GIOVANNI BATTISTA CASTELLO, called IL GENOVESE
1547/49 — Genoa — 1639
gouache on vellum, laid down on panel, the panel verso lined with paper. signed and dated: BC (cojoined) 1622 genoua on panel lining. 133/4 x 97/16". (350 x 239 mm.)
According to the biographer of Genoese artists, Raffaele Soprani (1674), G. B. Castello followed his father’s profession as a goldsmith. No known examples in that medium survive but a substantial body of work as a miniaturist and illuminator is extant. He was active in the workshop of Luca Cambiaso (1527-85) and followed him to Spain around 1583. There he worked for Philip II decorating manuscripts for the monastery of El Escorial. By 1590, he was back in Genoa where he remained for the rest of his life. Castello’s style was rooted in the Counter-Reformatory aesthetic characterized by Federico Zeri as arte sacra.1 Clarity of composition, simplicity of form, purity of color and a certain primitive piety all hark back to a proto–Renaissance vision. Castello never seems to have worked on a large scale. These gouaches were meant for private devotion and are often referred to in inventories as quadri da letto.
This Entombment is unusually large for the artist. Of the works published by Clario di Fabio in his monographic exhibition catalogue2 and of those recently on the art market only three or four are as large or larger than our sheet. Castello's use of materials is unusual, but not unique. The gouache on vellum is attached to a thin wood panel and a blank piece of paper, inscribed with his monogram, the date and place of execution, covers the back side of the panel.3 Another Entombment by Castello, also dating from 1622, is similar in composition, setting and figure types.4 Both of these works appear to have been influenced by the artist’s activity in Cambiaso’s workshop and point to the close relationship of the two artists. Numerous drawings of this subject by Cambiaso and his workshop are known. Many are replicas, including autograph replicas, though opinions vary as to the attribution of hands. The drawing closest in composition to this sheet is the example in Stockholm.5
Federico Zeri, Pittura e controriforma, Turin, 1957, pp. 29ff., 52ff.
Clario di Fabio, Gio. Battista Castello, Il Genovese, Palazzo Bianco, Genoa, 1990.
cf. di Fabio, cat. nos. 30, 37, 38, 39.
ibid., cat. no. 42.
P. Bjurström, Italian Drawings. Venice, Brescia, Parma, Milan, Genoa, Stockholm, 1979, cat. no. 336