From its style, this drawing, with a strong and bold use of the pen and ink, would appear to date from the late 1630s. It does not seem to be preparatory for any known painting by the artist, but the head of the bearded Saint is not far from the St Jerome kissing a Crucifix,
a lost painting of about 1637-38, now known only from a copy, which together with another of St Joseph and the Christ Child 1
was originally in the Cappella Ferri, in the church of San Giovanni in Monte, Bologna.2
Here we can admire Guercino's ability in using the white surface of the paper to enhance the secure and linear strokes in pen and ink, which have in their elegance of execution a certain ornamental quality, while suggesting the three dimensionality of the figure against an empty background.
Guercino clearly demonstrates in the present sheet how successful he can be in bringing out certain features in the design, only by modulating and alternating the intensity and length of the strokes. The long and clear contours together with the contrast between light and shade, add to the bold and skillful execution.
The quick red chalk sketch on the verso is a study for the same head in reverse.
We are grateful to Nicholas Turner who has kindly suggested, subsequent to the printed catalogue going to press, that this may be a study for the figure of Cimon in the painting of Roman Charity, commissioned by Marchese Cornelio II Bentivoglio in 1638-39, as a present for Cardinal Mazarin, and now in a private collection. The canvas is no. 251 in Turner's forthcoming catalogue of Guercino's paintings.
1. Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland
2. L. Salerno, I Dipinti del Guercino, Rome 1988, p. 258, nos 172-171, reproduced