Whether he picks up a paintbrush or script, Federico Castelluccio remains an artist at work

by Laura Kolnoski

Federico Castelluccio leads a double life.
Accomplished in two artistic worlds, many know him from his television and film roles, particularly as enforcer Furio Giunta on HBO’s The Sopranos. In the world of classical art, however, Castelluccio is also something of a celebrity.

The Italian transplant recently made news for another achievement – he “discovered” and has meticulously restored a long-lost 17th century masterpiece by the Italian Baroque painter Giovanni Francesco Barbieri—aka Guercino. Almost as amazing as the painting of Saint Sebastian is how the actor obtained it (hint: being a dedicated student of Guercino’s work and being in the right place at the right time coincided).

“It’s a very difficult thing to discover one of these paintings,” Castelluccio said. “Something was calling me into that place in Germany. I told my girlfriend [actress Yvonne Maria Schaefer] to stop the car. I looked in the window, knocked on the door, and asked to enter. At first I walked right past it. The painting was stacked against a wall behind another, and Yvonne saw that it was a painting of St. Sebastian and called me over. The majority of the painting screamed Guercino to me and I realized this could potentially be the master’s work.”

Incorrectly labeled as an 18th-century Italian holy painting, it’s now believed the work was completed in the 1630s, and it has suffered from 350 years of yellowing, varnish and previous restoration attempts.

Castelluccio embarked on a several-year authentication and restoration process, enlisting experts using advanced techniques. He reportedly paid about $69,000 for the work, more for the entire restoration process, and it could fetch millions should he decide to sell it. Castelluccio attended its unveiling at a special exhibit at the Miradolo Castle in Turin, Italy, where it will hang until March 2015.

The Naples native, who moved to Paterson at age four in 1968, was awarded a scholarship to the School of Visual Arts in New York City in 1982, where he earned a BFA in painting and media arts. Also interested in acting and theatre, he took additional classes at the school to broaden those skills. As a child, he related to impressionists Rich Little and Frank Gorshin, trying different voices and learning to do his own impressions.

Nicole Spread

“Just like with a painting, I look at the words and start to sketch it out on a blank canvas,” said Castelluccio, who studied with English actor/director Charles Laughton, Al Pacino’s long-time teacher, who held classes at Pacino’s house.

And how do Castelluccio’s dual careers compare?

“When I approach a painting, I have an idea of how it’s going to look, but I have to get there,” he explained. “It’s the same with a character. I look at the words and start formulating a character.” Movie roles began in 1986 and included Diary of A Hitman (1991) and El Cantante (2006). The 6’2″ actor joined the The Sopranos in 2000, and has also appeared on television’s NYPD Blue and other shows.

At 17, he painted a portrait for the late George Burns, who was so impressed he aided Castelluccio’s career by introducing him to network executives who hired him to create art for their productions. In 1999 he became one of the master painters who re-created museum masterpieces for the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair. He soon began writing and directing, which he calls, “creating a painting in narrative form.” He does all his own storyboards as, “Each frame is like a little painting for me with its composition and color.” His first film was Touches of Color, written with a friend from grammar school.

This past fall, Castelluccio was editing Lily of the Feast, an extended version of a short film he made in 2010 (his first directorial effort). Based on a true story, the film tells the tale of a banker with a gift for memorizing numbers who is recruited by a mobster. He played the lead in the short film and has a cameo in the feature length version (which stars Paul Sorvino and is scheduled for an early 2015 release).

In addition to painting for Donald Trump, Buddy Guy, and Whoopi Goldberg, Castelluccio has exhibited in galleries throughout the United States and Europe. He has also been the subject of documentaries, including Night of Hearts, describing the creation of his large figurative painting “Vita.”

In New Jersey, Castelluccio is represented by Don and Carol Lynn Chetkin at Chetkin Gallery in Red Bank. He met the couple in 2012 while attending a local charity event with Donny Wahlberg, a fan of his work who suggested he bring his portfolio. Don Chetkin responded to it immediately, the actor said, adding, “He recognized me from The Sopranos, but didn’t know I was a painter.” Don quickly invited Federico to visit the gallery. At their first joint show in honor of the gallery’s 25th anniversary, 13 of the 14 Castelluccio paintings sold. (A second show of sketches and drawings is planned for December of this year.)

“Federico’s trompe l’oeil is outstanding; I was completely won over,” said Don Chetkin. “When we find an artist whose work is so special and high quality, that’s what we want to show. It’s fabulous for the gallery…a wonderful fit.

“Federico paints in the Old Masters style,” added Carol Lynn. He puts special care into all his work.”

Federico Castelluccio
Chetkin Gallery / 9 Wharf Ave., Red Bank / 732.741.6116