Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Baroque Genius of Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building

When: through July 8, 2012

Castiglione (1609-1664) was born in Genoa and practiced his craft there and in Rome.  He is considered the most complex and far-reaching interpreter of the Baroque period.  This exhibit displays approximately 80 of his works, along with those from artists who influenced him and who were influenced by him in turn.

The show is arranged into several categories, including biblical processions (we see several variations on the theme of the animals boarding Noah's ark), subjects from antiquity, imaginary heads (what might those be, you ask? what I would describe as grotesques) and radiant Nativities.

The processions reminded me both of the  exhibit I saw on Venetian view paintings and of the Colorful Realm, with its idea of animals gathering around the Buddha.  Obviously, the idea that even the animals will gather to hear a religious leader is not confined to Buddhists.  In one section labeled "Mysterious Burials," there were several prints of Tobit burying the dead.  I gather this is from the Bible, but it's not a story with which I am familiar.  The "Imaginary Heads," which I confess, I was quite anxious to see, were far more concerned with textures and depictions of the headgear of the subjects than with any true psychology of the persons depicted.  They weren't really stereotypes; they were more people who don't exist at all - imaginary, in fact. The picture that I found most moving was one of Alexander at the Tomb of Cyrus.  It's a poignant reminder that all glory fades and is forgotten in time.

Verdict:  Truth be told, I just don't relate very well to prints or pen-and-ink drawings.  I like and am drawn to lots of color in my art, and this is not a terribly colorful show.  It's good and interesting, and if you do like this sort of thing, by all means, check it out, but I can't call it a "must see."

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