Agostino Tassi moved to Florence from Rome at the age of 20 to enter the service of Grand Duke Ferdinand de'Medici, but spent much of his time in the Duke's convict galleys, ostensibly as punishment for his dissolute habits and violent behavior. He was not, however, obliged to serve as an oarsman, and instead moved freely about the ship to paint and draw as he pleased. These years likely offered numerous ideas upon which he later based his seascapes, port views, and fishing scenes. Tassi earned a degree of infamy in 1612 when he was sentenced to a year in prison for violently attacking Artemisia Gentileschi, the daughter of Orazio, with whom he collaborated on a series of frescoes in Genoa.
The present composition, A stormy seascape with Jonah and the Whale, is closely related in its turbulent composition, dramatic lighting and loose brushwork to Tassi's Storm at Sea of circa 1636 (private collection, Rome). We are grateful to Prof. Nicola Spinosa for confirming the attribution to Tassi on the basis of first-hand examination (March 1998). Patrizia Cavazzini says that, while the present work resembles that of painting by the artist in the Palazzo Barberini, it relies heavily on studio assistance and is therefore difficult to ascribe to Tassi in full.