By Costanza Beltrami

Painter Giuseppe Cades was born on 4 March 1750 in Rome, where he soon became a well-respected history painter, decorator, and engraver. He trained as a pupil of Domenico Corvi at the accademia di San Luca. At sixteen, he had already won some of the Academy’s drawing prizes with works such as Tobias Healing his Blind Father. Such precocious success caused Corvi’s resentment, forcing Cades to leave the school in 1766.

Working independently, he soon received important commissions for large-scale works, for example the Martyrdom of St Benignus (1774) and Ecstasy of St Joseph of Copertino (1777), which reveal a deep knowledge of earlier Venetian painting. Other formative influences on the painter’s style were Johann Heinrich Füseli and Johan Tobias Sergel, northern artists who lived in Rome. Studying their works helped Cades to break the mold of the dominant late-Baroque formulas and develop a powerful Romantic style, exemplified by drawings such as Ulysses, Achilles and Patroclus, Achilles and Briseis and Mars and Venus. In return, the Northern artists were very interested in Cades’ copies after the antique, and a sketchbook of Cades’ work owned by Sergel is now in the National Museum in Stockholm.

Sketches after the antique were useful in creating paintings such as Ulysses, Achilles and Patroclus, Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, Lucretia, Tarquin and Collatinus, immediately acquired by the Toulouse collector Nicolas Joseph Marcassus, Baron de Puymaurin. International interest in Cades’ work extended beyond this sale: in 1776 Henry, 8th Baron arundell commissioned him to decorate his mansion of Wardour Castle, near Salisbury, UK; later in 1784 he worked on four paintings of Ceres for the Russian Empress Catherine II. At the same time, Cades established key connections in the Italian artistic milieu: for example, he knew and portrayed Giovanni Battista Piranesi. The painter’s reputation was cemented by successful pieces such as St Peter appearing to Saints Lucy and Agatha and the ceiling decoration of Palazzo Ruspoli, Rome, leading to his election as academician at the Academia di San Luca in 1786.

Around 1785 Cades undertook a study trip to northern Italy, visiting Florence, Bologna, Cento, Ferrara and Venice, and focusing on late 16th- and 17th-century Venetian and Bolognese painters, particularly Veronese and Guercino. This subtly modified his style, leading to light and fresh colors, classically balanced compositions, and a dramatic, neo-Mannerist quality evident in the Recognition of Count Gautier of Angers, a scene from Boccaccio’s Decameronpainted on the ceiling of a small room in the Villa Borghese, Rome.

In the 1780s the artist turned to religious subjects, for example five large paintings for the convent of S Francesco at Fabriano: St Lucy and St Apollonia, St anthony of Padua and St Joseph of Copertino and the Virgin appearing to Five Saints and the Blessed F. Venimbeni (Fabriano, S Caterina) which reveal the influence of Anthony van Dyck and Rubens.

Still young, Cades died on 8 December 1799 in Rome.

Reference: Maria Teresa Caracciolo, “Cades, Giuseppe.” Grove Art Online, Oxford University Press,

Self Portrait, 1786, oil on canvas. Accademia di San Luca, Rome.

Judgement of Salomon, after Raphael, late 18th century, oil on canvas. Royal Academy of Arts, London, no. 03/3602, given by Baroness Frances Basset, 1842.  

Achilles in his Tent with Patroclus, Playing a Lyre, surprised by Ulysses and Nestor, circa 1775, oil on canvas. Louvre Museum, Paris, no. RF 1980-191. 

Achilles and Briseis, 1776, pierre noire pencil, ink and wash on laid paper. Musée Fabre, Montpellier, no. 877-I-8.    

Orpheus Charming the Animals, 1780, pen, ink, wash. Louvre Museum, Paris, no. RF34511.

Birth of the Virgin, c. 1784, pen and brown ink with pen and brown wash, on ivory laid paper. Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, bequest of Inge Maser, no. 2008.236.

Armida Gazes on the Sleeping Rinaldo, illustration of book 14.61–67 in Gerusalemme liberata (Jerusalem Delivered) by Torquato Tasso (Italian, 1544–1595), c. 1785, chalks on heavy cream laid paper. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, purchased with the Henry P. McIlhenny Fund in memory of Frances P. McIlhenny, with funds contributed by George M. Cheston, and with the Lola Downin Peck Fund and the Carl and Laura Zigrosser Collection (by exchange), 1990.      

The Meeting of Gautier, Count of Antwerp, and his Daughter, Violante,circa 1787, oil on canvas. Art Institute of Chicago,   Chicago, Charles H. Worcester Sketch Collection, no. 1963.1142.                                               

The Martyrdom of the Blessed Signoretto Alliata, ca. 1794-1796, oil on canvas. Walters art Museum, Baltimore, no. 37.1831.   

Rape of Lucretia, 1795, pen and black ink with brush and brown wash, on ivory laid paper. Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, the Leonora Hall Gurley Memorial Collection, no. 1922.648.     

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