Jean - Luc Baroni Ltd



Niccolò Cassana

Venice 1659 – 1713 London (?)


Giovanni Agostino Cassana

Venice, after 1659 – 1720 Genoa

A Young Boy in Livery in a Landscape with Two English Setters



Oil on canvas.

98 x 134 cm. (38 ½ x 52 ¾ in.)

PROVENANCE: Presumably executed for the Gran Principe Ferdinand de’ Medici.

The figure of the boy in this engaging picture was painted by Niccolò Cassana who was also responsible for the over-all composition, while his brother Giovanni Agostino executed the dogs and, possibly, the plants in the foreground.1 Although it shows a residual debt to the Genoese figurative tradition of their father Giovanni Francesco Cassana who was a pupil of Bernardo Strozzi and settled in Venice with him in about 1630, the present canvas can be placed without doubt among the works which the two brothers, often in collaboration, painted for the Medici family either in Florence or their native Venice from the early 1690’s until 1709 when Niccolò left to seek his fortune in England, possibly as a result of the deteriorating state of the Grand Prince Ferdinando’s health. Even when young, Niccolò Cassana was known for his portraits; his brother, in fact, turned to genre painting so as not to compete with him2. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that as early as 1683 he tried to attract the attention of the Florentine court (which was without an official portraitist since the death of Justus Sustermans in 16810) by sending a likeness of himself to hang in the celebrated Medici gallery of self-portraits.3 The presentation letter which accompanied the canvas described Niccolò as a “ ... pittore fra i moderni assai buono, ma giovane di più fumo che fama ...”.4 By the end of the century, however, Cassana had established increasingly close relations with Grand Prince Ferdinand de Medici, perhaps as a result of meeting Cosimo III’s heir on his first visit to Venice in 1687. The artist not only assumed an important rôle as a portrait painter at the Medici court, portraying almost all the members of the reigning house and other Florentine nobles, such as the Marchese Ridolfi,4 but also acted as the Grand Prince’s agent for the acquisition of Venetian paintings5 and oversaw the restoration of paintings in his patron’s collection and made copies for him of famous pictures in Venice. Such was Niccolò’s fame among Europe’s crowned heads that Queen Anne invited him to England in 1709 to paint her portrait which, though begun, remained unfinished at the artist’s death in 1713. Giovanni Agostino Cassana, in turn, seems to have worked very little, and died, according to his biographers, from intemperate living.

A comparison of the present Young Boy in Livery in a Landscape with Two English Setters with the handful of portraits and animal paintings by the brothers which were executed for the Medici and are now housed in the Florentine Galleries confirms the attribution of the picture to the two men.6 Doctor Stella Rudolph in a letter of 24 September 2005 dates this canvas to about 1707 on the grounds of similarity of style to Niccolò’s Portrait of Princess Violante of Baveria’s Dwarf of that year in the Palazzo Pitti, where there is a comparable landscape, as well as animals by Giovanni Agostino.7 She compares the treatment of the English setters – a breed valued by the Medici – to that of Giovanni Agostino’s dogs in his brother’s Portrait of Alberto Tortelli, the Gran Principe’s huntsman, of about 1697 in the Uffizi,8 while the handling both of the young man’s costume and the quails he holds resembles that of corresponding details in Niccolò’s Portrait of the Marchese Ridolfi of the same period in the Palazzo Pitti.9 Furthermore, it should be remembered that Giovanni Agostino, according to eighteenth-century writers,10 made the depiction of live animals, instead of still-lives with dead game, his forte, as in this unusual composition where the amused boy tries to save the tame quail (wearing the red ribbons that identify them as breeding stock) from the attentions of the playful dogs.

The graceful invention of the subject-matter, the dynamic composition, the boy’s magnificent red livery with gold frogging, the naturalistic handling of the dogs, the sober, but rich, palette, and the distant view of the Tuscan countryside are among the elements which make this superb painting the most complex and successful of the Cassana brothers collaborative efforts. Undoubtedly painted for the Gran Principe Ferdinand, it is also an enchanting and poetical example of the “living still-lives”, so popular at the Florentine court in the early Eighteenth Century.


  1. For Giovanni Agostino Cassano, other than Soprani-Ratti (Vite de’pittori, scultori et architetti genovesi ..., II, Genoa, 1797, pp. 16ff.), see: M. Chiarini, “Tre quadri genovesi nelle Gallerie di Firenze”, in Arte illustrata, 1973, VI, 53, p. 152 and M. Chiarini, in Dizionario biografico degli italiani, Rome, 1978, XXI, ad vocem, with bibliographia. For Niccolò Cassana, other than Soprani-Ratti (op. cit.), see: M. Chiarini, in The Twilight of the Medici/Late Baroque Art in Florence, 1670-1743, exhibition catalogue [Detroit and Florence], 1974, pp. 200-203, figs. 111-114; M. Chiarini, “Niccolò Cassana/Portraitist of the Florentine Court”, in Apollo, September 1974, pp. 234-39; and N. Ivanoff, in Dizionario biografico degli italiani, Rome, 1978, XXI, ad vocem, with bibliographia.

2. See Soprani-Ratti, op.cit, p.16ff. ‘..per non recar pregiudizio a Niccoletto suo fratello, si diede dipinger bestiami..

  1. M. Chiarini, “Niccolò Cassana/Portraitist of the Florentine Court”, p. 234, fig. 1. Until identified by M. Chiarini in the Uffizi, the Self-Portrait was thought to be lost.

  2. idem..

  3. Illustrated for the first time by M. Chiarini, op. cit., p. 237, fig. 8.

  4. This aspect of Cassano’s relationship with the Gran Principe is illustrated by a series of letters published by G. Fogolari, “Lettere pittoriche del Gran Principe Ferdinando di Toscana a Niccolò Cassano”, in Rivista del Real Instituto di archeologia e storia dell’arte, VI, nos. I-II, 1937, pp. 144-86. Cassano’s rôle in Ferdinando’s patronage with regards to these letters is discussed by F. Haskell, Patrons and Painters/Art and Society in Baroque Italy, 1980, New Haven and London, pp. 231-34.

  5. See: Catalogo generale degli Uffizi, Florence, 1980, pp. 383-87.

  6. M. Chiarini, in The Twilight of the Medici/Late Baroque Art in Florence, 1670-1743, no. 114, pp. 202-03, illustrated and M. Chiarini, “Niccolò Cassana/Portraitist of the Florentine Court”, p. 238, fig. 10. In both writings, Chiarini discusses the part played by Giovanni Agostino in the execution of the animals. The Cook, alsowith genre details also by Giovanni Agostino, was sent from Venice in 1707 and intended as a pair for Portrait of Princess Violante of Baveria’s Dwarf . It is now in the Uffizi

  7. Catalogo generale degli Uffizi, Florence, 1980, p. 383 (M. Chiarini, , in The Twilight of the Medici/Late Baroque Art in Florence, 1670-1743, p. 202, no. 113, illustrated.

  8. Cfr., note 4.

  9. Soprani-Ratti, op. cit..

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