Naples 1747–circa 1822
Portrait of the astronomer Giuseppe Cassella (Cusano Mutri 1755-Naples 1808)
Oil on canvas, 66 × 52 cm
Signed and dated on the back of the frame, top: “Gaetano De Simone 1789 Napoli”; lower left: “Gaetano De Simoni”
Provenance: Italy, private collection
Gaetano De Simone was rediscovered only recently as a protagonist of aristocratic Neapolitan portraiture around the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Massimo Pisani, “Gaetano De Simone, un ignoto pittore napoletano della seconda metà del Settecento”, Prospettiva, 47, 1986, pp. 69-74; Id. “Ancora su Gaetano De Simone”, Prospettiva, 64, 1991, 83-87).
In this portrait he owes a debt to the illuminist simplicity of Mengsian models, concentrating on the face of the sitter seen against an abstract background. The work is an exceptional iconographic record, it represents the illustrious Neapolitan astronomer Giuseppe Cassella (or Casella, Cusano Mutri 1755-Naples 1808), accompanied by the attribute of the telescope. The scholar lectured in astronomy and nautical studies, was author of “Astronomical Ephemera,” published annually from 1788 and designer of the first public Neapolitan observatory in 1791 at Palazzo degli Studi, then Museo Borbonico, where he and the architect Pompeo Schiattarelli made the famous meridian in the room of the same name. At the time the painting was made Cassella made use for his astronomical research of the apparatus at the private observatory belonging to Lord Acton at San Carlo alle Mortelle (Ugo Baldini, Giuseppe Casella, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, vol. 21, 1978, ad vocem).