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Valerio Castello, The Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist

Key facts
Full title The Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist
Artist Valerio Castello
Artist dates 1624 - 1659
Date made about 1650
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 99 × 73.9 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by the Trustees of Sir Denis Mahon's Charitable Trust through the Art Fund, 2013
Inventory number NG6625
Location Room 32
Collection Main Collection
The Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist
Valerio Castello

A youthful Virgin Mary looks tenderly down at her son, the infant Christ Child, wriggling on her lap. Christ reaches out to embrace Saint John the Baptist, identifiable by the reed cross he holds. The composition of this painting is constructed along diagonals and the Virgin’s serene bearing contrasts sharply with Christ’s animated, twisting pose.

This is a relatively late work by the Genoese painter Castello. The sense of movement within the picture is echoed by the flickering light and Castello’s characteristically lively handling of paint. The colouring is rich and intense – the vibrant red of the Virgin’s dress juxtaposed with the deep blue of her cloak – and Castello’s brushwork is spirited and free, especially in the white cloth on which Christ sits.

The long-necked Virgin in this painting is inspired by Parmigianino’s work and the architectural setting calls to mind the portraits Van Dyck painted in Genoa, during his extended visit to Italy in the 1620s.

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