Antonio del Castillo y Saavedra (1616-1668) was a Spanish baroque painter born in Cordoba, of whose school he is the best exponent, besides standing out as a landscape painter and draftsman, a facet in which he can be counted among the most important painters of the Spanish Golden Age.
Born in Córdoba, he was the son of the painter Agustín del Castillo, of whom hardly anything is known but whom Palomino calls “an excellent painter” and of an illustrious family, and of Ana de Guerra. Initially trained in his father”s workshop, he was orphaned at the age of fifteen; being the eldest of four brothers, on November 24, 1631 he presented himself before a magistrate in Cordoba asking for a guardian due to his minority. Placed with the painter of imagery Ignacio Aedo Calderón, the contract according to the customary terms established that Aedo was committed to teach him the painter”s trade so that he could dedicate his life to it. Castillo would serve him as much as possible in exchange for receiving the training and care of the master, as well as being fed, clothed, shoed and provided with a place to live while his mother was in charge of raising his younger siblings. According to Palomino, he then went to Seville in order to complete his studies with José de Sarabia, also from Cordoba, “and they did so in the school of the distinguished Francisco de Zurbarán”. The relationship with the painter from Extremadura, however, lacks documentary confirmation, although it can be sustained for reasons of stylistic affinity, just as the relationship of kinship, maintained by Palomino, with the Sevillian painter Juan del Castillo, lacks foundation.
Upon his return from Seville, on June 28, 1635, he married his first wife, Catalina de la Nava, a woman fifteen years older than him and with whom he may have married because of the need to establish himself economically and be able to help his mother and younger siblings. With his wife he settled in a rented house on the street in front of the Hospital de la Lámpara and with his wife”s dowry they furnished their new home.
In 1638 he is mentioned as a painter of imagery in the first document that refers to him as a master painter: the contract for the painting of an image of St. Joseph sculpted by the Cordovan Bernabé Gómez del Río for the parish church of Montoro, for which he was to charge 21 ducats. In 1642 he subcontracted with the painter Diego de Borja a canvas of Saint Pedro Nolasco receiving the Mercedarian habit and four small paintings representing Saint Pedro Armengol, Saint Serapio, Saint María del Socorro and Saint Colaxia for the main altar of the convent of Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes Extramuros, for a total of fifty ducats. Even so, most of his income in this first stage came from the works sold in the store that had belonged to his father. He changed his premises on two occasions, settling definitively on August 31, 1641 in the premises located on Libreros Street, continuation of Feria Street, currently known as Diario Córdoba.
On October 28, 1644, Catalina de la Nava died prematurely, leaving him a fifth of her estate and dividing the rest between Andrés Pérez and Francisca de León, children of her first marriage. Finally, with the intervention of Castillo”s lawyer, everything was left in two payments of 400 reales. In 1645 the canon Lupercio González commissioned him The Martyrdom of San Pelayo for the private chapel that he owned in the trascoro of the cathedral of Cordoba. This was the first commission of this nature, which was followed by some works for the chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary next to the chapel of Inca Garcilaso, gilded by his father some years earlier.
Five years after the death of Catalina de la Nava, he remarried María Magdalena Valdés, daughter of the silversmith Simón Rodríguez de Valdés. This marked the beginning of one of the most prosperous periods for the Cordovan artist, in which important commissions increased: Calvary of the Inquisition (currently in the Museum of Fine Arts of Cordoba) destined for the main hall of the court of the Inquisition (the commission of the mural of the Virgin, San Felipe and Santiago el Menor, for the cathedral; the mural paintings for the Puerta del Perdón of the cathedral; the Coronation of the Virgin, for the church of the Hospital de Jesús Nazareno and the San Rafael for José de Valdecañas y Herrera who would donate it to the consortium.
On the occasion of the plague of 1649 and 1650, Castillo submitted a poem to the poetry contest organized by the city in honor of the archangel Saint Raphael in demand of protection against the disease. Castillo”s six stanzas, dedicated to the first appearance of the archangel to the Cordovan Fray Simón de Sousa in 1278, won him second prize and were collected in 1653 in the commemorative book by Pedro Mexía de la Cerda, Relación de las fiestas eclesiásticas y seculares que la mui noble y siempre leal Ciudad de Córdoba ha hecho a su Ángel Custodio S. Rafael este año de M.DC.LI.(sic).
In 1652 María Magdalena Valdés died, leaving Castillo a widower for the second time, which prevented him from attending the literary award ceremony in the church of San Pablo. On July 30, 1654 he signed a marriage contract with Francisca de Paula Lara y Almoguera. The last years of his life are somewhat less well documented due to the lack of written documentation and artistic production. During his last years he stayed in Muñices Street, where he would be a neighbor of what was then the Cordovan elite. In 1666, says Palomino, he traveled to Seville, to which he had not returned since his years of study, and there he discovered Murillo”s painting and the beauty of his colors, “which he lacked, having so much more drawing”, which made him exclaim: “Castillo is dead!
Something of what he learned from Murillo would be manifested in his last works, according to Palomino, particularly in a half-length Saint Francis that he painted for the merchant Lorenzo Mateo, which “exceeds in good taste, and sweetness in the head, and hands to everything he did in his life Castillo, because to the truth he lacked a certain grace, and good taste in the coloring”. He died on February 2, 1668, in the house of Muñices Street without descendants.
In his painting Castillo moved without hardly any evolution in the orbit of naturalism, alien to the new baroque currents. The trace of an apprenticeship in Zurbaran environments can be seen in some of his religious compositions, such as the Calvary of the Inquisition, which he painted for the hall of the Holy Office in the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (now in the Museo de Bellas Artes de Córdoba), the Adoration of the Shepherds from the Museo del Prado, now in the Museo de Málaga, or the Nativity of the Hispanic Society, treated with solemn monumentality and tenebrist illumination.
More personal is shown in the narrative paintings, with numerous figures placed in architectural or landscape frames in which his spatial sense and the numerous studies of nature that he was accustomed to make are evident. “Excellent landscape painter”, according to Palomino, and gifted for this genre of “singular grace”, as demonstrated by the numerous paintings kept in private houses with historiejas and citadels, Castillo “went out some days to walk, with the purpose of drawing, and copied some places by the natural, also taking advantage of the huts and farmhouses of that land; He also copied animals, wagons and other adherents” From this interest in the immediate remains some 150 drawings, both of heads and of landscapes, animals and peasant scenes, which he used in the landscape backgrounds of his historical oil paintings, in which the faces of the characters are, in addition, authentic portraits. Examples of this are the series of six paintings dedicated to the life of Joseph, preserved in the Prado Museum, in which Alfonso E. Pérez Sánchez emphasized his “luminous sense of landscape, with refined greenish and silvery grays”, although Palomino accused him of a lack of taste in color, or in the famous Martyrdom of Saint Pelayo in the Cathedral of Cordoba, “where Castillo greatly showed the eminence of his genius in the historiated”. Two small canvases in landscape format in private collection, with scenes of Jesus” childhood (Rest in the flight to Egypt and Dream of St. Joseph), set in vast landscapes with white cities in the distance, may illustrate those countries alluded to by Palomino in private houses in Cordoba.
The success in the composition and realism of his portraits can be seen in the Baptism of St. Francis of Assisi in the Museum of Fine Arts in Cordoba, painted in 1663 for the cloister of the Franciscan convent of San Pedro el Real, where, according to Palomino, annoyed to see the signature of Juan de Alfaro repeated, who competed with him with other paintings for the same cloister, he signed “non fecit Alfarus”. Samples of the same immediate naturalism that can be seen in his drawings are also found in the San Francisco preaching before Pope Innocent III, in the parish of San Francisco and San Eulogio de la Axerquía, where among distinguished princes of the church attend the sermon beggars, absent-minded townspeople and restless children.
Antonio del Castillo also painted in fresco, being his the images of the apostles Peter and Paul with the patron saints of the city in the Puerta del Perdón of the cathedral of Córdoba (preparatory drawing in the Museo de Bellas Artes). He competed with Cristóbal Vela for the painting of the main altarpiece of the cathedral, always according to Palomino, finally awarded to the latter. He often worked for the Franciscans and the Dominicans, being his the paintings of the monumental staircase of the Colegio de San Pablo of the Order of Preachers, from which comes the painting of the Apparition of St. Paul to King Ferdinand III, now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Cordoba, but he was also required to work for the various churches of the city and for some members of the urban oligarchy, sometimes at the dictation according to the conditions of those who commissioned the work, with “great mortification. …; because he was not so abundant of means, nor of works, that he could abandon some of them”.