In preparation for this somber portrait, Silvestro Lega made sketches of the head of the Italian patriot Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872) and of the bedroom in which he died. Relying on these drawings, Lega constructed an image of his subject in the last hours of life, rather than a death portrait. His painting depicts a peaceful and carefully groomed Mazzini, wrapped in a plaid shawl that covers his black suit. He had always dressed in black to symbolize mourning for Italian states that were separated by foreign rule and whose unification came about only after his death. The artist was a leading member of the Italian realist painters known as the Macchiaioli, a name that refers to their manner of applying paint as macchie (spots or patches). When Lega exhibited this portrait in Florence in 1873, critics commented on the contrast between its profound sadness and the great vitality for which Mazzini had been known.
Signed and dated LR:S. Lega 73