BALDASSARE CATTRANI (ITALIAN, FL. 1776-1810) 31. “Salvia Leucantha” (Velvet Sage);
BALDASSARE CATTRANI (ITALIAN, FL. 1776-1810)
31. “Salvia Leucantha” (Velvet Sage);
From a Collection Botannique
Watercolor on vellum, with border, double-ruled in black ink
Sheet size: 20 ½ x 14 ¾ in
Provenance: The Collection of Prince Eugène de Beauharnais
Baldassare Cattrani, Roman by birth and a contemporary of Pierre-Joseph Redouté, was an incredibly significant figure in botanical art during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Not only did he gain permission to study and paint in Padua’s legendary botanical garden from esteemed directors Giovanni Marsili and Giuseppe Antonio Bonato, but he also won highly prized commissions from Empress Joséphine at Malmaison. The watercolors offered represent a handful of the works Cattrani most likely executed for Eugène Beauharnais, son of Joséphine, loved stepson of Napoleon Bonaparte, viceroy of Italy and eventual duc de Leuchtenberg. Nearly unparalleled in terms of depth and quality, Cattrani’s watercolors are masterpieces of the highest order.
Cattrani, who was active from 1776 to 1810, could have first come in contact with Prince Eugène during the latter’s Italian campaign of 1796-7. Nevertheless, it is more likely that Cattrani earned a commission from the commander in 1809. (This is the same year that Prince Eugène led the Army of Italy to victory during the War of the Fifth Coalition.) By this later date, Prince Eugène would have been wholly familiar with Redouté’s Les Liliacées project, a monumental and highly influential undertaking which was commissioned by his mother at Malmaison. As such, Les Liliacées likely heavily inspired Prince Eugène to contract a similar collection of botanical watercolors on vellum for himself.
Prince Eugène could not have been disappointed with Cattrani’s work. Not only is the quality of Cattrani’s vellum higher than Redouté’s, but the technical skill of Cattrani matches the level of the French master’s as well. Indeed, each of Cattrani’s watercolors, beautifully composed and carefully painted, is remarkably high in scientific and artistic quality. And to be sure, few artists of Cattrani’s era, excluding Redouté, could rival his clear and assured style and ability to portray plants elegantly and accurately.
Equally significant to their value, Cattrani’s watercolors are entirely of the tradition and style of the “Velin du Roi,” or Vellums of the King. This tradition commenced with Louis XIV’s patronage of the work of Nicolas Robert. The finest watercolors in the world were produced by members of this school.
These exquisite and exceptionally rare watercolors constitute a treasure in the history of all botanical art. Other of Cattrani’s works can be found in the esteemed collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon at Oak Spring in Upperville, Virginia and the Garden Library at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. Any opportunity to acquire works by this gifted and as yet shockingly underrated Italian artist should not be overlooked.