Andrea Gastaldi was born in Turin in 1826 into a well-to-do family of the Piedmontese bourgeoisie. Initially, his parents tried to initiate him into a different career, but at the same time, through his collector uncle Giovanni Volpato, they introduced him into the artistic environment of neoclassical Turin.
During this period, he also began to attend the Accademia Albertina, albeit not completely regularly. In any case, he followed the lessons of Michele Cusa, Stefano Arienti and Giovanni Battista Biscarra, from whom he initially received a very strong influence. In particular, this can be seen in his debut work at the Promotrice in Turin in 1847, The Farewell between Jesus and Mary and in his later work in 1848, Italy is freed from the Austrians by God’s command, in which, however, a personal development is already evident.
In the early 1850s, Andrea Gastaldi made a study trip first to Rome and then to Florence, but continued to send works to the Turin Promotrice. In 1850, he sent A King in Chains, The Fall of the Sun and The Sacrifice of Abraham, while in 1852, on his return to the city, he exhibited the two paintings that finally made him known to the critics, Parisina’s Dream and The First Motion of the Sicilian Vespers, clearly in the style of Hayézian.
These were the years in which inspiration came not only from historical episodes, but also from literary ones, a manner that he deepened in his seven-year Parisian journey from 1853 to 1860. During the French period, he participated in the Salons, but did not fail to send works to the Turin Promotrice: in 1857, for example, he sent a series of canvases inspired by Dante, Dante and Virgil meet Sordello, and La Pia de’ Tolomei, together with a Portrait of the Author.
In contrast, the medieval history painting The Emperor Frederick Barbarossa escapes from the battlefield after the defeat of Legnano dates back to 1858. The subject is taken from Sismondi’s text Storia delle Repubbliche italiane, from which he had already taken his cue two years earlier for Fra’ Savonarola taken to prison amidst the insults of the Compagnacci.
1860 was a crucial year: still not having returned to Italy from Paris, he sent one of his most famous paintings to the Turin Promotrice, Pietro Micca on the point of setting fire to the mine turns his last thoughts to God and his country, a romantic work par excellence, presented together with Manzoni’s L’Innominato.
With the first painting, he was awarded the Breme prize and above all the chair of painting at the Accademia Albertina in Turin, where he taught for thirty years until his death. However, he continued to paint and presented paintings such as Brutus the Lesser, Cain and his Son, Sappho, A Drama in the Prehistoric Age in a Family of the First Alpine Inhabitants and a long series of other paintings of mythological and literary inspiration, including Savitry, exhibited in Turin in 1871. A scene taken from the Indian poem Mahabharata, it is a work that, in addition to indicating Gastaldi’s precise interest in exotic literature, represents his final artistic maturation, marked by a bright and loose chromatism that can be seen in the studied details of the Indian robes, the true strength of this large, vertically oriented canvas. In the meantime, he held various official positions linked to the Academy, for example he was a member of the commissions for the Turin exhibitions of 1880 and 1884. Active until the end, he died in Turin in 1889.