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The Metaphor of Circe as the Court in some Works by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione

Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (1609-1664) explored the story of Circe with Ulysses’ companions turned into animals in a group of paintings and a print that showcase both his virtuoso style and his penchant for unusual iconographic solutions. Castiglione’s fascination with Circe’s transformative power does not simply reflect contemporary trends, but it relates to the artist’s engagement with the depiction of myths of metamorphosis, which he would have encountered via various illustrated Italian editions of Ovid’s book and other works of art.
This paper will analyse Castiglione’s treatments of Circe with the animals in light of contemporary intellectual debates regarding the dialogue between human consciousness and animal behaviour, as encountered, in particular, in the writings of Agostino Mascardi and his Roman circle. Building on these insights, I will suggest a reading of Castiglione’s sorceress as a sophisticated metaphor for the Court, inspirer of those vain ambitions that lead to animal baseness.
Relevant research areas: Western Europe, Baroque, Etching