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Allegory in Honour of the Ruling Couple of Mantua

Artist: Castiglione, Giovanni Benedetto
(Genoa 1609 – 1664 Mantua)

Date: between 1652 and 1655
Medium: brush, brown and black ink, red brown, light blue and white oil painting on yellow tinted paper
Dimensions: 455 × 332 mm
Classification: drawing
Acquisition Credit: purchased, Esterházy Collection, 1871
Inventory Number: 2296
Department: Prints and Drawings

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+Description

Allegory in Honour of the Ruling Couple of Mantua

Castiglione was a famous son of Genoa, a man whose art drew on the genre and animal painting he learned in his birthplace and on contemporary poetry. The French classical Baroque painter, Nicholas Poussin, who settled in Rome, was one of Castiglione's great influences and inspired the philosophical aspect of his themes. His unusual themes are suffused with the notion of the transitoriness of human life and artistic achievement, and by nostalgia for the carefree pastoral life of the golden age before civilisation. Animal figures and ancient ruins also appear in his paintings of subjects from the Old Testament, mythology and allegory, which are thus difficult to distinguish from his simple pastoral scenes. This is also true for the Budapest Allegory, which is related to several of his drawings and paintings and symbolises the struggle between mortality and eternity, painted as an allegory in honour of the ducal house of Gonzaga-Nevers in Mantua. Drawings related to the Budapest picture are held in the collections of Windsor, Grenoble and Hamburg (Royal Library, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Kunsthalle), and two pictures in Genoese private collections are also linked to it in several respects.

The Budapest drawing, as its associated works, shows four figures surrounded by still-life objects. The gaze and gestures of the protagonists are directed at the child held on the woman's lap, Ferdinando Carlo, son of Carlo Gonzaga-Nevers II and Isabella Clara. The child, born in 1652 after three years of marriage, is the guarantee of continuation of the ruling family, symbol of the continuity of life, and represents a triumph over mortality and death. The male figure in the foreground is probably the duke himself in heroic attire, surrounded by weapons, hunting trophies, musical and scientific instruments, and objects referring to the arts symbolising his deeds and virtues. He holds the trumpet of fame in his hand. The four figures also represent the four ages of man from childhood to old age, in the sense of the multilateral allegories of the Baroque. Another possible meaning is the allegory of human wisdom, for which meditation has to be accompanied by practical activity and attention to the advice of others, as expressed by a contemporary register of Baroque iconography, Cesare Ripa's Iconologia. The elderly male figure is the incarnation of custom, the older the more trustworthy, whose laws, as the duke's laws, must be abided by. In this reading, the female figure represents that key concept of Platonic philosophy, the ideal, the immaterial essence of godly reason, the model of all things natural. The child in her lap symbolises nature. This allegory celebrates the birth of the ducal child as the triumph of nature. Castiglione's drawing attests to the influence of the brilliant oil sketches made by Van Dyck and Rubens, who worked also in Genoa. Many other such fine drawings by Castiglione are to be found in art collections throughout the world.

Text: © ANDREA CZÉRE