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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Guido Reni

Guido Reni Self-portrait, ca. 1630.
A year or two ago I put together a video (above) detailing the way artists down through the centuries have depicted the life of Christ. I spent several weeks researching, collecting, cataloging, and writing a narration. It was a labor of love. Since then, many of those images I've also used in various entries in this blog depicting major episodes from the Gospels. Today, I came upon an artist, not totally unknown to me previously, but one whom I'd never studied to any great extent. In perusing his considerable body of work, it looks as if I might have saved myself a lot of time and effort if I'd only stuck to this one artist--the Baroque painter from Bologna, Guido Reni. It would seem that few artists have been so conscientious in depicting virtually all the major events in Christ's life with such veracity and skill.
David with the Head of Goliath,
1605, Guido Reni
Guido Reni was born in 1575, the son a musician (perhaps a whole family of them). In any case, his art talent was recognized at a very early age. He was but nine years old when he was apprenticed to the painter, Denis Calvert, a Flemish artist living and working in Bologna at the time. There he was joined by two slightly lesser artists, Albani and Domenichino, all of whom were trained in a somewhat Flemish Mannerist style at creating religious works. When they were about twenty, the three of them moved to one of Italy's earliest art schools, called the Academy of the Progressives (loosely translated) founded by Lodovico Carracci and staffed by a couple of his more well-known cousins, Annibale and Agostino Carracci. In later years, the Carracci family and their followers like Reni went on to form the basis of the Bolognese school of art (a group who painted in a similar manner, not a formal school). One of Reni's earliest works, David with the Head of Goliath (right) from 1605, displays the strong influence of Caravaggio over any of Reni's earlier art instruction. Reni's later work was more eclectic as he melded all his instructional training into a single Baroque style all his own.

Apollo in his Chariot preceded by Dawn (Aurora), Guido Reni
Massacre of the Innocents,
1611, Guido Reni.
Around 1601, Annibale Carracci won the commission to decorate the Farnese Palace in Rome. He took Reni and several others from their academy with him and thus introduced Rome, and specifically the influential Borghese family to Guido Reni, and he to them. What followed was a sizable number of ceiling frescoes resulting from something of a "palace race" among the city's wealthiest families, all of whom were connected in various ways to the church hierarchy from the pope on down. Reni's Apollo in his Chariot preceded by Dawn (above) likely dates from around 1615. Today it's to be found in the large central hall of garden palace, Casino dell'Aurora, located on the grounds of the Palazzo Pallavicini-Rospigliosi. It is considered Reni's masterpiece from his nearly two decades working in Rome and later in Naples. Reni's Massacre of the Innocents (left) dates from 1611, which would also put it during his period in Rome.

Bacchus and Ariadne, 1619-20, Guido Reni
St Dominic's Glory, crowning the
cupola of San Domenico,
after 1615, Guido Reni.
Fearing that he might be poisoned by his competitors if he remained in Naples, Reni returned home to Bologna sometime between 1615 and 1618 where he remained until his death in 1642. There he picked up the commission the decorate the ceiling of St Dominic's Glory , crowning the cupola of San Domenico in the Basilica of Saint Dominic (left). Reni's rather erotic mythological classic, Bacchus and Ariadne (above) dates from around 1619-20, which would place it as one of the artist's earliest works after returning to Bologna from Rome. It was about this same time also when Reni veered away from mythology toward the religious works in line with those he'd painted decades before while still an apprentice. However, in place of largely Old Testament depictions, Reni took up the life of Christ as the major focus of his work. His Christ with the Cross (below, left) dates from around 1620, while his Baptism of Christ (below, right) from around 1622-23. Together they are an indication of his rapidly evolving style as his work took a new direction toward the spiritual rather than the merely decorative.

Jesus Christ with the Cross,
1620, Guido Reni
The Baptism of Christ,
1622-23, Guido Reni
Although these early religious works are interesting for their stylistic development, the vast majority of Reni's more outstanding religious works date from the period 1635 to 1640. Two of my favorites are St Matthew and the Angel (below, left), 1635-40 and the exceptional depiction of Saint Joseph and the Christ Child, (below, right) from 1639. Paintings of the Madonna and Child by Raphael and virtually every other painter after him were quite common. As a result, Reni's touching "step-father and son" is highly unique and personal. It would appear that Reni used the same model for both works. Then, putting them all together, he painted something of a family reunion with his 1636 The Holy Family (bottom).

St. Matthew and the Angel,
1635-40, Guido Reni
Saint Joseph and the Christ Child,
1639, Guido Reni

The Holy Family, 1636, Guido Reni


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