Gioacchino Assereto (Genoa 1600 -1650)

Joas saved from Athalia’s persecution Sold

Oil on canvas, 58 × 77 in (147.5 × 195.5 cm)
Signed “AXERET” at lower centre, next to the crown.




Turin, private collection, 1971; Genoa, Aldo Zerbone collection, during the 1980s.

- Hélène Mazur-Contamine, “A proposito di una cosidetta scena biblica dell’ Assereto”, Bollettino dei Musei Civici Genovesi, IV, no. 10-12, January-December 1982, p. 28, note (as School of Assereto);
- Lilli Ghio Vallarino, in Genova nell’Età Barocca, exh. cat., Genoa, Galleria nazionale di Palazzo Spinola – Galleria di Palazzo Reale, 2 May - 26 July 1992, pp. 92-94, no. 6;
- Gian Vittorio Castelnovi, “La pittura nella prima metà del Seicento dall’Ansaldo a Orazio de Ferrari”, in La Pittura a Genova e in Liguria, 2 vols., Genoa, 1998, 3rd ed., II, p. 134 [1971, 1st ed., p. 157; 2nd ed., 1987, revised and expanded by Franco Boggero and Farida Simonetti, p. 134], (attributed to Assereto);
- Gelsomina Spione, in La Pinacoteca dei Cappuccini di Voltaggio, ed. by Fulvio Cervini and Carlenrica Spantigati, Alessandria, 2001, p. 107 (Assereto);
- Gelsomina Spione, in Le chiavi del Paradiso. I tesori dei Cappuccini della provincia di Genova, exh. cat., Milan, Museo dei Beni Culturali Cappuccini, 28 March - 28 July 2003, p. 106 (Assereto);
- Camillo Manzitti, Valerio Castello, Turin, 2004, p. 103, fig. 481; 2008 ed., p. 103, fig. 481 (Assereto);
- Anna Orlando, in Dipinti genovesi dal Cinquecento al Settecento, Collezione Koelliker, ed. by Anna Orlando, Turin, 2006, p. 76, fig. 1;
- Tiziana Zennaro, Gioacchino Assereto e i pittori della sua scuola, 2 vols., Soncino, 2011, I, p. 178, illus. CIII, pp. 445-446, no. A141.

- Genova nell’Età Barocca, Genoa, Galleria Nazionale di Palazzo Spinola – Galleria di Palazzo Reale, 2 May - 26 July 1992, no. 6.

Gioachino Assereto's feverish, expressive brush gives vibrant life to this Biblical scene, inspired by an episode from the reign of Queen Athalia (II Kings, 11, 1-3): “Athalia the mother of Ochozias seeing that her son was dead, arose, and slew all the royal seed. But Josaba the daughter of King Joram, sister of ochozias, took Joas the son of Ochozias, and stole him from among the King’s sons that were slain, out of the bedchamber with his nurse: and hid him from the face of Athalia, so that he was not slain. and he was with her six years hid in the house of the Lord. And Athalia reigned over the land”. The figure with a drawn sword pointed at the child, who reaches out for the falling crown, which alludes to his destiny as future King of Judah, supports this iconography.
The play of hands, crossing one another in the middle of the picture, creates a true sense of opposing tensions – the intended murder of Joas, and his salvation – and the contrasting emotions are echoed in the expressive features of the figures. According to Tiziana Zennaro, the tight arrangement and frieze-like depiction of the protagonists, all described in saturated brown tones, indicates a work created during the Genoese artist’s maturity, that is, in about 1645. Scholars have noted resemblances – in the general balance of dark and light volumes, the heads nearly all on the same level, and the compositional structure propelling motion toward the centre – with the slightly earlier Discovery of Joseph’s Cup in Benjamin’s Sack (Voltaggio, Pinacoteca dei Cappuccini), and even closer ones, as regards Assereto’s spirited style in this period, with Servius Tullius with his Hair on Fire (Genoa, Collezioni d’Arte di Banca Carige)(1).
The picture appeared in the great Genoese exhibition of 1992, and Tiziana Zennaro has since established that it was the same work as a canvas recorded in a Turin collection; although the subject is rarely represented in art, Assereto treated it on two occasions. Another version, of the same dimensions but with a number of variants, especially in the background, is now in the Guido Angelo Terruzzi collection in Bordighera (2). The novel iconography introduced by the artist had a real influence on the art of his contemporaries: for example, Valerio Castello (1624-1659) painted a version of the subject in a bozzetto (private collection) that was very close to Assereto’s prototype (3). Tiziana Zennaro lists derivations carried out by followers, particularly that by the Master of Monticelli d’Ongina, faithful in every way to the frieze composition and punctuated by a central axis containing the heart of the action (4).
The artist, celebrated in his own century by Soprani (5), who underlined that his renown extended far beyond Liguria, especially in the direction of Spain, has been reassessed in the modern age. a pioneering article of 1926-1927 by Roberto Longhi was entirely dedicated to glorifying “il Grande Assereto”, and the italian art historian had no hesitation in comparing him with Velázquez (6). Recent scholarship, above all the monograph of 2011 by Tiziana Zennaro, has returned the artist to his place among the most significant painters in seventeenth-century Europe, and indeed his naturalism is no less enviable than that of Matthias Stomer (c. 1600-after 1650) or Gerrit van Honthorst (1592-1656).

1- Tiziana Zennaro, Gioacchino Assereto e i pittori della sua scuola, 2 vols., Soncino, 2011, I, pp. 412-414, no. A118; pp. 443-445, no. A140.
2- Ibid., 2011, I, p. 178, ill. CIII, pp. 446-447, no. A142.
3- Camillo Manzitti, Valerio Castello, Turin, 2004, p. 103, fig. 481; 2008 ed., p. 103, fig. 481 (as Assereto).
4- Tiziana Zennaro, op. cit., 2011, II, pp. 650-651, no. G24.
5- Raffaele Soprani, Le vite de’ Pittori, Scoltori, e Architetti Genovesi, e de’ forastieri, che in Genova operarono con alcuni Ritratti de gli stessi (1674), Genoa, 1768, I, p. 167.
6- Roberto Longhi, “L’Assereto”, Dedalo, VII, 1926, pp. 355-377; reprinted in Roberto Longhi, Saggi e Ricerche 1925-1928 (Opere Complete, II), Florence, 1967, vol. 1, pp. 35-47.