Click on photos to enlarge.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Guercino Self-portrait, 1635
In perusing the work of 17th century painters (especially Italian painters) it's sad to realize that any number of impressive, world class painters, heir to all the Renaissance had to offer, were, by the same token, so overwhelmed by the masterful works and fame of their forbearers as to be largely ignored, if not forgotten today. For every Michelangelo, Raphael, or Leonardo their were dozens of names like Piranesi, Federico, Zuccari, Pomarancio, Saracini, and Mengs who, had they live and worked  in different times, might now be household names. Even the big names from this era, Caravaggio, Poussin, Carracci, and Claude Lorraine have difficulty resting in the shadows of the Renaissance giants. They're known and well-respected by those of us involved in the arts, but virtually meaningless to everyone else.

Elijah Fed by Ravens, 1620, Guercino

One such artist deserving of much more name recognition than he gets is Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, better known by his nickname, Guercino, Italian for "squinter" (he was cross-eyed). Guercino was born in a small Italian village about halfway between Bologna and Ferrara in 1590. Indications are he was mostly self-taught, though, in his late teens, he was apprenticed to a Bolognese artist named Gennari, who has suffered the same fate as to fame as did his pupil. Such was his talent that by the age of 25 Guercino had moved up to the likes of Ludovico Carracci where he painted his first memorable works, Elijah Fed by Ravens (left) and Samson Seized by Philistines. Although working with Carracci, his work bears far more of a resemblance to that of Caravaggio, whose paintings he apparently knew only from second-hand sources. His most recognized work, Et in Arcadia Ego (below, right) from around 1618-22 bears many Caravaggio hallmarks, though traces of Guido Reni and Annibale Carracci can also be discerned. In effect, he seems to have soaked up the best of all those around him, in an eclectic style making his work quite popular at the time, but too amalgamated to cause much of a stir among art historians since.
Et in Arcadia Ego, (I, too, was once in Arcadia)
1618-22, Guercino

After laboring several years in Rome for several cardinals and a pope, Guercino returned to Bologna in 1642 following the death of Reni, where he set up an impressive workshop turning out over a hundred altarpieces and some twelve dozen other major works. The man appears to have not only been quite adept, but something of a slave-driving workaholic as well. His drawings in chalk or ink number close to a thousand. Never married, Guercino died in 1666 at the age of 76, a respectable old age for his time and a very wealthy man. Apparently hard work and talent may sometimes lead to fortune without also encompassing fame.
St. Luke Displaying a Painting of the Virgin, 1652-53, Guercino.
It's amazing what artists come up with when they feel free to speculate on saints.


No comments:

Post a Comment