Giovanni Castiglione

The Genius of Castiglione

The Genius of Castiglione by Giovanni Castiglione

Artwork Detail

Executed at the highpoint of his etching career, shortly before his return to Rome from his home town of Genoa, this is a prodigious example of the artist's talent for the medium. The work is not intended as a direct representation of the artist, but is rather an allegorical portrayal in which the youth represents Fame and by extension Castiglione's Genius, to which the trumpets and laurel wreath also allude. Ann Percy explains that the symbolism is less self-congratulatory than initially apparent, with the sculptural plinth sprouting vegetation and the palette and crumpled sheet music casually left in the company of game, 'hinting at the … futility of human accomplishments.'

The etching does not show the stylistic influence of Rembrandt, which is seen in Castiglione's works from 1650 onwards, although he was probably familiar with the Northern master's work at this time. The bust which sits on the aforementioned pedestal with palm behind is highly reminiscent of Rembrandt's unfinished etching Artist Drawing from the Model, c.1639 in which similar objects appear. The resemblance may be coincidental, but as Sue Welsh Reed points out, the inscription dedicates the work to a Dutch nobleman who could well have been one of Castiglione's informants on Rembrandt's oeuvre.

Volume is created using fine strokes of varying weights, which suggest the contours of his forms and their textures. By this means he contrasts the alabaster-like figure of the youth, with the rough wall upon which he rests. He uses a similar technique to achieve the lightness of the feathers of the youth's plumed cap, while giving a sense of weight and wiriness to the hair beneath it. Unlike some of his Northern counterparts depth of tone is not achieved through multiple bitings, but rather through the use of fine many-directional lines. (Masters of the Bitten Line, 2006)

The Genius of Castiglione
Giovanni Castiglione
Production date
373 x 248 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Peter Tomory Collection, purchased 2004
Accession no
No known copyright restrictions
International Art
Display status
Not on display

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