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.