God Creating the Animals
(Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, called Il Grechetto)


God Creating the Animals

Oil on canvas
101 ¼ x 117 ¼ ( 258 x 298 cm.)

PROVENANCE: Milan, Mauro Pellicioli (until 1936);
G. Balboni, Paris;
The Matthiesen Gallery, London, 1979;
from whom acquired by Barbara Piasecka Johnson collection, Princeton.

EXHIBITED: London, Matthiesen Fine Art Ltd., Important Italian Baroque Paintings 1600-1700, 1981, no.15, pp.40-43, colour plate.
Warsaw and Liechtenstein, Royal Castle Museum & Liechtensteinische Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Opus Sacrum, 1990-1991, pp.246-251, colour plate, (catalogue entry by Mary Newcome).

LITERATURE: G. Delogu, ‘Pittori genovesi del ’600’, L’Arte, 32, (1929), p. 175, illus. fig. 7;
Ann Percy, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione: Master Draughtsman of the Italian Baroque,, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1971, p. 42, illus. fig. 30.

Myths of creation occur in Mesopotamian and Canaanite literature and it is from these bodies of literature that the Old Testament book of Genesis derived some of its motifs surrounding the acts of creation. Genesis 1:1–24 contains an account of eight works of creation that were actually spread over six days, the first four of which are known as the Works of Division and the second as the Works of Ornamentation. The subject of Castiglione’s painting, God’s Creation of the Animals, took place on the sixth day during the last day of the second division during the sixth day, when the creation of man also took place. The subject of the creation was extremely popular during the High Renaissance and was treated on a monumental scale by both Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel and Raphael in the Vatican Logge.

Castiglione was fascinated with the stories narrated in Genesis and many of his clients, through their countless purchases, encouraged him to paint many of the episodes, including the Creation of Adam, Noah’s Ark, Jacob’s Journey, and the Journeys of Abraham, and of Rebecca. Such biblical subject matter allowed an artist the scope to combine landscape, animal scenes and still-life, subjects which ranked low in the artistic panoply, with the more prestigious art of figure painting, all in the selfsame composition. Why Castiglione concentrated on these subjects is still uncertain, but it may have been connected with his fascination with the Near East. Given his predilection for these narratives, it is not difficult to believe one of his biographers, Niccolò Pio, who reported that Castiglione perambulated the streets of Rome wearing the clothing of an Armenian.

Castiglione’s reuse of stock subjects and figure groups as well as his recycling of elements from other compositions makes the secure dating of his work problematic. It can also be difficult to distinguish between the work of Giovanni Benedetto and that of his brother Salvatore and son Francesco of whom both specialised in animal painting. Ann Percy associated this picture with The Animals Entering the Ark (Genoa, Private collection)2 and Cain and Abel (Genoa, Palazzo Bianco), both of which are unique subjects in Castiglione’s often repetitive oeuvre and which she has dated to the late 1650s – a period when Salvatore would be painting and Francesco just beginning. However, this God Creating the Animals lacks the usual sulphur-orange colouring and dark tonalities of the 1650s pictures that would influence Francesco and Salvatore. These elements are apparent in Castiglione’s The Creation (Genoa, Palazzo Durazzo-Pallavicini), which shows highly detailed animals submerged in shadows and God in the heavens. The figural style of the late 1650s is also different; figures take on a Berninesque baroque energy as seen in works including the Genoa Creation, the 1655 painting of Deucalion and Pyrrha (Berlin, Gemäldegalerie),3 and in what was possibly his last painting, a crowded animal scene dated 1663 (Naples, Museo di Capodimonte).

This composition of God Creating the Animals relates to the style of an earlier work, Noah Entering the Ark (Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi),4 that has been thought to date from Castiglione’s Genoese period prior to his trip to Rome (1631-32) and his membership in the Accademia di San Luca (by 1634). Both paintings display similarities in the modelling of a single monumental static figure with small hands, in the simplified drapery folds, and in the wealth of animals that are large, detailed and well proportioned though not necessarily to each other. The stance of the figure and the blurry somewhat nebulous modelling of the head suggest the influence of G. A. de Ferrari, who, according to Soprani and Ratti, was one of Castiglione’s teachers.

Nevertheless, the only grounds one may use for dating this work are circumstantial at best. Newcome was inclined to an early dating in the 1630s. 5 She stated that the picture relates closely to the style of the Florence painting of Noah Entering the Ark (see above). The main problem with this dating of the two paintings is the existence of a Journey Scene dated 1633 that is very Poussinesque.6 Although the Journey has been hailed as a major breakthrough in determining the 1630s style of Castiglione in Rome, Newcome claimed that the picture was rather unique and only the Schülenberg painting (which now may be put in the 1630s) comes close to it in style and composition.7 Newcome postulates that ‘so many paintings have been lost or wrongly attributed, or was the Journey painting a presentation picture where he tried to impress the Roman art circle by concentrating his energy on elaborately defining rocks, trees and vegetation instead of animals?’8 It is hard to explain why Castiglione would paint such a strangely proportioned cow and horse and impressionistic sheep after his experience and training in Genoa with artists known for their animal paintings. Newcome went on to suggest that this energetic and versatile young artist was perfectly capable of painting the Creation and Noah pictures before 1633 – such as the version now in the Accademia Ligustica (no. 412; – see fig. 1 here) but that he deliberately sacrificed his barnyard motifs in order to create a landscape that would be as evocative, poetic, neo-venetian as those painted by Poussin.

Strengthening this argument for a dating in the late 1620s-early 1630s for this painting is an early pen drawing of animals that relates to this imagery and has a style not unlike the Van Dyckian late scratchy pen drawings by Paggi and Scorza.9 A similar composition with a standing pointing figure among animals exists in a print that supposedly copies a Castiglione work of 162710 and were it not for the triangular nimbus over the head of God in God Creating the Animals, the figure could be mistaken for Noah, who often appeared in Castiglione’s early un-Poussinesque compositions surrounded by animals crowded together in the foreground. More recently Newcome has elaborated on this view11.

Standring, however, leans towards a later date and suggests that while the overall composition of God Creating the Animals could easily have been taken from any number of prints; he proposes that the handling of the animals and the figure of God the Father suggest a certain sense of maturity, thus indicating an execution in the mid to late 1640s at a time when Castiglione hoped to achieve recognition as a major artist in his native city of Genoa.12 While the tight brushwork and local colouring of many of these animals draws from his experience of painting livestock in a number of biblical compositions dating from the 1630s, this picture recalls the broad, loose handling of the large Caravan painting in the Galleria Nazionale di Palazzo Spinola, which had been acquired by Ansaldo Pallavacini in 1652 (see fig.2 ), as well as the sadly damaged Entry into the Ark (Genoa, Galleria di Palazzo Bianco, no.295 – see fig.3).

2 Percy 1971, fig. 29.
3 Percy 1971, fig. 21.
4 Percy 1971, fig.1. Newcome, Opus Sacrum, 1990, p.250 suggests that Ratti may have been referring to this painting when he mentions a Dio Padre, che crea animali as having been executed before the artist went to Rome (1631-32).Newcome suggests that ‘ our painting may be that referred to by R.Soprani and Ratti as relating stylistically to the painting Noah Entering the Ark (Florence, Palazzo Pitti)..

5 Matthiesen, Important Italian Baroque Paintings 1600 – 1700, 1981, p. 40.
6 H. Brigstocke, ‘Castiglione: Two Recently Discovered Paintings and Some New Thoughts on His Development’, The Burlington Magazine, 122, May 1980, pp.293-298, fig. 1.

7 M. Newcome, Genoese Baroque Drawings, Binghampton, 1972, cat. 62a. Standring (Ms. Opinion April 2001), however, is of the opinion that this painting should be dated to the 1650s and points out that there are other comparable paintings of this date such as The Journey of Rebecca (Madid, Museo del Prado) and The Tears of Saint Peter (Private collection) .

8 Matthiesen 1981, p. 42
9 Percy 1971, p.68, cat. 12 (Chicago Art Institute).
10 Percy 1971, p. 136, no. E1; A. Blunt, The Drawings of G. B. Castiglione ….. at Windsor Castle, London, 1954, fig. 1.
11 Opus Sacrum 1990, pp. 249-251.
12 Ms. Opinion April 2001

258 x 298 cm
Oil on canvas

Matthiesen, London, Important Baroque paintings, 1981

Historical Period
Baroque - 1600-1720
Historical events
Italian - Genoese
2001-2001: An Art Odyssey (1500-1720)
Hardbound millennium catalogue with special binding with 58 colour plates and 184 black and white illustrations, 360 pages. £35 or $50 plus p.& p.

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