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Melancholia

Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (called il Grechetto), Italian, 1609 - 1664

Geography:
Made in Italy, Europe

Date:
After c. 1660

Medium:
Brush and reddish brown oil-based paint on beige laid paper

Dimensions:
Sheet: 11 1/8 x 16 1/8 inches (28.3 x 41 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:
1984-56-39

Credit Line:
The Muriel and Philip Berman Gift, acquired from the Matthew Carey Lea bequest of 1898 to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, with funds contributed by Muriel and Philip Berman and the Edgar Viguers Seeler Fund (by exchange), 1984

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Label:
Castiglione was a unique creative figure of the Italian Baroque, inventing the monotype print process as well as the distinctive kind of work on paper seen here, made with a brush and directly combining linseed oil with rather coarsely ground reddish-brown or brown dry pigment. These drawings were intended as finished works and not as preparatory studies.

Additional information:
  • PublicationItalian Master Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Richard Bernheimer (1951, p. 50) credits Otto Benesch with the attribution of this drawing to Castiglione. Throughout his career Castiglione sought out certain subjects that would give apt expression through symbolic language to his preoccupation with the occult and with the mysterious symbiosis between human and other forms of animal life. An idiosyncrasy of his art in both painting and drawing was his association of animals with metamorphosis and magic, as in his treatment of the Circe myth; or with the survival of life, as in his Noah pictures; or as testimonial to the intimate bond between men and their herds, as in his portrayal of Old Testament patriarchs. In the present drawing the position of the imposing female figure who sits in contemplation amid a clutter of attributes echoes the composition of Castiglione’s etching of the enchantress Circe (Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione: Master Draughtsman of the Italian Baroque, no. E23), but instead of surveying her triumph at having rendered man’s animal nature incarnate, the figure of Melancholia turns her attention inward. The pose, wreath, and purse are Melancholia’s standard emblems. Castiglione published an etching entitled Melancholia, probably in 1648 (ibid., no. E14), and he repeated the theme in this drawing, which can be dated on the basis of its style to the last years of his life, or sometime after 1660. A pen-and-ink version of the subject is in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle. We can appreciate the significance invested in the objects scattered around by reference to the etching and to its antecedent, Albrecht Dürer’s Melancholia engraving of 1513. From Dürer, Castiglione has adopted some instruments of measure and artisanship: Melancholia holds a compass, and on the floor to her left lie a carpenter’s square, a burin, a circular protractor, what might be a ruler and another compass, and an unfurled scroll of some sort. To her right one can discern an open book and a pen box, and above these are other items suggesting man’s aspirations to art and learning: a lute and a celestial globe. Reminders of time and mortality are present, and references to sorcery abound: an Augsburg clock, a cat hunched and ready to spit, and a hovering owl (see “Some Drawings by Benedetto Castiglione.” The Art Bulletin, p. 50). The general disarray suggests a commentary on the futility of worldly endeavors, providing the reigning emotional tone of melancholy. The drawing--with its alternation of dry and wet medium, juxtaposition of two close but slightly different colors, and the consummate control with which the artist has indicated Melancholia’s expression with a few deft lines laid on with the brush tip--shows Castiglione at the peak of his craft as a draughtsman. Mimi Cazort, from Italian Master Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2004), cat. 15.

    BIBLIOGRAPHY:
    Bernheimer, Richard. “Some Drawings by Benedetto Castiglione.” The Art Bulletin, vol. 33, no. 1 (March 1951) p. 50, fig. 4;
    The Detroit Institute of Arts. Art in Italy 1600-1700. Exhibition organized by Frederick Cummings. Catalogue introduction by Rudolf Wittkower, with commentaries by Robert Enggass et al. Detroit, Michigan: The Detroit Institute of Arts, 1965, no. 173, repro.;
    Philadelphia Museum of Art. Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione: Master Draughtsman of the Italian Baroque. Exhibition catalogue by Ann Percy. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1971, no. 117, repro.;
    Philadelphia Museum of Art. Handbook of the Collections. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1995, pp. 218-I 9, repro.;
    Percy, Ann and Innis Howe Shoemaker. "Collecting Collections: Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art." Master Drawings, vol. 42, no. 1 (Spring 2004), fig. 3, pp. 3-18.
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione was one of the most versatile and inventive artists of his time. A noted printmaker, he introduced the influence of Rembrandt into Italian etching and produced the first known monotypes. His paintings range from biblical, pastoral, and mythological scenes--frequently filled with the animal and still-life details in which he was something of a specialist--to altarpieces in the Baroque grand manner. He is most admired, however, for his marvelous "brush drawings," executed in a technique he invented in emulation of oil sketches by Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck, in which he combined linseed oil with rather coarsely ground reddish-brown or brown pigment. These compositions are highly finished works, almost like small paintings, often enriched with colorful accents. This sheet represents Melancholy as a woman immobilized by dejection amid attributes of artistic and scientific achievement. The fragility of human life, the futility of human endeavor, and the passage of time that reduces all earthly accomplishments to ruin were subjects that had occupied Castiglione since the 1640s and continued to concern him in this work that can be dated toward the end of his career. Ann Percy, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 218.

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