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Study for
The Death of Caesar

If it was his French experience of 1934-35 that led Sassu to a deepening political commitment, it was however his acquaintance in 1934 with the art critic Raffaele De Grada that brought him into direct contact with anti-Fascist circles.

With De Grada, Luigi Grosso, Alberto Malagugini, Carlo Calatroni, and Vittorio Della Porta he participated in 1935 in the activities of the Gruppo Rosso, which borrowed its name from the German Rote Gruppe of Grosz and Dix; other artists adhering to it were Arnaldo Badodi, Nino Franchina, Giacomo Manzł, Giuseppe Migneco, Gabriele Mucchi, Gastone Panciera, Italo Valenti, and men of letters like Giancarlo Vigorelli, Giansiro Ferrata, Alessandro Bonsanti, as well as other figures connected with the Florentine magazines Il Frontespizio and Letteratura.


Study for
The Death of Caesar

Very soon Sassu and De Grada were taking an active part in the clandestine struggle against Fascism, in direct contact with the Italian Socialist and Communist central organization. News of the International Brigades’ victory at Guadalajara in March of 1937 spurred them to prepare a draft of a pamphlet to distribute to workers, exalting insurrection against the Fascist regime.

The text and material for printing it were found in Sassu’s studio on Via Sant’Antonio in Milan, when on 6 April 1937 agents of the OVRA carried out a search; the artist was immediately arrested. Grosso, Beniamino Joppolo, Renato Birolli, and Migneco were later arrested, while De Grada on that occasion was not identified.


Sassu, Sardella,
La Torre

Sassu’s criminal trial ended on 13 October 1937 with a sentence to ten years imprisonment for the crime of political conspiracy in association with others; he did not fully serve his sentence, as on 27 July 1938 the king granted him a pardon.

While he was in prison in Fossano, in the Piedmont region, he obtained permission to continue his artistic activity. A corpus of about 400 drawings remains of this experience, made on notebook or sketchbook pages with plain or colored pencils, sanguine, charcoal, wash, and ink, in which he portrays his companions in prison.

For the most part he dealt with themes already familiar to him, but introduced also some novelties like the studies for The Death of Caesar, a subject that would be realized as an oil painting only in 1938-39; he broadened the battle theme with fights between giants and Titans, in which an allusion to the Italian political situtation can be detected; Sassu would give it concrete form in the 1938 canvas The Wrath of Achilles.