Jan Van Der Straet, Known As Giovanni Stradano, Or Stradanus (Bruges 1523 - 1605 Florence) "Caccia All'elefante"; An Extensive Landscape With An Elephant Hunt. Photo Sotheby's

oil on canvas; 191 by 197 cm.; 75 1/4  by 77 1/2  in. Estimation: 200,000 - 300,000 GBP - Lot. Vendu 241,250 GBP

PROVENANCE: Champmas family, south-west France, for at least four generations;
Acquired from the above in 2003 by Emmanuael Moatti, Paris;

From whom acquired by the present owners in 2004.

NOTE DE CATALOGUE: Stradanus, known as Giovanni Stradano in Italy, was one of the most imaginative artists of the 16th century and, partly for this reason, he was employed for much of his career by the Medici. Large-scale paintings by Stradanus, such as the present lot, are of the utmost rarity and there are few others that reaffirm with such vehemence his precocious talent and skill as a painter. He arrived in Florence in 1546 and was employed almost immediately by Grand Duke Cosimo de’ Medici’s tapestry factory, the Arazzeria Medicea. From 1550 he spent three years in Rome, for some time the student of Francesco Salviati, while also working independently in the Vatican Belvedere. Returning to Florence, he painted many frescoes, such as those in the Quartiere di Eleonora di Toledo, and produced at least 132 tapestry cartoons. He worked with Vasari on the Duomo’s frescoes, and as Vasari’s chief assistant on the Palazzo Vecchio decorative schemes from 1557 onwards.

During his tenure at the Palazzo Vecchio Stradanus also completed a series of cartoons of Hunting Scenes for tapestries (now in the Palazzo Vecchio) which had been originally intended to provide the decoration for some twenty rooms of Cosimo’s villa at Poggio a Caiano. His success with these must have encouraged him to design a further two series of hunting scenes, both with the purpose of being engraved, which they subsequently were by Philip Galle and others, and they were later combined into a single series of 104 prints published by Galle under the title Venationes, ferrarum, arium, piscium, pugnae.1

This monumental painting, animated by the gestures and brightly-coloured costumes of the young huntsmen in the foreground, demonstrates a harmonious fusion of Italian mannerist principles with a profoundly Flemish finish. The landscape and foliage recall the art of the Low Countries, in particular that of Paul Bril who had brought the Flemish style to Rome, where he remained for the rest of his life, in 1574. The figures however, or rather their twisting forms and animated gestures, are unthinkable without the influence of Vasari and his contemporaries on Stradanus’ art. According to Mina Gregori the painting most likely dates from the 1580s, by comparison with the execution of the heads in the Crucifixion in the Casa Vasari, dated 1581;2 however, the painting is not without parallel with the earlier large-scale panels in the Salone dei Cinquecento in the Palazzo Vecchio, which are built along similar compositional lines and share the same facial types.3

Not the least remarkable aspect of the painting is the depiction of an elephant hunt. Though Giulio Romano had introduced the elephant into his cartoons commemorating the life of Scipio Africanus, woven in 1532-5 for François I of France, the representation of the elephant was still deeply uncommon in the second half of the century, especially in paint. In his exceptional drawings the elephant features sporadically, as does the brown bear, and indeed the elephant depicted at rear left of the present scene bears a very close resemblance to that of Stradanus’ drawing in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, which was engraved by Galle in 1578. For the 16th century’s great collectors of curiosities, like the Medici, François I, and Rudolph II in Prague, both elephant ivory and the depiction of these extraordinary beasts fulfilled an irresistible yearning for the exotic. 

1. C. 1596; Hollstein, nos. 571–678.
2. Private communication with the present owner, 16 February 2005. On file with the department.
3. See, for example, the Triumph after the War with Siena; A.B. Vannucci, Jan van der Straet detto Giovanni
Stradano, Milan/Rome 1997, pp. 104-5, no. 13, reproduced.

Sotheby's. Old Master & British Paintings Evening Sale Including Three Renaissance Masterworks from Chatsworth. London | 05 déc. 2012 www.sothebys.com