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Work The Holy Family with Angels

Department of Prints and Drawings: 17th century

La Sainte Famille aux anges

RMN-Grand Palais - Photo M. Urtado

Prints and Drawings
17th century

Bartolucci Sara

The Holy Family with Angels, a drawing made at the end of the working life of Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, the leading master of Genoan baroque, is strongly representative of the artist's style, characterized by a free approach to composition and color. This sketched, markedly unfinished manner that gives dramatic connotations to movements had a strong influence on eighteenth-century French painters.

Total freedom of composition

The drawing dates from around 1660 and is characteristic of the artist's later style. The fullness and rhythm of the draperies and the dramatic touches showing St. Joseph's stupefaction at seeing angels are probably the result of his familiarity with the work of the Roman master Lorenzo Bernini. The figures are sketched with light touches of the brush and the contours marked by shading. Castiglione, who had a fertile imagination, was better known in his time as a draftsman than a painter, and this drawing is an exceptionally fine example of his work. The artist known as "Il Grechetto" developed a personal technique, dipping his brush in oil before adding colors. His works strongly influenced eighteenth-century French artists, in particular masters of color like Boucher and Fragonard.

An animal and landscape painter

Records show that Castiglione trained under the painter Paggi. The young student's sketchbooks are full of animals, trees, and houses, bearing witness to his habit of copying the works of past and contemporary artists in accordance with the pedagogical principles of his master. As an adult he retained the same interests, and became renowned as an animal and landscape painter. This taste for landscapes came from his training and also, in his mature days, from the presence in Genoa of artists from the northern schools.

The Genoan school

Luca Cambiaso, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, Domenico Piola, and Alessandro Magnasco are only the most famous names among a large community of artists who formed what is referred to as the Genoan school. Their work is distinguished by attention to details of nature, strong contrasts of light, and complex compositions, qualities that distinguish it from the other Italian regional schools of the seventeenth century.


Bean Jacob, Dessins romains du XVIIe siècle. XXIIIe exposition du Cabinet des dessins, Editions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1959, notice 34 p. 29.
Bouchot-Saupique Jacqueline, Première Exposition des plus beaux dessins du Louvre et quelques pièces célèbres de collections de Paris, Editions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1962, notice 27 p. 27.
Viatte Françoise, Dessins du Louvre. Ecole italienne, Editions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1968, notice 89.
Percy, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione. Master Draughtsman of the Italian Baroque, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1971, notice 105.
Le dessin à Gênes du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle, Editions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1985, notice 73 p. 86, 88.
La Collection Saint-Morys au cabinet des Dessins du musée du Louvre, Editions de la Réunion des Musées Nationux, 1987, vol. I, notice 96 p. 150.

Technical description

  • Giovanni Benedetto CASTIGLIONE (Genoa, 1609-Mantua, 1664)

    The Holy Family with Angels

    Circa 1660

    Confiscated from "emigrés"

  • Brush, oil paint in blue-red with touches of gray-blue

    H. 47.7 cm; L. 30.1 cm

  • Saisie des biens des Emigrés

    INV 9452

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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