Francesco Simonini was the most in-demand battle painter, or battaglista, in 18th century Venice, as his vast output testifies. Despite his undoubted popularity, details of his life and the chronology of his oeuvre, which includes battle scenes and studies of horsemen (see lot 230), remain relatively sketchy: stylistically, his work points to knowledge of Ilario Mercanti, il Spolverini (1657-1734), but he is recorded as being apprenticed to Francesco Monti, il Brescianino (1646-1703) in Parma. At some point early in his career, he went to both Florence and Rome, studying and gathering commissions, before settling for a spell in Bologna from 1721-27. Finally, he went north to Venice at the beginning of the 1730s, and there spent time in the service of Field Marshal Count Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg, the heroic Venetian commander whom he accompanied on military forays, an eye witness to the battle scenes he depicted in such vivid fashion. One of Schulenburg’s inventories described Simonini as ‘the only painter of battles in Venice’.
The dating of Simonini’s work is problematic, but some parts of the skirmish here – the fallen horses in the foreground and the sword-wielding cavalrymen - can be compared to similar passages in a pair of battle scenes in a private collection in Brescia (see G. Sestieri, I pittori di battaglie, Rome, 1999, p. 479, figs. 57 and 58). The expansive landscape is typical of Simonini’s grandest compositions: the distant mountain ranges, the scattered hilltop buildings, and the ranks of soldiers receding into the far distance.
We are grateful to Professor Giancarlo Sestieri for confirming the attribution on the basis of photographs