The current antechamber of Vittorio Alfieri Museum preserves the portrait of Vittorio Alfieri dated to 1797. Among the portraits of the writer from Asti, this is the most beautiful and similar, made by the french painter François Xavier Fabre, who was a pupil of Jean Jacques David in Paris and a scholar in the “Académie de France” in Rome. This painting had been devoted to his sister Julia, the Countess of Cumiana; the dedication to her appears in the semi-rolled letter placed on the table on the right.
The tragician promised it as a gift to Julia, who had already admired at the Abbot Caluso di Valperga the famous painting representing her brother togheter with his loved partner Luisa Stolberg d’Albany, depicted in the intimate dimension of their home in Florence. (nowadays it is housed in Turin, in the Civic Museum of Art of Palazzo Madama).
The work of Asti museum is described as superb and “more resembling than any other portrait” by the Countess of Albany too in a missive addressed to her friend Teresa Regoli Mocenni.
The precious gift was late in arriving and the long wait aroused anxiety in Vittorio. Finally the painting reached the Countess of Cumiana on March 21, 1798; since that moment the canvas has collected encomiastic reviews including those of the first painter of the King of Sardinia, Lorenzo Pécheux (1729-1821), the director of Turin Academy of Fine Arts.
Julia is also happy about the lines of the poet Pindaro written by her brother on the back of the canvas: “Pianta effimera noi, cos’è il vivente? Cos’è l’estinto? un sogno, un ombra è l’Uomo” that means “Ephimeral plant, we are, what is the living being? What is the extinct? A dream, a shadow is the Man”.
Writing to his sister, Vittorio remarks that the portrait sent to her is so similar to him that “to those who saw it here, with me there, it seemed that someone had made a hole in the canvas and that I had put my head through it..”
In the canvas Alfieri appears with a black dress on which the pleated jabot stands out, wrapped in the typical red cloak of the tragic poet. He wears the ring with an engraved cameo depicting the head of Dante Alighieri, also visible in the double portrait preserved in Turin. This famous work of art reveals the painter’s mastery in capturing the most authentic character of Vittorio, with a face marked by time, melancholy and closed in on himself. The poet also seems to meditate on contemporary events: in 1796 the French invasion of Italy tormented Alfieri for its disastrous and terrible effects, including «misery and servitude» (“Vita”, IV, 24).