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The Caravan

Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione

(1616 - 1670) | 837.1

Date : Circa 1635 | Medium : Oil on canvas

The traditional and vague title of this great Italian painting no doubt conceals a more precise subject. As very often in his work, Giuseppe Castiglione relegates the main theme to the background so as to be able to use the foreground to depict animals, the Genoese artist’s speciality. Another famous example is his painting Christ Driving the Traders from the Temple, conserved at the Louvre Museum. Here the subject could well be the Journey of Jacob, of David or even of Abraham, accompanied by their flock.  

This work in the Rouen collection is certainly a masterpiece that remains under-appreciated and which shows both Castiglione’s qualities as an animal painter and his technique of composition.  

The utensils piled up on the donkey’s back and the domestic animals pressing around the shepherds create an impression of luxuriant detail that emphasises the radiance of the colouring. The composition of the foreground, with its large and small diagonal lines, is marked by a turbulent dynamism that borders on confusion. The spectator’s eye then seeks to escape through the only exit route available, in the top left-hand corner of the painting. It is only here in the background that we find the main scene, in which the caravan of an important biblical figure passes in silence, far from the hubbub of this world.