The Block Museum recently acquired a major 17th century Italian print, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione’s “Circe Changing Odysseus’s Men into Beasts,” ca. 1651.
Funds for the purchase came from the museum’s spring 2005 auction BLOCK benefit. Block Museum members voted on the selection of this print after a viewing at R.S. Johnson Fine Art during a members-only event.
A painter, printmaker and draftsman, Castiglione is known for mythological and religious compositions set in expansive landscapes. His work reveals an interest in magic and metamorphosis and in philosophical questions such as the frailty of human life, the inevitability of death and the search for truth. Castiglione is celebrated for the virtuosity of his execution, clearly revealed in his many pen-and-ink drawings, dry-brush oil sketches and monotypes -- a printmaking technique he invented.
The subject of this print, Circe, daughter of the sun, was a sorceress known for her knowledge of magic and poisonous herbs and powers of spiritual purification. Here she is seen turning Odysseus’s crew into animals upon their arrival in Aeaea. As told in Homer’s “Odyssey,” Odysseus protected himself from Circe’s power with a small plant given to him by Hermes, the messenger of the gods.
Scholar Ann Percy notes that Castiglione’s use of Rembrandtesque chiaroscuro in this etching is tight and dense, in comparison to the more diffuse and evocative effects of his etchings of the late 1640s. An example of that style can be seen in the other print by Castiglione in the Block’s collection, “Head of a Young Man in a Feathered Hat,” ca. 1645.
(Debora Wood is senior curator at the Block Museum.)
The Castiglione print may be viewed online at http://www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu/about/news/new-acquisitions.html