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Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (called il Grechetto)

Italian, 1609 - 1664

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Born in 1609, Castiglione is recorded as being in the studio of the Genoese painter Giovanni Battista Paggi at the age of sixteen, whence he proceeded to that of Giovanni Andrea de Ferrari (Delogu, Giuseppe, G. B. Castiglione detto il Grechetto. Bologna: Apollo, 1928, p. 17; Standring, Timothy J. "Genium Io: Benedicti Castilionis Ianuen: The Paintings of Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (1609-1663/65)." 3 vols. Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1982). The distinctive drawing style he developed is more vigorous and original than that of his Genoese contemporaries, such as Paggi, for example, whose conventions of smooth and regular handling of pen line and wash could sometimes degenerate into the flimsy and puffy.

Castiglione defies any attempt at regional classification, partly because of his originality and partly because he worked all over Italy--in Genoa, Rome, Naples, Mantua, Parma, and Venice. He enjoyed important patronage throughout his career, including a commission in his final years to travel and buy pictures for Carlo II Gonzaga, duke of Mantua. Contemporary biographies comment on his personality, seemingly as original as his work.

Castiglione's great genius was most fully expressed through his wide-ranging graphic oeuvre: his pen-and-wash drawings in ink and his brush drawings in oil, with their distinctive palette of blues and orange-browns. From the internal evidence of his drawings we can speculate on Castiglione's sources of inspiration. His use of the dry brush in his oil sketches could derive from observing Anthony van Dyck's treatment of the medium, and his fascination with animals, domestic and otherwise, could stem from his study of the Netherlandish prints that were available in Paggi's library or from the animal-strewn landscapes created by his fellow Genoese Sinibaldo Scorza.

Castiglione was equally inventive in the area of printmaking, a medium not extensively employed in seventeenth-century Genoa, and his etching technique indicates that he had given close attention to Rembrandt's etchings, which by the 1630s were becoming well known to Italian collectors. His originality comes through most clearly in his monotypes, a technique that he may have invented and certainly exploited. This entailed painting on a metal plate with a brush laden with oil-based paint and printing it in a single impression. A truly unique creative figure in Italian Baroque art, Castiglione stands as proof positive that some artists' work as draughtsmen and printmakers achieves levels of excellence usually accorded only to painters in the standardized critical hierarchy. Castiglione died in 1664 and is buried in Mantua. One of the conspicuous strengths of the Philadelphia collection is its group of eight Castiglione drawings (see also Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, called il Grechetto's The Prodigal Son As a Swineherd and Saints Francis and Dominic Adoring the Immaculate Conception{?}).

Mimi Cazort, from Italian Master Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2004), cat. 15.

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