The biography of José del Castillo (Madrid, 14.10.1737-Madrid, 5.10.1793) shows that the artist, being in his youth one of the most appropriate painters for becoming a leader of the artistic movement of the Illustrious Absolutism, ends up performing secondary work, paintings for tapestry and some religious works of art, which was not the field where he could best display his talent. Jose del Castillo is a perfect example of how an unhappy destiny can influence on the professional life of a painter under the regime of that time. Surely the unhappy destiny, in point of fact, does not explain anything and we will have to find out the real reasons why one of the most promising careers in painting of the eighteenth century in Spain was crushed. Probably it was a combination of two unsuccessful elections, from our point of view, that excluded the figure of Jose del Castillo from the elite group of artists of that time.
Out of those two reasons, the first one was due to a change in the artistic likings of the Royal Court in Madrid at that time. Jose del Castillo was a favourite student of Corrado Giaquinto, a painter at the Court of Fernando VI and one of the most eminent representatives of the European baroque. Nevertheless, after the death of Fernando VI and with the contract of Carlos III de Mengs, the court likings turned to the limited and strict Neoclassicism that bohemian painters introduced as a real dictatorship of the likings in the Royal Court of Madrid. The outlook of Jose del Castillo contradicted the new tendencies and that was the reason why he did not have an access to the elite group of the court painters. In spite of the frustration and his incapability to adapt himself to the fashion and become a rather respectable and important painter who could defend his viewpoint and understanding of the art, Jose del Castillo earned his living by the paintings for tapestry, by making different decorations for the Royalty (without being admitted to the group of court painters), and by doing some additional work ordered by politicians and the clergy, which helped him to get enough money to feed his big family but not to get a good position among his fellow painters.
The second reason that accounts for his unsuccessful career consists in the fact that he made mistakes when choosing the patrons who were to prove his talent to the King. After he had failed to join the group of the court painters, Jose del Castillo was trying very hard to get the protection of the Earl of Floridablanca, First Secretary at that time, and with the help and support of that important person to achieve his aim. But he did not know that the most important group of the court painters was formed by the brothers Bayeu and Goya and because of their Aragon origin they were supported by the so-called “Aragon Party”, the leader of which was the Earl of Aranda in Madrid. He was a sworn enemy and a rival of Floridablanca in the control of the monarchical policy in the second half of the reign of Carlos III and during the reign of Carlos IV until Manuel Godoy’s accession to power. The political dispute developped on the level of painting as well and it was going on in two different times an on two different levels, the political and the artistic ones.
The signs of the first conflict can be traced back to 1786 when, after Cornelio Vandergoten’s death, Jose del Castillo aspired to the position of the artistic director of the Royal Tapestry Factory, the “Aragon clan” of Bayeu, in spite of the fact that Castillo was supported by Floridablanca, promoted Ramon Bayeu and Goya for the posts of directors of the Royal manifacture. Floridablanca was at the height of the power but he could not help Jose del Castillo and be his patron, and so the opportunity to enter the elite group of the Spanish painters was missed again.
The second and the definite battle of Jose del Castillo for obtaining recognition was also lost several months before his death in 1793. On the first of March 1793, Ramon Bayeu died, and Jose del Castillo hoped again to obtain the post of the Royal Painter. On the 6th of March of the same year he applied for for that position alongside with some other artists. Still his expectations that the petition would be considered favourably were, as it turned out, very far from the reality because his patron Floridablanca was made redundant in February of 1792 and his rival occupied the position, the Earl of Aranda, the most prominent of the representatives of the “Aragon Party”. Jose del Castillo who knew everything about all those changes in the political life and their consequences and impact on his career, resorted to the help of Eugenio Llaguno who could recommend him in the highest circles. The eleccion of Llaguno due to his prestige in the artistic and intellectual life of that time was successful, but from a political point of view, although he was not overshadowed by Aranda, he lost a lot while being the Secretary of the Committee of the government of Floridablanca. The final attempt of Jose del Castillo also failed when Carlos IV decided to leave vacant the position to which the artist aspired. Thus, a little before his death the hopes of Jose del Castillo were dashed completely and the failure of his professional life was definite.