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Monday 6 April 2020

Pietro Testa’s etching, “The Death of Cato”, 1648

Pietro Testa (1607/11–1650)

“The Death of Cato” (aka “The Death of Cato Uticensis”; “Death of Cato of Utica”), 1648, first state/ lifetime impression before the addition of the publication details of Arnold van Westerhout (aka Arnoldus Westerhout; Arnoldus van Westerhout) (1651–1725) in Rome (possibly circa 1681 when the publisher lived with Cornelis Bloemaert near San Ignazio) and later by Vincenzo Billy (aka Vincenzo Billi; Vincenzo Belli) (early 1700s).

Etching and engraving on laid paper with the watermark, “anchor in a circle topped by a star” (Roman paper 1638), trimmed around the platemark.
Size: (sheet) 27.9 x 41.4 cm.

Lettered with seven lines of Latin on panel at right addressed to Cato by Testa: “Sic fortitudinis, Cato; æternum præbes monimentum; qui/ turpe uitæ præcium seruitutem existimans, plus ad liber=/ tatem, quam ad mortem uiscera aperuisti. Quid gladi=/ um aufertis libertatis adsertorem'.  ecce manus/ uindex gloriosam manumittit animam. Silcant in=/ anes fletus: generosus Cato non interijt, nichil/ egit fortuna, Virtus semper in tuto est./ P.Testa 1648”.

State i (of iv) before the addition of Van Westhout's address at bottom centre and the indication of breakage of the plate at lower right corner of state ii; the replacement of Van Westerhout’s address with that of Vincenzo Billy of state iii; the abrasion of all addresses of state iv but still retaining the corner damage to the plate arising in state ii. See the first state impression held by the Rijksmuseum:

TIB 4506.020 (Paola Bellini & Richard W Wallace [eds.] 1990, “The Illustrated Bartsch: Italian Masters of the Seventeenth Century”, vol. 45, Commentary, New York, Abaris Books, p. 148, cat. no. .020 S1 or S4; [Illus.] vol. 45, p.141); Bartsch 20 (Adam von Bartsch 1920–22, “Le Peintre Graveur”, Würzburg, p. 1270, cat. no. 20); Bellini 39 (Paolo Bellini 1976, “L'opera incisa di Pietro Testa”, Vicenza); Cropper 116 (Elizabeth Cropper 1988, “Pietro Testa, 16121650: Prints and Drawings”, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, pp. 252–56).

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco offer the following description of this print:
“numerous grieving men around a bed on which the dead Cato is sprawled face down, lamp in the corner, sad standing male figure at right by doorway, lamp in the corner, portrait busts over two doorways”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art offers a different reading of what is portrayed:
“The suicide of the philosopher Cato, who lies on his bed pulling out his innards watched by horrified disciples”

Wellcome Collection offers the following insights regarding this print:
“Cato is shown lying on his bed, surrounded by his mourning friends, and killing himself by tearing out his own entrails. Cato Marcus Porcius (95-46 BC) leader of the Optimates, tried to preserve the Roman Republic against power seekers, in particular Julius Caesar. Cato's sole chance to preserve the republic lay in supporting Pompey, whom he had formerly opposed. After Pompey's defeat, Cato led a small remnant of troops to Africa, where he killed himself after evacuating his adherents by sea”

Condition: well-printed first state/lifetime impression printed in a silvery grey ink showing no sign of wear to the printing plate. The sheet is trimmed along the plate mark and is in a clean condition with no tears, losses, stains or foxing—but there are a few minor abrasions (e.g. on the figure above Cato). There are flattened fold marks verso but these are not visible recto.

I am selling this visually arresting etching showing the conservative Roman senator and Stoic philosopher, Cato the younger (95–46 BC), committing suicide by eviscerating himself rather than losing his liberty to Julius Caesar—mindful that Testa committed suicide two years after executing this etching—for AU$632 in total (currently US$382.40/EUR353.52/GBP311.45 at the time of posting this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world (but not, of course, any import duties/taxes imposed by some countries).

If you are interested in purchasing this grim celebration by Testa of a beautiful life–note that the tablet onto which Cato is falling is inscribed with the absolute geometry ratio of 6:12–please contact me ( and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

This print has been sold

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