(b Naples, bapt 25 Aug 1616; d Naples, ?1656).
Italian painter and draughtsman. He was the most individual and most poetic
painter active in Naples during the first half of the 17th century. He
painted mainly small cabinet pictures, on canvas or on copper, for dealers
and for highly cultivated private patrons; he had few public commissions and
apparently never painted any large-scale decorations for private or
ecclesiastical patrons. His subject-matter is largely derived from the Old
and New Testaments, the Apocrypha, Tasso and from Roman history and
mythology. Documentary evidence for his life and work is almost
non-existent, and he remains enigmatic and elusive as a historical figure.
Yet as a painter he is strikingly distinctive, uniting a refinement and
virtuosity of brushwork with an intensely naturalistic observation of
surfaces, and complex and dramatic compositions with an extraordinary
brilliance of palette. Only eight pictures are signed, initialled or
inscribed with Cavallino’s name. No works are documented and only five may
be tentatively identified with pictures in mid-18th-century Neapolitan
collections described by Bernardo de Dominici. A strict chronology cannot be
established, yet his accepted works, the attribution of which depends on
their distinctive visual qualities, may be grouped as early, mature and late
pictures on the basis of style.