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Giovanni Battista Castiglione
Circe with the companions of Ulysses changed into animals
Etching printed on paper
Given by The Friends of the Fitzwilliam, 2001
Castiglione's Genoese origin is indicated by the word 'genuensis' in the signature on this print, which was probably etched before his departure from Rome to Mantua in 1651. It shows both his stylistic debt to Rembrandt's prints of the 1630s and 40s and his own interest in subjects based on classical literature and symbol. His depictions of scenes of magical transformation may have been partly prompted by an interest in the occult. This is one of several works depicting Circe the sorceress, who is described in various classical sources surrounded by animals that she has transformed from human form. Homer and Ovid tell the story of her feeding Ulysses' crew a potion and then turning them into swine by touching their hair with her wand. The empty armour in the foreground has been left on the ground at the moment of transformation, but it is not clear that the animals depicted here actually represent Ulysses crew!
Although Castiglione was one of the most important of seventeenth-century printmakers, there were no prints by him in Lord Fitzwilliam's founding collection. In the last decade the representation of his work in the Museum has been strengthened through various gifts.