Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione was profoundly influenced by painters beyond his native Italy and his meticulous depictions of animals, such as those here, show his particular appreciation of Flemish animal painting. Though trained in his hometown of Genoa and familiar with the Italian Caravaggisti and Mannerist painters, Castiglione was also exposed to the work of Sir Peter Paul Rubens produced during his sojourn in the city. When Sir Anthony van Dyck came to Italy in 1621, he stopped first in Genoa and, while he worked on and off in Rome and Palermo, it was in the Ligurian city that he spent the bulk of his time before returning to Antwerp in 1627. Castiglione worked in van Dyck’s Genoese studio from his arrival in 1621 and excelled in the production of landscape paintings which he populated with animals. The artist was much celebrated for these rural scenes, of which this Shepherds driving their flock is a particularly fine example.
Castiglione is known to have cherry-picked elements from his popular works and reused them. The laden donkey, for example, seen here and the engaging central sheep leaping above the flock and looking toward the viewer are familiar motifs. While he produced a number of similar canvases in oval and round format, with a flock of sheep surging into the foreground, the background figures and the inclusion of the herding dog ahead of them make this work especially appealing.
We are grateful to Dr. Mary Newcome Schleier for endorsing the attribution on the basis of photographs.