Born in Rome at the midpoint of the eighteenth century to a French father and an Italian mother, Giuseppe Cades (1750–1799) was a child prodigy. A virtuoso draughtsman who at the age of 12 had won a minor prize at the Roman art academy Accademia di San Luca, he had claimed a major prize from the same institution by age 16. In the latter year, 1766, he was expelled from the studio of his master, the painter Domenico Corvi, apparently for excessive independence. For some years thereafter, Cades made his reputation as a producer of polished, saleable drawings “in the manner of” older masters—not forgeries, but openly recognized imitations of sixteenth- or seventeenth-century artists intended for collectors of hard-to-find Renaissance or baroque masterpieces on paper.

By the early 1770s, after his brilliant if erratic beginnings, Cades had become an established history painter with important commissions from churches and religious orders as well as from princely Roman families, such as the Borghese, Chigi, and Altieri, who required decorations for their palaces and villas. Coming to maturity at a time of great creative ferment in Rome, the city in which he spent virtually his whole career, Cades drew on the work of a rich mix of foreign visitors, important French, German, Scandinavian, Swiss, and British masters in particular, themselves attracted to the Eternal City as a source of artistic inspiration.

Cades’s mature drawing style surpassed those of most of his immediate contemporaries in fluency, imagination, and vigor. His work combines a neoclassical linearity and clarity with a neo-Mannerist tension and distortion, overlaid by a strong influence of the extravagant and fantastic manner characteristic of the circle of northern artists working around Henry Fuseli in Rome in the 1770s. The sheet depicting Bacchus and Ariadne typifies Cades’s manner of the late 1780s; a finished work in its own right, it is not a preparatory study for a known composition.1

Bacchus and Ariadne comes to the Philadelphia Museum through the bequest of Anthony Morris Clark (1923–1976), who at his premature death was probably the foremost scholar of eighteenth-century Roman art. Clark owned at least sixteen sheets by Cades, one of the most prolific draughtsmen of his time. Clark’s bequest—comprising about 350 drawings plus prints, coins, medals, and small sculptures, almost all eighteenth-century Roman—entered the museum in 1978, establishing Philadelphia as a center for art-historical studies in this field. In 1984, the Clark collection was joined by a compilation of some 2,500 drawings with particular strengths in the various Italian schools from the sixteenth through early nineteenth centuries, formerly owned by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Several of the stars of this latter collection are eighteenth-century Roman drawings, including two sheets by Giuseppe Cades that were first identified by Clark. Thus Bacchus and Ariadne represents a special, focused collection-within-a-collection at the Philadelphia Museum that stands at the center of a rich and still insufficiently studied field.