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Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione

The Creation of Adam

Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione. The Creation of Adam, c. 1642. Gift of an anonymous donor; restricted gifts of Dr. William D. and Sara R. Shorey, and Mr. and Mrs. George B. Young.

Also known as
Il Grechetto, Il Benedetto, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, (il Grechetto), Benedette, Grechetto, Benedetto, Il Benedetto, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione il Benedetto, called Il Grechetto, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, called Il Grechetto
Date of birth
Date of death

A prolific and multifaceted artist, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione was both a talented painter and a remarkably innovative draftsman. After training in his native Genoa, Castiglione traveled widely throughout the Italian peninsula, working in Genoa, Rome, Naples, Mantua, and Venice. This restlessly itinerant career chimes with accounts of his volatile and sometimes violent temperament, which occasionally caused him trouble with the law. 

While Castiglione was renowned for his many paintings depicting subjects from the Old Testament and ancient history, it was in his works on paper that he made some of his most arrestingly original contributions, often blurring the boundaries between painting, drawing, and printmaking. Throughout his life Castiglione produced numerous drawings, both in the customary medium of pen and ink, as well as in a highly original technique that involved drawing on paper with a dry brush and oil paint. Probably inspired by Peter Paul Rubens’s oil sketches on panel, these drawings, such as the Art Institute’s magnificent Pagan Sacrifice, were created as independent works rather than as studies for paintings. The intentional unevenness of their finish, with some areas highly detailed and others barely sketched in, was part and parcel of their aesthetic appeal. 

Castiglione also brought unprecedented painterliness to printmaking with his invention of the monotype, a haunting example of which is the Art Institute’s Creation of Adam. By applying and manipulating thick printers’ ink directly onto an unworked copper plate and then passing it through the press, Castiglione could create a printed image that was virtually unique, since only a single strong impression could be produced in this way. In the case of the Creation of Adam, Castiglione first uniformly inked the plate, then scraped the white lines with a blunt tool such as a reed pen, extracting his luminous design out of the dense black of the ink. 

Even when he worked in the more traditional medium of etching, Castiglione created tonal compositions characterized by strong contrasts between light and dark. Atmospheric works such as The Raising of Lazarus reveal Castiglione’s admiration for Rembrandt van Rijn, who depicted the same subject a decade earlier. Rembrandt’s influence is also evident in Castiglione’s series of male heads in costume, reminiscent of the Dutch artist’s etched head studies. Catering to a cultured clientele that delighted in complex subjects, Castiglione devised seductively cryptic allegorical images as well as picturesque depictions of mythological tales. Later Italian artists, notably Giambattista Tiepolo, were clearly inspired by the style, technique, and subjects of Castiglione’s prints.

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