Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione was born in Genoa, Italy. He was baptized on March 23, 1609. As a young man, Castiglione was greatly influenced by Anthony Van Dyck. He worked in the artist's studio while Van Dyck lived in Genoa intermittently between 1621 and 1627. Castiglione was also a great admirer of Nicolas Poussin's work. By the late 1630s, Poussin's influence can be easily identified in Castiglione's themes and compositions.
Early in the 1630s Castiglione moved to Rome, and in 1633 he painted his first known signed and dated work, entitled Jacob's Journey. In 1634 he became a member of The Academy of St. Luke. In 1635 he went to Naples for a few years, perhaps to meet with Jusepe de Ribera, an artist whom Castiglione greatly admired.
The time Castiglione spent in Genoa between 1639 and 1646 is considered his principal mature period. It is around this time that he painted An Allegory of Vanity, which now hangs in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Fine Art in Kansas City. Although a non-religious scene, this early work already displays the sense of drama and color exhibited in The Immaculate Conception.
In the late 1640's, Castiglione invented a new printmaking process called the monotype. A monotype is a one-of-a-kind print made by painting on a metal plate and then transferring the image to paper. This type of printmaking remains a popular technique even today.
Throughout the 1650's, Castiglione traveled between Genoa and Mantua. By this time he was patronized by various members of the court of Carlo II Gozaga, Ninth Duke of Mantua. He also traveled throughout Italy to buy art for the duke. As a court painter, his fame grew, and around 1660 his son, Francesco, joined his studio. Castiglione died in Mantua on May 5th, 1665.