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: An Immaculate Conception by G. B. Castiglione


Ellis Waterhouse



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The splendid Immaculate Conception with Saints Francis and Anthony of Padua1 by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione is not unknown to scholars. It was published by Dr. A. M. Gabrielli2 from a photograph taken before it was cleaned and while the picture was hanging on a narrow staircase. Dr. Gabrielli had discovered in the Archivio Fiorenzi at Osimo a file of documents which gave an account of how it came to be ordered from Castiglione: who ordered it, who paid for it, and for which altar in which Church it was commissioned. It was commissioned in September, 1649, and the final receipt for 150 scudi was signed by Castiglione in Rome on October 8, 1650. Such an amount of information is not known about any other of Castiglione’s paintings, although we do now know the certain or approximate dates of two altarpieces which survive in Genoese churches.3 Nearly forty years ago, when Giuseppe Delogu4 published the first modern attempt at a study of Castiglione, the only firm date he was able to establish was that Castiglione was elected to the Academy of St. Luke in Rome in 1634, and there is still no general measure of agreement about the probable date of his birth.5The picture comes from the long suppressed Church of the Cappuccini at Osimo in the Marche. The Cappuccini had first come to Osimo in 1579, and their first church was dedicated to St. Helena. However, in 1648 it was decided to pull this down and to build a new church which was to be dedicated to the Immacolata.6 The first stone of this new church which was laid in June, 1648, by the Bishop of Osimo,7 Cardinal Girolamo Verospi, who interested himself in arranging for the picture for the high altar to be painted at the expense of his archdeacon Pier Filippo Fiorenzi, whose coat-of-arms is to be seen in the lower left corner.8The first choice for a painter had been Pietro da Cortona. This was probably the suggestion of the Capuchins themselves, for Pietro had painted an altar in 1631 for the Cappuccini at Rome, and not much later, had painted a Madonna with Saints John the Baptist, Peter, Catherine, and Felice da Cantalice for the Cappuccini of Amandola,9 another town in the Marche some thirty miles from Osimo. It would seem that Pietro had at first agreed to paint it, but later declined, for the first document quoted by Dr. Gabrielli is a letter of June 5, 1649, from the Cardinal Bishop to his archdeacon saying Pietro had returned the money he had received in advance. The reasons he gave were that he was occupied for the next two or three years with work he had in hand for the Chiesa Nuova and immediately after that was done he had to go to Naples. It is likely that the latter part of the excuse was not true, and one would like to know how much money he had been offered. Castiglione accepted 150 scudi “per intiero pagamento” for the altarpiece, and this was a reasonable payment for a painter who was not absolutely in the top flight.10 But Pietro, in the 1650s, was getting a good deal more. A note of Bellori’s11 (which may not be altogether accurate) says he received 700 scudi in 1646 for the high altar of S. Lorenzo in Miranda at Rome—a picture about the same size as our altarpiece. He also seems to have had 400 scudi about 165312 for the altarpiece in SS. Michel e Gaetano in Florence, and the money on that occasion also had been paid in advance.The arrangement with Castiglione was certainly made by the Bishop who spent several months of 1649 in Rome. In another letter13 he says that he would himself certainly have preferred Pietro da Cortona but that there were a number of other painters in Rome (he refers to them as diversi soggeti!) and, if the archdeacon would like one of them, he would do his best to provide a satisfactory result. I doubt if there are any likelihood in Dr. Gabrielli’s suggestion14 that Pietro da Cortona himself may have proposed Castiglione. Pietro and Castiglione both lived in the same parish (S. Andrea delle Fratte),15 but there is no evidence of any serious contact, although the two figures in the right center background of Castiglione's Offering to Pan at Ottawa, a picture of perhaps the middle 1630s, have a pretty close affinity with Pietro da Cortona’s tapestry cartoons of ca. 1633-1636 (Briganti, figs. 145-146).Miss Ann Percy in the Burlington Magazine for December, 1967 (pp. 672 ff.) has shown that Castiglione arrived in Rome in 1632. He was there in 1634 and made a probably brief visit to Naples in 1635. He was probably then already something of a joke from his constantly painting pictures of Jacob’s Journeys.16 That he was in contact with the circle which included Poussin in the mid-1630s has been shown on stylistic grounds.17 It is also significant that Sebastien Bourdon, who was in Rome from 1634-1637, sometimes painted pictures, probably during these years, which have been confused with the work of Castiglione. At this period the figures in Castiglione’s pictures were of what Benjamin Robert Haydon was later to call scornfully "Poussin size." After the period of the known altarpieces (1645-1650) follows the Mantuan period, which cannot have begun before 1651. In these later years he returned often to the same sort of subject matter that he had exploited in his earlier years, but his figure scale was considerably larger.18Some modifications in Blunt’s chronology of Castiglione’s drawings become necessary as the result of this additional knowledge. Windsor Cat. 194 (fig.1), which is a finished study for the Osimo altarpiece, as noted by Dr. Gabrielli, moves from the bracket ca. 1655-1660 to 1649-1650,19 and the Mantuan allegory drawing (Windsor Cat. 132) is presumably later than this. The other drawings of Franciscan figures at Windsor (e.g., Cat. 195 and 204), which are close in style to Windsor 194, and are associated with the Osimo altarpiece by Dr. Gabrielli, seem to be more likely to be connected with a design for a Stigmatization of St. Francis, of which admittedly no painting is at present known.One other point deserves comment. The picture provides further evidence of a certain relationship between the work of Castiglione and that of Carlo Maratta, who is recorded by Ratti as an admirer of Castiglione's work. Dr. Gabrielli suggests a parallel between the figure of the Madonna in the Minneapolis picture and that in Maratta's altarpiece in the Chiesa Nuova, but this seems to me entirely superficial. Castiglione's angels, however, are astonishingly "Marattesque." Marietta’s Gabriel (in the Annuciation of 1659 in the S. Antonio Abbate at Anagni) is remarkably close to the musician angel at the left in the Castiglione, while the Madonna in the same picture could have been modeled on the companion Castiglione Angel to the right. One can almost say with certainty that Maratta must have seen the Minneapolis picture. Not only did he come to reside in the same parish as Castiglione in the very year it was painted, but we know from another of Cardinal Verospi’s letters20 that, before the altarpiece was dispatched to Osimo, it was exhibited in the Palazzo Verospi. Verospi wrote, ". . .it is already in my house and I have put it in my top room,21 so that it can be seen. Several painters have done so and all have praised it." At the time of his death Maratta owned one picture by Castiglione—"un quadro di diversi animali" (1712 inventory, no. 7).22 This was one of the paintings sold by his daughter to the Spanish royal collection in 1722.23Indeed the young Maratta, looking around him in the Rome of 1650, may well have found our picture one of the most interesting Roman productions of that year. His teacher Sacchi had just completed one of his most careful and deliberate masterpieces, the Death of St. Anne in S. Carlo at Catinari, but there were very few commissions for altarpieces going in the middle years of the reign of Innocent X, and the baroque wing of the Roman school was rather in abeyance. Had the Osimo commission not gone to Castiglione, it might very well have gone to Maratta, whose first Roman altarpiece, the Nativity in S. Giuseppe dei Falegnami, dates from this year. One may presume that the appearance of Velasquez (who attended a meeting of the Accademia di S. Luca) must have been the most startling experience of the year, with the portraits of Pareja and Innocent X. However, a bright young painter from the Marche, interested in the latest line in altarpieces—especially if they came from a painter who was not dedicated to Sacchi's kind of classicism—must have studied Castiglione’s picture with interest and profit. It must indeed have seemed "aggio di pittura ad olio nell’ anno 1650,"24 and its new accessibility in one of the great public galleries gives a new twist to our knowledge of one of the most fascinating periods in the history of painting—art in Rome in the middle of the 17th century.Ellis Waterhouse is Barber Professor of Fine Arts and Director of the University of Birmingham. His books include El Greco’s Italian Period (1930), Roman Baroque Painting (1937), British Painting, 1530-1790 (1953), and Italian Baroque Painting (1962). His latest book is The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor: Paintings (Office du Livre, 1967).Endnotes
  1. 66.39. The Putnam Dana McMillan Fund. Oil on canvas, 142 1/2" x 87".
  2. Ada Maria Gabrielli, Commentari (1955), VI, 261-266 and Tav. LXXIV, fig. l. Excerpts from two of the documents had first been published (slightly inaccurately) in Michaelangelo Gualandi (ed.), Memorie originali italiane (1840), I, 69-70. See also sac. Carlo Grillantini, Guida storicoartistica di Osimo (Pinerolo, 1962), p. 64, note 3.
  3. The Nativity in S. Luca, Genoa, is dated 1645, and the picture of St. James driving the Moors from Spain in the Oratory of S. Giacomo della Marina can be dated with fair accuracy to 1646-1647. During these years Castiglione was presumably living in Genoa.
  4. Giuseppe Delogu, G. B. Castiglione detto il Grecchetto (Bologna, 1928).
  5. I am inclined to accept Sir Anthony Blunt’s suggestion of a date around 1600 for his birth (The Drawings of G. B. Castiglione . . .in the Collection of H. M. The Queen at Windsor Castle [1954], p. 3). For his death (often given as 1670), the date of 1665 seems acceptable. Ann Percy, Burlington Magazine (Dec., 1967), 675, gives better reasons than have been proposed before a date of 1610-1611 for Castiglione’s birth, but I confess I would prefer a few years earlier.
  6. The Franciscans had long been supporters of the Immaculate Conception, and the earliest representations of the subject go back to about 1480, made for Franciscan churches (Montgomery Carmichael, Francia’s Masterpiece [London, 1909]). After the Bull of 1617, in which Paul V defined the doctrine, Our Lady immaculately conceived became a not uncommon Franciscan dedication and the new church built in Rome for the Cappuccini by Cardinal Barberini (begun 1626) was so dedicated.
  7. A. M. Gabrielli, op. cit., p. 262.
  8. The Fiorenzi family had owned a chapel in the earlier church and had commissioned an altarpiece from Girolamo Sesti in 1603 (M. Gualandi, op. cit., pp. 68-69). The arms are certainly Fiorenzi, though they differ in tincture (apparently) and in certain details from the arms given in Rietstap (Armorial. Suppl. I) for “Fiorenzi: Counts in the Romagna”; viz.: “Azure a fess argent supporting a lion passant guardant contourn? or: and in chief three fleurs-de-lys or ranged within the four pionts of a label gules.” The fleurs-de-lys within a label in chief are a frequent element in Bolognese coats and indicate an anti-imperial allegiance.
  9. The picture has been in the Brera, Milan, since 1811.
  10. From the Cappuccini in Rome in the 1630s, Pietro da Cortona’s teacher, Baccio Ciarpi, received 150 scudi for a side altar, but Lanfranco 300 scudi for the high altarpiece, and Camassei received 150 scudi for the high altar of S. Sebastianello (Oskar Pollak, Kie KunsttStigkeit unter Urban VIII [1928], I). The range of prices for the side altars in the Collegiata at Ariccia in 1665 was nicely adapted to the status of the painter: Raffaello Vanni, an old hand of some eminence, received 200 scudi; Bernardino Mei, who was a generation younger, received 160 scudi; and Emilio Taruffi, a man in his early thirties, 120 scudi. (G. Incisa della Rocchetta, Rivista del R. Istituto d’Archeologia e Storia dell ‘Arte [1929], 374.)
  11. Giuliano Briganti, Pietro da Cortona (1962), p. 241.
  12. Ibid., p. 253.
  13. A. M. Gabrielli, op. cit., pp. 262-263, note 9.
  14. Ibid, p. 265, note 22.
  15. Estella Brunetti, Paragone, 79 (1956), 67. Castiglione lived in the parish of S. Andrea delle Fratte 1649-1650.
  16. A. Bertolotti, Artisti subalpini in Roma (Mantova, 1884) (anastatic reprint, Bologna, 1965), pp. 178-179. It seems that the skit (frizzo) on “Benedetto genovese” was concerned with his continual painting of “li viaggi di Giacobbe.”
  17. A. Blunt in Journal of the Warbug and Courtauld Institutes, III (1939-1940), 142 ff.
  18. A "Poussin-size" head measures about 3 inches; the heads in the later Castigliones measure about 5 inches.
  19. Anthony Blunt, The Drawings . . ., plate 41. Plates 42 and 43 are related drawings of the same sort of date.
  20. A. M. Gabrielli, op. cit., p. 262.
  21. Gualandi (see note 2) read Telaro: Gabrielli solaro (= the modern solaio). I have no doubt the latter is correct.
  22. Romeo Galli, La Collezione d’Arte di Carlo Maratti (Bologna, 1928), p. 17 (offprinted from L’Archiginnasio XXII-XXIII). Castiglione is also known to have admired Maratta’s paintings, as a letter from Salvatore Castiglione of Sept. 18, 1661 to Duke Carlo II Gonzaga of Mantua reveals (A. Luzio, La Galleria dei Gonzaga [1913], p. 305). He is recommending the purchase by the Duke of “Due. . .figure al naturale, mano di Carlo d’Andrea Sacchi, del’ historia di Lot con le figle.” He refers to the “esquisitezza dell opera” and says that Giovanni Benedetto had assured him they were worth a good deal more than the price asked (40 ducatoni each). This shows Giovanni Benedetto knew all about the young Maratta’s works and the nickname “Carlo d’Andrea Sacchi” perhaps suggests a friendship between the two painters.
  23. Eugenio Battisti, Arte antica e moderna (1960), p. 88.
  24. Lucia L. Lopresti, Pinacoteca 1928-1929), I, 326 gives this exemplary character of Cozza’s Madonna del Riscatto (now in the Refectory of the Collegio Nepomuceno, Rome), but unfortunately she had not noticed the final X to the date, which makes it 1660.
Referenced Works of Art
  1. Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione. Italian (1600?-1665). Immaculate Conception with Saints Francis and Anthony of Padua, ca. 1650. Oil on canvas, 142 1/2" x 87". The Putnam Dana McMillan Fund, 66.39 2.
  2. Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione. Italian (1600?-1665). Drawing. Windsor Castle; Reproduced by gracious permission of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
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Source: Ellis Waterhouse, "An Immaculate Conception by G. B. Castiglione," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 56 (1967): 4-10.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009