The J. Paul Getty Museum

The Death of Seneca (recto); Study of a Man (verso)

Object Details


The Death of Seneca (recto); Study of a Man (verso)


Sebastiano Ricci (Italian, 1659 - 1734)




about 1705


Pen and brown ink, brown wash, and black chalk (recto); pen and brown ink (verso)

Object Number:



17.8 × 17.5 cm (7 × 6 7/8 in.)

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Object Description

Not long for this world, the Greek philosopher Seneca is helped into a bath by a female attendant. Having slit his wrists and consumed poison, Seneca struggles his way into the warm water intended to hasten his death. His limbs are limp and his mouth agape, but the philosopher is still able to complete his final thoughts, which two attentive scribes on either side of the scene dutifully record. In the right background, two other observers await Seneca's final breath.

Charged with conspiracy, Seneca chose to commit suicide rather than face the humiliation of execution. This narrative of the Roman Empire was a popular subject in Italy in the 1700s and reflected the revival of interest in Stoicism. Stoic philosophers like Seneca argued for the control of the emotions; his suicide embodied this repression of feeling.

Sebastiano Ricci's depiction of the pivotal moment in this episode likely served as a preparatory study for a painting. The small drawing displays Ricci's economical use of line and ability to compose a complex narrative in a clear and dramatic manner.

18th and 19th Century Drawings (March 15 to May 29, 1994)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), March 15 to May 29, 1994
Light and Water: Drawing in Eighteenth-Century Venice (May 17 to August 21, 2005) (recto)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), May 17 to August 21, 2005