as Tasso in einer Säulenhalle bei Rom and erroneously catalogued with the artist's signature spelled 'Rudolf.'
Adolf Wendlinger (d. 1933) and Ernestine Wendlinger (d. 1921), Vienna, by 1911.
Greta Petschek Gellert (1894 - 1980).
By descent to the present owner.
'Neuigkeiten vom Kunstmarkte', Der Kunstmarkt, Leipzig, 2 February 1906, p. 101, as Tasso in einer Säulenhalle bei Rom.
U. Thieme and F. Becker, eds., Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler, Leipzig, 1907, vol. 1, p. 344, as Tasso in einer Säulenhalle bei Rom.
L. Hevesi, Altkunst-Neukunst, Vienna, 1909, p. 128, as Tasso.
L. Hevesi and K. Kuzmany, Rudolf Alt: Sein Leben und Sein Werk, Vienna, 1911, pp. 13, 156, as Tasso im Klostergang bei Sant'Onofrio.
M. Hussl-Hörmann and H. Giese, Rudolf von Alt: die Ölgemälde, Vienna, 2011, p. 173, no. 11.22, as Tasso im Klostergang bei San Onofrio in Rom, 1837.

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Laura H. Mathis
Laura H. Mathis VP, Specialist, Head of Sale

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Lot Essay

Located on the Janiculum in Trastevere, Sant'Onofrio al Gianicolo offers extra ordinary views of Central Rome from the west. The church was built in 1439 on the site of an ancient hermitage, and the attached cloister was added in the mid-15th century. Among the church’s most famous historical events is the death of the renowned late Renaissance poet Torquato Tasso, which took place at the church on 25 April 1595. Having written his masterpiece, Gerusalemme Liberata, at the age of 31, Tasso’s later life was defined by his itinerant wanderings, mental illness, and ultimately confinement to an asylum. His arrival in Rome just before his death was due to a promise from Pope Clement VIII to crown him Poet Laureate, however he died at Sant'Onofrio al Gianicolo the day before receiving the laurel wreath and the pension that were to come with this honor. As a result he continues to be—particularly to non-Italian-speaking audiences—a symbol for the ideal ‘tortured artist’ who suffered for his art. The seated figure in the present work, clearly ill and crowned with the laurel wreath he was never able to wear in real life, is von Alt's own reverential apotheosis of the great poet.
Tasso's epic Gerusalemme Liberata combined the style of the Virgilian epic with a historical narrative of the Crusades, interspersed with lyrical, Romantic passages unique in Italian literature which were Tasso's own literary innovation. The restlessness of the poet’s life, his mental illness, his supposed romantic loves, and his alleged persecutions all made him a legendary figure to later artists including Goethe, who made Tasso’s life and descent into madness the subject of a play in 1790. Goethe’s play cemented the artist’s legacy in the minds of Romantic poets and writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth-centuries in northern Europe, for whom he would become a popular subject. This may indeed be why von Alt similarly took up this subject, though he may have also found inspiration directly from his travels. Von Alt is known to have visited Sant'Onofrio al Gianicolo personally, and the monastery houses a collection of Tasso’s manuscripts, as well as the poet’s death mask, which may have also inspired the artist’s interest in this subject.
A watercolor by von Alt from 1835 of this same view from the cloister but featuring different staffage is in the collection of the Leopold Museum in Vienna.

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