This exhibition would probably qualify as a specialist rather than a mainstream interest, and I might well not have seen it were it not for a very positive review by Brian Sewell. But his review highlighted the brilliance of Castiglioni as a painter, draughtsman and printmaker and I felt it would be worth a visit. It certainly was.
Giovanni Castiglioni (1609-64) is not a well known figure now, but at one time he was very widely admired. Born in Genoa, he spent much of his working life in Rome and elsewhere in Italy, regularly in hiding from the authorities. He was seemingly a man of foul moods and dark tempers who was on occasion as effective with the knife as he was with the brush. You could think that he modelled his life story on that of Carravagio. But despite his temper he retained powerful patrons throughout his life. After his death his entire studio collection of drawings were purchased by British collectors and ultimately found their way into the Royal Collection in 1762. There are some 470 drawings in all, many of them included in this exhibition.
The exhibition covers Castiglioni’s entire working life, and so we see him develop from a young apprentice in the Genoese studio of Paggi to a mature and then elderly artist. There are drawings, monotypes and etchings in the collection but the drawings done largely in a sepia oil on paper form the dominant part of the exhibition and are works of remarkable composition and draughtsmanship. In the early works such as Sacred and Profane above we seem him learning by copying, in this case from Titian, and still struggling to master a smooth line and the human figure.
The bulk of the exhibition though is made up of his mature drawings and prints all of which show how he mastered composition from his study of the greats, and most notably Nicholas Poussin, and developed a superb style which manages to be both free-flowing and precise. His drawings seem remarkably spontaneous until you stop to think how carefully planned and composed they obviously are.
The precision of his draughtsmanship becomes even more clear in his etchings of which there are several in the exhibition.
The only disappointment of the exhibition is that there none of his paintings on show. The impression left is that he only worked on paper but this is very far from the case. And we miss an important dimension of his work by not seeing any of his large scale paintings. As this example shows, he is a fine painter too:
But despite this disappointment the exhibition is well worth visiting. There are some superb works, it is a manageable size and there are no crowds. And that’s my sort of exhibition.