October 18, 2006

The Genius of Castiglione

As John Byrne noted on my recent entry about The Genius of Salvator Rosa, ‘Rosa’s “Genius” is partly a response to [Giovanni Benedetto] Castiglione’s “Genius of Castiglione” of about ten years earlier (they almost certainly knew each other). This is a less complex, but for me a more attractive work…’ I had discovered Castiglione’s etchings in the course of researching Rosa’s, and in so doing formed a similar preference for the former’s Genius over the latter’s. Il Genio di G.B. Castiglione, part of which is shown in the detail below, was first published in Rome, ca. 1648. The second etching illustrated below, La Melanconica (‘Melancholy’) is one of a number of other prints of Castiglione’s which are likewise thought to have influenced Rosa: specifically, in this case, the younger painter’s ‘Democritus in Meditation.’

Detail from 'The Genius of G. B. Castiglione,' an etching by Castiglione, ca. 1648.


Detail from 'Melancholy,' an etching by G. B. Castiglione, ca. 1647.

Castiglione was born in 1609, in Genoa. He is known to have studied, briefly, with the Genoese painter Giovanni Battista Paggi, until Paggi’s death in 1627. Some (disputed) sources claim that Castiglione also studied with Anthony Van Dyck, who had spent a good deal of his Italian sojourn (1621-7) in Genoa: in any case, he would have had ample opportunity to examine the Flemish painter’s handiwork. Castiglione was unusual among the Italian artists of his day in absorbing northern-European influences. This was true, too, for his graphic work, where he was among the first Italians to attempt to emulate Rembrandt’s graphic style, as, for example, in the following pair of images (two of a series of four Grandi teste all’Orientale)…

Detail from 'Head of a Man with Whiskers...,' an etching by G. B. Castiglione, 1640s(?).


Detail from 'Head of a Bearded Old Man...,' an etching by G. B. Castiglione, 1640s(?).

Castiglione travelled to Rome for the first time in 1632, by which time he had already won some renown as a painter, becoming a member of the prestigious Accademia di San Luca. From 1635, he spent some years in Naples, before returning to Genoa ca. 1639. He married there in 1641. The few canvases of Castiglione’s which survive from this period are, almost exclusively, devoted to religious subjects, but, meanwhile, his growing output of graphic work permitted him to explore classical and mythological as well as Biblical themes. He returned to Rome with his family in 1647, where he renewed contact with such notables as Bernini, and Pietro da Cortona, but left there again in 1651. In his later years, Castiglione is known to have spent time in Genoa, Venice & Parma, and in Mantua, at the court of Carlo III. Gonzaga, where he died in 1664.

Detail from 'Diogenes,' an etching by G. B. Castiglione, ca. 1645-7.


Detail from 'Circe,' an etching by G. B. Castiglione, ca. 1650-1.

Castiglione was as famous a painter as an etcher in his day, but this fame has faded with the fugitive blues and greens on many of his canvases, leaving no few of them with drably brown landscapes, and ashen skies. He was a versatile painter, but had a particular talent for animal-painting, and he seems to have sought out subjects which allowed him to bring animals into his compositions. Castiglione was also an innovator, apparently inventing the monotype technique, and probably being the first to create a soft-ground etching. The following image may (or may not) be a self-portrait of the artist: it has unhelpfully been described as ‘Portrait of a man in a plumed cap (self-portrait, or portrait of G. L. Bernini)…’

Detail from 'Portrait of a Man in a Plumed Cap...,' an etching by G. B. Castiglione, 1640s(?).

My source for these images is a book entitled Il Genio di G. B. Castiglione, Il Grechetto which was published by SAGEP Editrice in Genoa in 1990, Il Grechetto being a nickname by which the artist is better-known in Italy. Click on the details above to see the images enlarged and in full. Many more of Castiglione’s etchings can be found here, and a few more here (three etchings), here & here.

Posted by misteraitch at October 18, 2006 02:21 PM

Thank you for posting this, it’s wonderful.
In some of the old Italian galleries, by the time you reach the mid-17th century, your feet are starting to hurt: you’ve been walking since the 12th century, and you probably just passed a few rooms full of gory counter-reformist propaganda and scowling cardinals. My memory of meeting Grechetto and his cheerful menagerie is like seeing an old friend at a boring party. I get the sense that he threw in just enough saints and sybils so he could spend his best energies on the rams, ducks and cabbages that really interested him. Artists still do that, except that the orthodoxies of the day have changed…

Posted by: Michelangelo on October 19, 2006 03:24 PM

Enjoyed this - people may also like to see my short biography of GBC at Bodkin Prints, & notes on the prints of his. In London we are strangely short of his paintings, so I was rather suprised to be very taken with a Disembarkation from the Ark (or maybe an entry to it) from Dresden in the Royal Academy exhibition a couple of years ago.

He was also a tremendously fertile & stylish creator of oil sketches, another medium he effectively invented (as a thing done for its own sake, rather than a preparation for another work by Rubens for example). There are some ravishing ones from the Louvre on RNM http://www.photo.rmn.fr/cf/htm/Home.aspx . He picked a small number of subjects and treated them again & again in various mediums, with completely different compositions. Another similarity with Rembrandt, and a mark of real class, I feel. Quite a change from the C15 & earlier, where every little change in a standard Nativity composition, say, seems hard-won.

Somewhat unlike Salvator Rosa, he comes across as an attractive personality.

Posted by: Johnb on October 29, 2006 05:45 AM

when I say oil sketches just above, this is inaccurate, as various media were used, but often including oil.

Posted by: Johnb on October 30, 2006 04:01 AM

Outside Munich, in the Schleissheim New Palace, there is a large oil by Castiglioni, Moorish Boy with Dromedary. The painting also includes a handsome greyhound, or given the North African setting, maybe a salugi.

Posted by: Henry Townsend on February 13, 2007 10:28 PM
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