Wearing the Hat of an Other: Alterity and Self-Fashioning in Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione's Oriental Heads
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In the late 1640s, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione produced two series of etchings, which historians have named his Oriental Heads, depicting a variety of figures in exotic headgear. The persistence of Oriental headdresses throughout the series suggests a pervasive interest in costume on the part of both Castiglione and his society. In the seventeenth-century Western European imagination, the turbaned figure represented the epitome of alterity: the Ottoman Turk. Signed “CASTIGLIONE, GENOVESE,” the etchings reveal the artist’s important Genoese origins as a part of his artistic identity. Castiglione’s eccentric tendencies, especially in his own personal mode of dress, coupled with the prevalence of exotic costume in the Oriental Heads speaks to the artist’s self-fashioned image as a fashionable, yet controversial eccentric persona. These etchings were tools to attract potential patrons, encourage buyers to purchase the etchings, and above all, to fashion his artistic identity in the international art center of Rome.