This canvas once formed part of a single work with its companion piece (inv. no. 550), from which it was then separated. 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.
The motif of caravans of travellers and animals traversing deserts or pleasant landscapes was a typical one of the repertoire of the artist from Genoa, who skilfully represents all the details of the scene in a tasteful and refined manner.
Purchased by Italian state, 1912.
Siglato "G.B.C." sul cavallo fulvo al centro.
Together with its pendant (inv. no. 550), 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.