Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, Angel Who Is the Shepherd

Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione an expressive Baroque painter

Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, Adoration of the shepherds
Adoration of the shepherds, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione

The work of Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione is mainly landscapes and rural scenes, painted on subjects from the Old Testament. Various animals regularly appear in the paintings this master is considered one of the best animal painters of his time. He also became famous as the inventor of the engraving technique of monotyping.

Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, Allegory in honor of the Duchess of Mantua
Allegory in honor of the Duchess of Mantua, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione

Biography of Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione

Castiglione was born in Genoa and was baptized on 23 March 1609. Little is known about the early period of his life, and researchers can only guess who he studied with. They were probably local landscape painters and caravaggist Bernardo Strozzi. The artist’s work traces the influence of Pieter Paul Rubens and Antoon van Dyck the latter he could meet in person.

Giovanni Castiglione was admitted to the Academy of Saint Luke in 1632. He lived in Rome for about 15 years, studied the works of the High Renaissance masters and prominent contemporaries. From Nicolas Poussin, for example, he adopted the art of constructing complex and carefully organized compositions. In the early 1640s, the artist returned to Genoa and carried out several important orders for the decoration of church altars. Later, the images he created had a noticeable impact on the local school. Around the same time, he creates the first works in the technique of monotype. It is Castiglione who is considered the inventor of this type of printed graphics.

Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, Angel Who Is the Shepherd
Angel Who Is the Shepherd

From 1647 to 1652, the artist again lived in Rome

He was influenced by the most popular painters at that time Salvator Rosa and Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini. The master’s style becomes more emotional and dramatic. At the same time he studied engravings by Rembrandt (Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn) and adopted many techniques. For the virtuoso image of chiaroscuro on the etchings, the author was even nicknamed the second Rembrandt. He also earned the nickname Grechetto for his classic pastoral scenes.

In later years, Castiglione was in great demand and often visited the largest Italian cities. He became the court painter of the Gonzaga family in Mantua, and also visited Naples, Venice, Parma and his native Genoa. Many of the master’s works were created in the studio together with his brother Salvatore and his son Francesco, which creates difficulties in attribution. Castiglione died on May 5, 1664 in Mantua and was buried in the local cathedral. His son became the new court painter.

Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, Family with cattle in the background of the landscape
Family with cattle in the background of the landscape

Giovanni Castiglione gained international fame during his lifetime. In the 18th century, he was still imitated, and his works were copied as classics. For example, oriental and “witchcraft” motifs from his engravings come to life in the work of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. But in the 19th century, the popularity of this author faded away and they began to forget him. Much information has been lost.

It is curious that not only records of completed orders help to restore the facts, but also court documents. Apparently, the artist was distinguished by a quick-tempered disposition and repeatedly became a participant in the riots, which complicated the development of his career. Currently, the work of the master is appreciated, and his works are kept in the best museums in Italy, in the Louvre, the Hermitage and other famous collections.

The most famous paintings by Giovanni Castiglione

The paintings of Giovanni Castiglione testify to him as a brilliant draftsman and master of composition. Another advantage is its innovation and ingenuity. He came up with a monotype, was the first to paint in oil on paper and used cinnabar, which no one used at that time. Among the famous works of the author are the following:

  1. “Before Noah’s Ark” (about 1650). The author loved to paint a variety of animals and turned to the plot with Noah’s ark throughout his entire creative career.
  2. Diogenes in Search of Man (c. 1650). The plot is taken from a fable in which Diogenes wandered around Athens with a lamp and said that he was trying to find an honest man. The idol, satyr, animals and bones in the picture are evidence of the depravity and decline of society.
  3. Saint Francis in ecstasy (c. 1650). This work was painted in Rome, probably as an altarpiece. Skull, book and cross are symbols of worldly vanity and eternity of the spiritual world.
  4. “The head of a man in an oriental headdress” (1655). The artist created a whole series of works in monotype technique with exotic portraits of men and women. It became popular and was reproduced frequently.
Head of a bearded Oriental
Head of a bearded Oriental
Holy Family with little Saint John the Baptist
Holy Family with little Saint John the Baptist
Hagar in the desert
Hagar in the desert