Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione

Michael Prodger

Some of the most talented artists of early 17th-century Rome were linked by violence as much as skill. Caravaggio was a murderer, Bernini had a lover’s face slashed when she (already married) betrayed him with his brother, Salvator Rosa was said to be part of a gang of thuggish brigands, and Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, who had a charge sheet as long as his arm, once tried to throw his sister off a roof and probably did succeed in killing someone else.

Despite, or perhaps because of, their quick tempers, these men were nevertheless artistic innovators. Castiglione, the least known of them, was no exception. He made large, expressive drawings in oil paint on paper without the customary preparations and he invented the monotype, a method that produced a single print when he took an impression of an image in oils or ink drawn directly on to a metal plate. He was known particularly for his drawings of animals and as he travelled around Italy, a dissatisfied nomad, he soaked up the work of foreign artists from Van Dyck and Poussin to Rembrandt, whose influence was particularly strong.

Both his range (from allegory and religion to mythology and the pastoral) and his ability are on display in the 90 drawings and prints by him on show in Castiglione: Lost Genius at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace (until March 16, 2014). When George III bought 250 of his works, the Royal Collection became perhaps the finest repository of this curious, innovative and-as his sister would have attested-dangerous artist’s work.

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