By: Amy Fredrickson
Baroque painter and prolific draftsman Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, known as Guercino, died on 22 December 1666 in Bologna. He was born on 8 February 1591 in Cento, a rural town located near Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna. According to his contemporary biographer Carlo Cesare Malvasia, Guercino was nicknamed “the squinter” after he was left cross-eyed following a childhood accident
Guercino trained locally in the art of drawing; however, he was largely a self-taught artist. He entered Benedetto Gennari the Elder’s workshop where he remained until Gennari’s death in 1610. Guercino’s paintings display a clear influence from both the Ferrarese and Bolognese schools. Moreover, his works especially show the influence of Ludovico Carracci.
In 1613, Guercino received his first commission, which was acquired through his friend and supporter, Father Antonio Mirandola. He painted an altarpiece depicting the Glory of All Saints for the church of Santo Spirito in Cento.
Other notable private commissions followed, such as frescoes in the Provenzale and Panini residences in Cento. Guercino also had notable commissions from the Medici and Gonzaga families.
In 1621, Pope Gregory XV invited Guercino to Rome, where the artist stayed for close to three years. He played an influential role in the development of Roman High Baroque art. One of Guercino’s largest commissions was the decoration of the Casino Ludovisi, for the Pope’s nephew. The main fresco, a portrait of Aurora, exhibits Guercino’s mastery of foreshortening, which was used to create the illusion that there was no ceiling to the viewer.
After Pope Gregory XV died in 1623 Guercino returned to Cento, where he opened a bustling studio. His reputation was solidified in Rome, and his works were sought after internationally. He received commissions from King Charles I of England and Marie de’ Medici, Queen Mother of France. In fact, he turned down the opportunity to be a court artist in both London and Paris.
When Guido Reni died in 1642, Guercino moved to Bologna where he ran his studio and was the lead painter until his death in 1666.
Griswold, William M., “Guercino,” Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 48 (Spring 1991).
Mahon, Denis and Nicholas Turner, The Drawings of Guercino in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle, (Cambridge, 1989).
Malvasia, Carlo Cesare, Felsina pittrice: Vite de’ pittori bolognesi. 2 vols. (2nd ed., Bologna, 1841).
Semiramis Called to Arms, 1645, Oil on canvas, 130 x 152 cm, Private Collection.
Hersilia Separating Romulus and Tatius, 1645, Oil on canvas, 253 x 267 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris.
The Flagellation of Christ, 1657, Oil on canvas 250 x 185 cm, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome.
The Entombment of Christ, 1656, Oil on canvas, Art Institute, Chicago.
Samson Captured by the Philistines, 1619, Oil on canvas, 191 x 237 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Et in Arcadia Ego, 1618-22, Oil on canvas, 82 x 91 cm, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome.
Portrait of Paul Gregory XV, 1622-23, Oil on canvas, 134 x 98 cm, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
Aurora, 1621, Fresco, Casino dell’Aurora, Villa Boncompagni, Ludovisi, Rome.