Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Casanova, Francis

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CASANOVA, FRANCIS (1727–1805), battle painter, was descended from an ancient Spanish family, for some generations conspicuous in the annals of gallantry and intrigue. He was the second son of Gaetano Giuseppe Giacomo Casanova, who had quitted his family for love of an actress, adopted the stage as a profession, and espoused Zanetta, daughter of Jeronimo Farusi, a cobbler. The eldest son was Giacomo Girolamo, the famous adventurer, better known as ‘Casanova de Seingalt;’ the second was Francesco; and the third, Giovanni Battista, also became an artist, was a pupil of Raphael Mengs, and afterwards professor and director of the academy at Dresden. Francesco Casanova was born in London in 1727, where his parents were then fulfilling a theatrical engagement. He returned with his family when quite young to Venice, and, his father dying prematurely, he was placed with his brothers in the care of the Grimani family, under whom he received an excellent education. He early showed a taste for art and architecture, and first studied under Guardi, and under Francesco Simonini, the battle painter, taking his chief instruction from the works of Jacques Courtois, ‘Bourguignon,’ whose style he adopted throughout. In the spring of 1751 he went at his elder brother's suggestion to Paris, and studied under Charles Parrocel. Although he devoted himself with industry to his work, he did not meet with the success his ambition required. In 1752, therefore, he left Paris for Dresden, where he worked for four years, giving special study to the works of painters of the Dutch and Flemish school. In 1757 he returned to Paris, and in a very short time gained himself a reputation as a battle painter of the first rank. In 1763 a battle-piece he exhibited was purchased for a large sum for the Louvre, and he was elected with acclamation a member of the Academy. In spite, however, of his great success, the high prices he obtained for his pictures, and the patronage of royalty and the nobility, his extravagant habits and luxurious mode of life, in addition to two unfortunate matrimonial adventures, kept him continually in debt and trouble. One of his own etchings, entitled ‘Le Dîner du Peintre Casanova,’ represents him as just alighted from his coach and bartering his pictures for food to an old woman selling sausages and similar food by the wayside. He received a commission from the Empress Catherine of Russia to paint the victories of the Russians over the Turks for the royal palace at St. Petersburg, but was compelled about the same time to quit Paris on account of his debts. He established himself at Vienna, and continued to paint there until his death, which occurred in the Brühl, near Vienna, in 1805. In 1767 he exhibited in London, at the Exhibition of the Free Society of Artists, a picture of ‘Hannibal crossing the Alps,’ in which his clever disposition of masses of people and ingenious contrasts of light and shade caused a sensation, which fully carried out the high estimation in which his pictures were held at Paris and elsewhere. Besides his numerous battle-pieces he executed several etchings, in addition to the one mentioned above. In the Print Room of the British Museum there is a spirited drawing by him representing horsemen crossing a ford. Among his pupils at Vienna was James Philip de Loutherbourg, R.A.

[Mémoires de Casanova de Seingalt, Heineken's Dictionnaire des Artistes, vol. iii.; Huber et Roost's Manuel des Curieux et des Amateurs de l'Art; Seubert's Allgemeines Künstler-Lexikon, vol. i.; Nagler's Künstler-Lexikon, vol. ii.; Andresen's Handbuch für Kupferstich-Sammler; Prosper de Baudicour's Le Peintre Graveur Français, vol. i.; Nouvelle Biographie Générale.]

L. C.