Search the Collections

Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (il Grechetto)
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
A brilliant and eclectic painter, draftsman and etcher, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione was one of Italy’s leading artists of the 17th century. An innovative artist, he probably invented the monotype and soft-ground etching. While he made pen-and-ink drawings, he also used an unusual drafting technique called dry-brush oil sketches on unprimed paper. The large number of commissions for paintings he received demonstrates that he was among the most-admired Italian artists of his time. Castiglione was born in 1609 in Genoa, and was baptized on March 23. He was a pupil of Giovanni Battista Paggi (1554-1627) during 1626 and 1627 and probably worked with Paggi’s assistant Sinibaldo Scorza (1589-1631). Some early biographies state that he was also the pupil of Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), who was in Genoa at this time, but it may be that Castiglione was aware of the Flemish master’s art and was influence by it. Castiglione probably began creating oil sketches during the late 1620s, perhaps inspired by the oil sketches of Van Dyck and Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), who had been in Italy at the beginning of the 17th century. The earliest of the approximately 250 drawings by Castiglione in he Royal Library, Windsor Castle, probably dates from this time. Sometime after Paggi’s death in May 1627 Castiglione moved to Rome. An Easter census records him in the parish of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte in 1632 and again in 1633, the year of Castiglione’s earliest signed and dated painting. His brother Salvatore (1620-after 1676) had joined him by Easter of 1634. Castiglione was active in Rome’s artistic circles, and may have acquired his sobriquet “Il Grechetto” (literally, the “little Greek”) at this time, although scholars disagree over the meaning of the nickname. He became a member of Rome’s Accademia di San Luca in 1634. Castiglione was in Naples by the first quarter of 1635, where his works seemed to influence contemporary Neapolitan artists such as Andrea de Leone (1595-1675). Castiglione in turn appears to have studied the works of Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652), the Spanish artist then working in Naples. He returned to Rome, perhaps in 1636. Castiglione seems to have taken up his major themes of religious and mythological scenes set in pastoral landscapes, often filled with animals, early in his career. Many of his scenes feature journeys by Biblical patriarchs. Some scholars believe he knew Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) who was in Rome at this time, but it is clear that he did know Poussin’s work, making drawings after paintings by Poussin that scholars date to the 1630s. He surely had access to contemporary Dutch prints; Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) in particular was an influence. Castiglione entered into a lease in Genoa in 1637, made a will there in 1639, and married there in 1640. He was very active in the 1640s, creating paintings, prints, monotypes and drawings. He also arranged for numerous prints to be published by Giovanni Domenico de Rossi in Rome. In a 1644 contract, Castiglione agreed to produce a painting each month for four years for a Genoese art dealer. He also received numerous other commissions for paintings, including large altarpieces, many of which remain in palaces and churches in Genoa. He and his wife had returned to Rome by 1647, where he continued to receive prestigious commissions, publish prints and make drawings. Castiglione had left Rome for Genoa by 1652, where he kept a house but traveled extensively. Over the next dozen years he was also in Mantua, where he received many commissions from members of the court of the Duke of Mantua and also acted as an agent purchasing art for the Duke. He continued to receive Genoese commissions, and traveled to meet clients in Venice and Parma. His travels are documented by extensive surviving correspondence. Castiglione made few etchings during this time, but created a large number of oil sketches, paintings and monotypes. The large volume of work produced by his studio suggests that he employed assistants in addition to his brother Salvatore and his son Francesco (1641-ca. 1716). He died on May 5, 1664 in Mantua. (TNB 4/2013) Selected bibliography: **Blunt, Anthony. The Drawings of G. B. Castiglione and Stefano Della Bella in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle. London: Phaidon Press, 1954. Percy, Ann. Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione: Master Draughtsman of the Italian Baroque. Exhibition catalog. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1971. Reed, Sue Welsh and Richard Wallace. Itallian Etchers of the Renaissance & Baroque. Exhibition catalog, pp. 262-271. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1989. Standring, Timothy. “The Lost Genius: Castiglione,” in a forthcoming 2013 exhibition catalog.