Friday, November 14, 2014

Castiglione: Lost Genius

Genius of 17th-century lawless rogue revealed in first exhibition of its kind in Scotland

Newly reattributed painting and almost 100 ground-breaking drawings by Italian artist Castiglione go on display at The Queen's Gallery, Edinburgh.
He was repeatedly in court for assault; allegedly attempted to throw his sister off a roof; destroyed his own work in front of powerful patrons; and was forced to flee Rome in mysterious circumstances.  Lawless and impetuous, most of what is known of Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (1609–1664) is from court documents rather than fulfilled artistic commissions.  But Castiglione was one of the most innovative and ground-breaking artists of the Italian Baroque.
The first exhibition in Scotland devoted to the work of this rogue artist will open on Friday (14 November) at The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse. Castiglione: Lost Genius will shine a light on the master draughtsman's work through almost 100 works on paper in the Royal Collection – from dynamic oil drawings to pioneering monotype prints.  
Juno seeking from Jupiter the gift of Io transformed, late 1630s 
A newly-conserved painting, recently reattributed to Castiglione and one of only a few paintings by the artist to be found outside of Italy, will also go on display.
Acquired by George III in 1762 as a work by Castiglione, the painting tells the story of Princess Io from Ovid's Metamorphoses, who was transformed into a white cow by her lover Jupiter in an attempt to hide her from his wife.  By the twentieth century, a gradual discolouration of varnish had masked the quality of the work, leading scholars to discount the original attribution and describe the painting simply as 'Genoese School'.  Recent cleaning and the removal of layers of varnish and over-paint have revealed strong, distinct brushstrokes, with softer tones through the landscape – traits characteristic of Castiglione's work around 1640.
Some of the earliest monotypes – a technique of printmaking that Castiglione invented – will also go on display.  A strikingly modern hybrid of drawing, painting and printmaking, it involves creating an image in oils or printer’s ink on a metal plate and taking a single impression on a sheet of paper – variations of the technique have subsequently been used by artists from Edgar Degas to Tracey Emin.  

The powerful Head of an oriental from the late 1640s is one of the finest examples of Castiglione's monotypes and reveals his ability to produce dramatic contrasts of black and white using just an etcher's needle.  The artist's dynamic compositions were exceptional for their time, and his large drawings created in oil on unprimed paper, such as 

Circe with the companions of Odysseus transformed into animals 

and the allegory of transience, 

Omnia vanitas

are among the most original and exciting works on paper of the entire Baroque. 

The Nativity with angels, mid-1650s 
Despite being one of the greatest creative figures of the 17th century, Castiglione is relatively unknown today. His volatile temperament overshadowed his artistic brilliance and he struggled to achieve the recognition that he deserved.  In the early 1640s, Castiglione was on the verge of becoming Genoa's leading painter but threw it all away in an instant.  On hearing that the Doge of the Republic, Giovanni Battista Lomellini, had been advised to turn down a painting commissioned from him, Castiglione drew his dagger and slashed the work to shreds in front of the Doge's court, swearing that the Lomellini would never again have a work from his hand.  Having insulted Genoa's most powerful family he then had to flee the city in disguise, forfeiting his chance to become a renowned artist of his time.
Martin Clayton, exhibition curator said, 'Castiglione was a real enigma – a violent, impulsive man who nonetheless created some of the most lyrical works of the Baroque.  His paintings are few and far between, so to discover his distinctive style hidden under the layers of discoloured varnish was tremendously exciting.  It is a very fine painting and we are delighted that it is going to be the highlight of the very first exhibition in Scotland devoted to this ground-breaking artist.'

Castiglione: Lost Genius is at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, 14 November 2014 – 8 February 2015.