Genoa, well known as a seaport established in ancient times and as the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, emerged as a major artistic center toward the middle of the sixteenth century, sparked by the sea lord Andrea Doria's political leadership and ready patronage and the artist Perino del Vaga's arrival from Rome. The technically masterful, even boldly experimental, drawings and prints in this exhibition illustrate Genoa's growth by the early seventeenth century into an important regional artistic school. Some of the drawings were made as independent works of art, as for instance ones by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, characterized by rich painterliness and dramatic content. Many sheets are preparatory drawings, which eloquently describe the Genoese tradition of illusionistic fresco painting that unfolded almost in its entirety within the splendid interiors of the new churches and palazzi erected on the Via Balbi and Strada Nuova (now Via Garibaldi). In addition to better-known artists—Luca Cambiaso, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, Giovanni Battista Gaulli (Baciccio), Bernardo Strozzi, for example—the exhibition includes less-studied Genoese artists, such as Carlo Alberto Baratta, Giulio Benso, Bartolomeo Biscaino, Bernardo and Valerio Castello, Giovanni David, and Gregorio and Lorenzo de Ferrari, all of whom significantly influenced other artists both in Genoa and elsewhere in Italy.
A number of years before his death, Jacob Bean, then Drue Heinz Curator, Department of Drawings, envisioned an exhibition of drawings and prints selected from New York collections that would highlight the work of Genoese artists between 1530 and 1800. Not only was Jacob very much the conceptual force behind the present exhibition, but he and the late Lawrence Turčić, then assistant curator, were also noted connoisseurs of Genoese drawings. Their discoveries are attested to by a large, mostly unpublished dossier of attributions to Genoese artists made during the course of more than a decade and kept in the archives of the Department of Drawings and Prints. It is in their memory that this exhibition has been mounted, with works selected by William Griswold, Nadine Orenstein, and Carmen Bambach, the latter two of whom also prepared the catalogue entries.