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Louis-Francois Cassas (1756-1827), View of the theatre of Taormina in Scily
Louis-Francois Cassas (1756-1827), View of the theatre of Taormina in Scily - Paintings & Drawings Style Louis-Francois Cassas (1756-1827), View of the theatre of Taormina in Scily - Louis-Francois Cassas (1756-1827), View of the theatre of Taormina in Scily - Antiquités - Louis-Francois Cassas (1756-1827), View of the theatre of Taormina in Scily
Ref : 112469
12 000 €
Period :
19th century
Artist :
Louis Francois Cassas & Chalcographie Piranèse
Provenance :
Paris, France
Medium :
Pen and black ink, watercolour and gouache on etched outlines
Dimensions :
l. 33.86 inch X H. 25.98 inch
Paintings & Drawings  - Louis-Francois Cassas (1756-1827), View of the theatre of Taormina in Scily 19th century - Louis-Francois Cassas (1756-1827), View of the theatre of Taormina in Scily  - Louis-Francois Cassas (1756-1827), View of the theatre of Taormina in Scily
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Louis-Francois Cassas (1756-1827), View of the theatre of Taormina in Scily

Louis-Francois Cassas (Azay le Feron 1756-Versailles 1827)
Jacques-Louis Bance (1761-1847)
Francesco Piranesi (1758-1810) et Pietro Piranesi (1773-1841)

View of the theatre of Taormina in Sicilly

Pen and black ink, watercolour and gouache on etched outlines. 55 x 79 cm,by 1802.
Original paper mount inscribed with brown ink in the lower margin: « Proscoenium : Ou avant scene du Théatre de Taorminum en Sicile / Le Mont Etna occupe le fond du tableau ». 65 x 88 cm (Proscoenium: Or front stage of the Theatre of Taormina in Sicily / Mount Etna occupies the background of the painting)
Louis XVI style giltwood frame : 75 x 95 cm

Provenance : Collection Robert de Rothschild (1880-1946), hôtel de Marigny Paris, Baron Alain de Rothschild (1910-1982), then by descent.
Bibliography : Voyages en Italie de Jean-François Cassas, Tours, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Silvana, Milano 2015


The theatre of Taormina is depicted in the morning light. It is a remarkable Greco-Roman site, highly prized by vedutists of the Grand Tour who travelled through Sicily, as it offers magnificent and spectacular views of the sea below and Mount Etna crowned with smoke plumes. In a state of ruins engulfed by abundant vegetation, dominated by the menacing silhouette of the volcano in the background, it illustrates the fragility of human works against the passage of time and the beauties of nature.
Cassas draws this ruin as it appeared in the second half of the 18th century. To cater to the tastes of amateurs, he meticulously manages the lighting, combines topographical accuracy with archaeological knowledge, and composes a panorama that very precisely describes the architecture and the site. As an excellent nature illustrator, he animates his landscapes with carefree silhouettes of artists, Grand Tour travelers, and Sicilian shepherds, who provide scale, enhance the monumentality of the depicted site, and add a picturesque note to his compositions. Collectors and amateurs are captivated, as they were in the past and still are today, by the charm of these remarkable sites, which had never been reproduced with such a degree of perfection.

An Enlightenment-era draftsman and tireless traveller, Louis François Cassas devoted a large part of his work to the representation of heroic monumental antiquities. Considered one of the most prolific travel illustrators of his time, his urban views and landscapes garnered immense interest due to the unusual and spectacular scope of his inspiration; his travels took him across Europe, from north to south, but also to the Ottoman Empire, from Constantinople to Palestine and Egypt. The views taken in Sicily were composed from the numerous drawings he made during an excursion to the island that began in the autumn of 1782.

Louis François Cassas was born in 1756 at the Château d'Azay-le-Ferron, where his father was an engineer-architect in the service of the Marquis de Gallifet. In 1774, he was noticed by the draftsman Thomas Aignan Desfriche in Tours and joined the following year a Parisian drawing school founded by the Duke of Chabot. Supported by patrons, he travelled the world, twice in Italy thanks to the Duke of Chabot and then going to the East with the Count of Choiseul Gouffier.

The Duke of Chabot took him along in 1778 during a family trip to Italy. In 1780, with the support of Jean-Marie Vien, director of the French Academy in Rome, Cassas obtained the exceptional privilege for a draftsman of having an external room at the Palazzo Mancini. In the autumn of 1782, he joined Sicily at the invitation of Vivant Denon, who asked him to contribute to the illustration of a book by the Abbé de Saint-Non (1727-1791). Arriving via Messina, his journey led him to Taormina, the subject of our sheet. He discovered Mount Etna, then continued his exploration through Catania, Syracuse, the Val di Noto, and Agrigento. He then went to Palermo and embarked from Catania to Naples while Sicily was experiencing severe earthquakes since February 1783. During this few-month stay, Cassas continued to draw, and the inventory of his drawings made in Paris in 1784 mentions 75 sheets describing his journey throughout Sicily, which would be used to compose the drawings published from 1802 by the Piranesi brothers.

In Paris, he met the Count of Choiseul Gouffier, whom he accompanied on a trip to the East: Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Phoenicia, Palestine, and Lower Egypt. He returned to Rome in 1787 with a considerable portfolio that enjoyed great success: "Everyone flocks to my place to see my drawings," he wrote.

Returning to Paris in 1791, he faced financial difficulties due to the Revolution and worked on publishing projects from which he hoped to derive incomes, with the support of Jacques Anisson du Perron and Jacques-Louis David. From 1801, he began collaborating with the Piranesi brothers to publish these large topographical views, which he composed from drawings made in Italy and the Levant.

The Piranesi brothers, inheritors since 1778 of their father Giambatista Piranesi's print publishing business, took refuge in Paris in 1799 after the fall of the short-lived Roman Republic in which they had been involved. With the support of the French government, particularly the protection of Joseph Bonaparte, they opened the Chalcography of the Piranesi Brothers, 296 rue de l'Université, whose activity flourished for about ten years. They published the works of their father, whose copper plates they had retained, and these famous large-format plates, described at the time as "colored drawings," depicting Rome, Paris, Sicily, or the Ottoman Empire, for which they partnered with great artists like Cassas, Desprez, the Sablet brothers, or Louis Gabriel Moreau. The drawings entrusted by these artists to the Piranesi brothers were line-engraved by Jacques Louis Bance, then the prints were retouched with pen and ink, and watercolour and gouache were added by highly skilled colorists deliberately imitating the drawing or painting.

This type of line or contour etching, illuminated with colour, had already enjoyed great success long before the Piranesi brothers in the 1780s Rome, thanks to two artists: the Venetian engraver Giovanni Volpato (1735-1803) and the Swiss landscape painter Abraham Louis Rodolphe Ducros (1748-1810), who published numerous illuminated vedute. This contour etching technique allowed for a more fluid and intuitive line than drypoint, capable of imitating pen drawings, which were then colored. In a way, the Piranesi brothers established in Paris a workshop modeled on that of Volpato and Ducros, whose functioning and success they had observed in Rome.

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Drawing & Watercolor