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Pastoral Biblical Journey (Jacob’s Journey?)

Castiglione Giovanni Benecalled called Grechetto

(Genoa 1609 - Mantua 1663-65)

This canvas once formed part of a single work with its companion piece (inv. no. 551). It only entered the Borghese Collection in 1902. Executed by the Genoese painter Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, in all likelihood it depicts the journey of the Biblical patriarch Jacob, shown here as he crosses Egypt together with numerous figures, some on foot and others on horseback, as well as a variety of animals.

Object details

1642 circa
oil on canvas
cm 54 x 106

Purchased by Italian state, 1912.

  • 1999 Napoli, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte
  • 2002 Roma, Scuderie del Quirinale
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1913 Tito Venturini Papari;
  • 1945 Carlo Matteucci;
  • 1990 Soprintendenza di Genova.


Together with its pendant (inv. no. 551), this canvas by the Genoese painter Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione was purchased by the Galleria Borghese in 1912 for a total of 2,000 lire (Della Pergola 1955).

Careful restoration work carried out on the occasion of the 1990 exhibition in Genoa dedicated to Castiglione revealed that the two works depicting pastoral scenes were in fact a single painting, which was then perhaps separated by Grechetto himself: according to Minna Heimbürger (1994), the artist may have felt dissatisfied after concluding the central portion of the work and decided to divide the original work into two. In fact this scholar claims that the work was executed at two different times, as is suggested by differences in the proportions of the figures in the central part, which she dates to the second half of the 1640s, with respect to those of the lateral scenes, painted in 1634. The earlier date corresponds to the period of the artist’s arrival in Rome, when he was influenced by the figurative painting of Nicolas Poussin, Pietro Testa and Pier Francesco Mola.

In 1990 Federica Lamera put forth a new interpretation of the canvas, namely that it represents the journey of the patriarch Jacob in Egypt (Genesis 46), a subject which the painter depicted on several occasions. This work, this scholar maintained, is characterised by a ‘renewed’ pictorial idiom, different from previous treatments of the episode executed by Castiglione in the 1630s (held today in a private collection in New York, in the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden, and in the Museo del Prado in Madrid). In Lamera’s view, this period of Grechetto’s career was characterised by a skilful combination of Genoese and Roman approaches in realising broad landscapes as backdrops with a new, refined use of light. This style is less apparent in the Borghese canvas, which has a more descriptive intention, typical of his production of the 1640s.

The two canvasses further reflect Castiglione’s interest in the engravings of Rembrandt. In particular, the black boy and the man wearing the turban, depicted one in front of the other next to the horse on which the elderly Jacob rides, are clearly inspired by the same figures in the Dutch artist’s Christ Before Pilate (Chicago, The Art Institute; see Standring 1987). This etching was certainly known to Grechetto, as is suggested by two of his drawings (Study of Heads, Royal Library, Windsor Castle, no. 3944; and Study of Oriental Figures, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon, no. 787; see Standring 1985; Lamera 1990).

Lamera (1990) also noted a painting quite similar to the Borghese canvas in the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo.

Antonio Iommelli

  • Cantalamessa, Nuovi acquisti della Galleria Borghese, in “Bollettino d’Arte”, I, 1913, pp. 113-15.
  • Cantalamessa, Cronaca delle Belle Arti, in “Bollettino d’Arte”, VIII, 1914, p. 91.
  • Strinati, La Galleria Borghese di Roma. Gli ultimi acquisti. Giulio Cantalamessa, in “Emporium”, LX, 1924, pp. 601-612. 
  • Delogu, Giovan Battista Castiglione detto il Grechetto, Bologna 1928, p. 50.
  • Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928., pp. 226, 240. 
  • della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, pp. 72-73 nn. 129-130. 
  • T.J. Standring, A signed "Penitence of St. Peter" by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, in "The Burlington Magazine", III, 1985, figg. 133, 134.
  • T.J. Strandring, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione. Il Grechetto, in La pittura a Genova e in Liguria dal Seicento al primo Novecento, Genova 1987, p. 158.
  • Lamera, in Il genio di Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, il Grechetto, catalogo della mostra (Genova, Accademia Ligustica di Belle Arti, 1990), Genova 1990, p. 64 e ss., n. 5.  
  • Herrmann Fiore, in Invisibilia. Rivedere i capolavori. Vedere i progetti, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, 1992), a cura di M. E. Tittoni, S. Guarino, Roma 1992, p. 45. 
  • Heimbürger, Il Grechetto giovane: nuove proposte, in Studi di storia dell’arte in onore di Mina Gregori, Firenze 1994, p. 204.
  • Daprà, in Mattia Preti tra Roma, Napoli e Malta, catalogo della mostra (Napoli, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, 1999), a cura di N. Spinosa, Napoli 1999, p. 199.
  • Rutgers, in Rembrandt: dipinti, incisioni e riflessi sul ’600 e ’700 italiano, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Scuderie del Quirinale, 2002-2003), a cura di E. Hinterding, Ginevra 2002, p. 332.
  • Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 176.