About the Artists

Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione

(also known as il Grechetto) (1609 - 64)

Castiglione was born in Genoa, and received his first training with two local artists, who specialised in animals and landscapes respectively.  Genoa had strong trading links with the Netherlands, and there were a number of Flemish artists in the city, including a pupil of Snyders, the leading Flemish painter of animals and still-life.


Animals were to remain a regular element in Castiglione’s art, often as a part of a Biblical scene with a landscape background, following the precedent of the Bassano family.  In 1635 he was described in a document as a specialist in ‘patriarchal processions’ (they always took their flocks with them).  The entry to, or disembarkation from, Noah’s Ark was another regular subject.


Van Dyck arrived in Genoa in late 1621 and spent most of the following five years there, developing a portrait style of an elegant hauteur which appealed to the ruling class of the city, then in a last flush of prosperity.  


Castiglione’s sketch drawings, brilliantly executed in a loose style with brush and oil, show a strong influence from those of Van Dyck and probably Rubens, who had also stayed in Genoa fifteen years earlier.   Castiglione may have worked in Van Dyck’s Genoan studio. 


Castiglione liked throughout his career to create many completely different compositions on the same subjects, and seemingly had little difficulty in composing compositions.  The subject of most of his large prints will also be the subject of one of more sketch drawings, and often a painting or monotype as well.  But each treatment will be significantly or completely different.


Rubens had already created vigourous oil sketches that were probably always at least potentially connected to a finished painting (or were copies of other artists).  With many of Castiglione’s sketch drawings it is clear that they were always meant to be independent works of art.  His invention of the monotype represented a further development along this track.  


In 1634 Castiglione moved to Rome, where he remained for over a decade before returning to Genoa.  From then on classical subjects and classicising décor feature regularly in his work, and were to be his most long-lasting influence.  He created the vocabulary for the post-pastoral world of satyrs, philosophers, soldiers and vagabonds drifting elegantly in a landscape littered with broken classical garden statuary that we find over a century later in Tiepolo.  The compositional strength of Poussin, who he may well have known personally, was a further influence he took from Rome.   


Around the end of his time in Rome he began to make etchings, and at about the same time invented the monotype, the only print technique to be invented by an Italian.   This is described in the note to our reproduction of Theseus Finding the Arms of his Father.  He knew prints by Rembrandt and like him experimented with the possibilities of darkness and dimness in prints, though finding very different solutions.  Our reproduction of The Bodies of SS Peter and Paul Placed in the Catacombs shows one of his most brilliant treatments in etching.


He returned to Rome in 1647, bringing a number of etched plates with him.  These were published by a Roman publisher from 1648 onwards.  In 1651 he was appointed court artist in Mantua, a position he retained until his death there in 1664, when his son succeeded him. 


From 1650 he developed a more intense Baroque style in his religious work, for example in several compositions showing God the Father present at the Nativity.  His last dated print is from 1655, although a monotype is dated 1660.   Altogether he produced about 60 etchings, and more than 20 monotypes (of which 14 are night scenes).  Many of his etched plates continued to be printed until the C19 in worn and reworked impressions.







Theseus Finding the Arms of his Father

Monotype 1643






The Bodies of SS Peter and Paul

hidden in the Catacombs

Etching c1650