Edited by Luca Fiorentino

Giovanni Battista Castello turned his hand to illumination in adulthood, when he was about thirty1. Around the turn of the century, Castello became one of the most important artists in Genoa.

He received important commissions and was praised by numerous writers at the time, and his career also took him to Spain between 1583 and 1585 (ca), where he had been called by Philip II to work on the El Escorial monastery. Recently, scholars have shown that Castello was associated with Cambiaso, who had a great influence on him, as did Giulio Clovio and other Genoese artists2.

Our parchment, of high quality in terms of both execution and conservation, can be ascribed to the catalogue of Giovan Battista Castello on the basis of its particular stylistic characteristics: a dazzling array of colours, sophisticated formal execution and delicate modulation of chiaroscuros.

Bernardino Luini, The Madonna with Child, Saint John and the lamb – Pinacoteca di Brera
Bernardino Luini, The Madonna with Child, Saint John and the lamb – Pinacoteca di Brera

The composition picks up on the Bernardino Luini fresco depicting The Madonna with Child, Saint John and the lamb that was once in the hospice of San Michele alla Chiusa in Milan3. In the background on the left in both the fresco and the vellum are Carthusian monks, since San Michele alla Chiusa was once the Milanese home of that order.

The work on vellum visually reflects Luini’s fresco, which is no longer in excellent condition, and Castello adds his usual pictorial refinements, such as the colours embellished with mixtion-applied gold in the Madonna’s halo. Antique reproductions of Luini’s work are as yet unknown, so we can presume that Castello had noted it when he passed through Milan on his way to or from Spain.

The comparison to Castello dating to between 1585 and 1600 seems evident when we observe the stylistic characteristics comparable to works like the Madonna with Child, Saint Anna and Saint John (formerly in Milan at the Salamon Gallery) initialed BC and dated 1602, the Saint John the Baptist in the desert, formerly in the Federico Zeri collection, signed and dated 1605 (De Laurentiis, 2012), and the Annunciation to Joachim in a private collection (De Laurentiis, 2012), in which the strokes maintain a compact effect, without marked pointillism.

1 Giovanna Grumo, Giovan Battista Castello «il Genovese». Nuove miniature in relazione con i disegni dell’album di Palazzo Abatellis, in En blanc et noir. Studi in onore di Silvana Macchioni, ed. Francesco Sorce, Rome, 2007, pp. 61-71, on the document in particular see p. 62.

See also: Linee, lumi et ombre finite. Disegni dei maestri genovesi tra 500 e 700, catalogue for the exhibition curated by Valentina Frascarolo and Chiara Vignola, Novi Ligure, Museo dei Campionissimi March 5 – June 12 2016, Novi Ligure, 2016, entry 2 Giovan Battista Castello, il Genovese ed. Valentina Frascarolo, pp. 41-45.

2 On his association with Cambiaso, see: Elena De Laurentiis, Il pio genovese. Giovanni Battista Castello, in Alumina, year 10, n. 37, April- May-June 2012, pp. 26-35.

See also more in-depth essays by the same author: Eadem, La collezione di “italian illuminated cuttings” della British Library: nuove miniature di Simonzio Lupi da Bergamo, Giovanni Battista Castello il genovese e Sante Avanzini, in Il codice miniato in Europa. Libri per la chiesa, per la città, per la corte, eds. Giordana Mariani Canova, Alessandra Perriccioli Saggese, Acts of Study Days on “Libri miniati per la chiesa, per la città per la corte in Europa: lavori in corso”, Padua 2-4 December 2010, Padua, 2014, pp. 673-695 (see also the entire bibliography cited in note1).

On his association with Clovio and other Genoese master he noted in his famous drawing sketchbook, see note 1supra and: Maestri del disegno nelle collezioni di Palazzo Abatellis, ed. Vincenzo Abbate, catalogue for the exhibition in Palermo, Palazzo Abatellis 15 December 1995 – 29 February 1996, Palermo, 1995.

Another sketchbook appeared on the antique art market containing numerous invented drawings from which the artist took ideas for his works; see: I fiori del barocco. Pittura a Genova dal naturalismo al rococò, ed. Anna Orlando, entry by Elena De Laurentiis n. 17-18-19, pp. 70-75 and bibliography cited, Milan, 2006.

3 Luini’s fresco was detached and is now conserved at the Museo della Scienza e della Tecnica in Milan (the work belongs to the Pinacoteca di Brera).

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