Unlike many Italian artists, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione was profoundly influenced by foreigners. He first studied with local artists in his native Genoa, absorbing not only Tuscan Mannerism and Caravaggism but also the style of Peter Paul Rubens, who had worked in Genoa. From 1621 Castiglione also worked in Anthony van Dyck's Genoa studio. Early on, he was attracted to Flemish animal painting. Though he painted portraits, historical pieces, and landscapes, Castiglione excelled in rural scenes with animals and influenced Italy's animal painting specialists.
By 1634 Castiglione was in Rome, where he remained for about ten years. After returning to Genoa for a time, he worked for the Mantuan court in 1648, which had also employed Rubens. There Castiglione picked up the freedom of touch he saw in Domenico Fetti's paintings. One of the first Italians to appreciate Rembrandt van Rijn's etchings, Castiglione probably invented the monotype. Also admired for his fluent brush drawings in oil on paper, Castiglione influenced artists throughout Europe and virtually every Italian printmaker who followed. Despite his easygoing nature, his last works were intense, ecstatic compositions, reminiscent of Gian Lorenzo Bernini's contemporary style.