I have to admit that the National Gallery of Art is my absolute favorite place in Washington D.C.  I’m really attached to it, so this is a necessary preamble, because you’ll never hear me say anything unpleasant about the NGA, its exhibitions, its buildings or even the café. Now that you know, let me tell you about the main subject of this post: The Baroque Genius of Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione.

 

Giovanni Castiglione

Giovanni Castiglione drawing

 

Honestly, Giovanni Castiglione is not for everybody, these are the prints and drawings of a very complex 17th century Italian artist, but if you clear the hurdle of the tough subject, you’ll discover a new piece of Italian art. The exhibition presents the NGA’s rich holdings of the artist’s prints and drawings. It suggests the complex sources of his style – including Rembrandt and Claude Lorrain – and his importance for later artists – from Tiepolo and Piranesi to Watteau and Boucher.

Jonathan Bieber, Curator of Old Master Prints, combed the museum’s holdings to find prints and drawings that would highlight Castiglione’s style through comparison. With exotic portraits, images of classical antiquity and Bible stories, the exhibit displays the genesis of these visual tropes and the mutual influences among European artists of the 17th century.

Big names like Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony Van Dyck might be better known than Castiglione, but the Italian artist has his own strong dignity and this is what the exhibition aims to show. For example, Castiglione invented  the monotype, the technique of creating a single print by applying paint directly to a plate.  The result is unique, even if it is printed (by definition a print is a multiple work); a very niche technique that, nevertheless, is still used nowadays.

 

NGA exhibition of Giovanni Castiglione

Washington National Gallery of Arts

 

The exhibition includes approximately 80 works, most of them from the Gallery’s collection, and is on view through July 8th in the West Building.

Uh yes! I almost forgot: I like that the NGA has two buildings which are each very different from each other and host different parts of the collection.  The West Building (1937 by John Russel Pope) is very neoclassical and hosts the modern art collection and exhibitions.  The East Building (1978 by Ieoh Ming Pei) is rigorously geometrical and it hosts the contemporary art collection and exhibits.

 

NGA concourse of Giovanni Castiglione exhibition

National Gallery of Art Concourse

 

If you ask me which my favorite place in the whole museum is, I can’t give you an answer.  Maybe its the underground concourse, a terrific light sculpture designed by Leo Villareal, which connects the two buildings. Or maybe the Rotunda in the West Building, modeled on the Pantheon in Rome. Well maybe not … It could be one of the secret gardens between the galleries, with fountains, greenery and armchairs where people sit down to relax and very often fall asleep. Ok, I’ve changed my mind: my favorite places are the galleries full of terrific pieces of art. Or maybe not…

 

NGA courtyard

National Gallery of Art Courtyard

NGA fountaion

Washington National Gallery of Art fountain detail

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