1624 Genoa – 1659
Canvas, 146,9 x 171,6 cm
Valerio Castello was one of the leading Ligurian painters of the Seicento, whose style represents an exuberant synthesis of northern Mannerist and Baroque influences. Born into an artistic family, he learnt to paint copying his father Bernardo Castello’s drawings, and was then apprenticed to Domenico Fiasella and Giovanni Andrea de’ Ferrari. However the main influences on his earliest works seem to have been works he encountered in his home town, in particular Perino del Vaga and Beccafumi’s mythological frescoes in the Palazzo Doria at Fassolo. At the beginning of his twenties he travelled to Milan and then on to Parma, probably between 1640 and 1645. Exposure to the work of Procaccini in Milan proved particularly influential on his style, and the art of Giovanni Battista Crespi and Francesco Cairo also made an impression. In Parma he studied the work of Correggio and Parmigianino, and in his early paintings he creates a synthesis of these influences and forms a highly personal style. The refined elegance of these compositions reflect the Mannerist impulse behind his early art, whilst his palette is a vibrant combination of reds, blues, pinks and yellows that suggest he had become familiar with van Dyck’s work in Genoa, and was influenced by the Flemish artist’s handling of colour.
Although it is difficult to establish a firm chronology for Castello’s later oil paintings, the frescos painted in the last decade of his short life demonstrate a dynamic mature style that introduce the spatially innovative compositions of the High Baroque to Genoa. The swirling draperies and boldly illusionist compositions in the Palazzo Reale and the Palazzo Balbi–Senarega suggest that Castello’s last years must have been occupied with the study of Rubens. There are only two securely dated oil paintings from the later part of Castello’s career, and both these altarpieces also indicate the growing importance of the Flemish artist. Other works can be dated to this last decade based on their focus on dramatic gesture and powerful rhythmic movement, for example Castello’s compositions on the subjects of the Massacre of the Innocents and in the Rape of the Sabines. Castello’s interest in Baroque approaches to spatial problems was also stimulated by the paintings of Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, who worked in Genoa during this period.
Given the kinetic energy imparted to the present composition by the outstretched arms of Joseph and the two angels, it is probably safe to conclude that the present work belongs to Castello’s later period. Castello painted two different compositions on this subject, and an alternative version of The Flight from Egypt, in which the action swirls around and upwards from the central grouping of Virgin and the Christ child on horseback, is in the Palazzo Bianco, Genoa.
The present composition pivots around the strong right to left diagonals which are complemented by the palm trees and the fallen column, framing the interaction between the central figures. This expressive dramatic choreography imparts an effect of fluidity and movement, an impression accentuated by light and lively brushwork. Indeed it is Castello’s facility with the brush that gives his art a delightful freedom and spontaneity, and this is clearly evident in the oil sketch for this work which highlights the dynamism of the composition.
Collection of the Barons Ajroldi di Robbiate, Lombardy
General Baron Luigi Ajroldi di Robbiate, Italy
Private Collection, Germany