Gabriele Castagnola, born in Genoa in 1928, trained at the Accademia Linguistica di Belle Arti. Towards the end of the 1940s, he combined his painting with illustration, working for a number of satirical newspapers of a republican bent, including “La Maga”.
He began exhibiting at the Promotrice in Genoa in 1851 and took part regularly until 1880. From the very beginning he distinguished himself for his romantic style of painting, concentrating on the choice of historical and literary subjects, without forgetting his vast production of genre scenes. In fact, his debut in 1851 corresponded to the presentation of the genre painting The First Pain, while in 1854, again at the Promotrice genovese, some portraits and Little Peasant Girl appeared, and in 1856 the contemporary history subject Return from the Crimea.
This was the first demonstration of his closeness to the demands of the Risorgimento, which continued not only in his painting but also in his graphics. Illustrated panels, lithographs with portraits, historical and news scenes enrich his graphic production, most of which is kept in the Museo del Risorgimento in Genoa and in the Civica Raccolta dei Disegni e delle Stampe in Palazzo Rosso.
History Painting: Interest in the Renaissance and Medieval Revival
It was mainly from the late 1950s onwards that Gabriele Castagnola devoted himself more regularly to the production of historical and literary subjects. His reconstruction Raphael and the Fornarina dates back to the Promotrice of 1858 and in 1859 the medieval subject Aldruda Donati presenting her daughter to Buondelmonte – the origin of the Guelphs and Ghibellines
His painting has a clear, clean colour scheme that fits perfectly into the Romantic tradition, both in terms of the choice of themes, the theatrical setting of the scenes and the evident clarity of composition, which draws on the Romantic tradition of Lombardy and the medieval revival typical of Liguria in the mid-nineteenth century. At the Promotrice in 1860 he exhibited Venus and Castruccio found by Madonna Dianora Castracani and F. Lippi, a Florentine painter who fell in love with Lucrezia Buti and made her escape from the convent in 1862.
The move to Florence: a looser chromaticism
During these years, he travelled extensively between Tuscany, Rome and Naples, before settling definitively in Florence, a city where he felt the strong influence of macchia painting. Although he did not abandon the theme of history, he gradually abandoned his chromatic and drawing purism, moving towards a more relaxed colouring inspired by reality, particularly through his attention to variations in light, as can be seen in the emotional Bianca Capello and the scene The aim of Alessandro de’ Medici, presented in 1865 in Genoa.
In the mid-1860s, genre subjects made their reappearance, including I hear his footsteps, He loves me not, The idle hours, A flower and The return from search, always accompanied by reconstruction paintings, such as Petrarch begging the painter Memmi to portray Madonna Laura. He exhibited for the last time in 1880 in Genoa, presenting a Portrait with a loose chromaticism and a marked realism. Active until the end, Gabriele Castagnola died in Florence in 1883.