Stylistically, the drawing must date from around the mid to late 1630s. The secure handling of the red chalk testifies to the great mastery in the use of this versatile medium that is evident throughout Guercino’s drawn œuvre. Red chalk was often the artist’s medium of choice, as it permitted an extraordinary variety of tonal effects, especially in the rendering of the flesh tones, and could be used with different intensity to create infinitely varied nuances, emphasizing areas of light and shadow. In the present sheet Guercino has harnessed his chalk to create the finest variations of tonality, combined with a subtle and delicate sfumato, which is skilfully used all around the female body, to enhance the luminosity of the flesh.
Guercino's technical skills in all media are remarkable, as is his understanding of the power of the white surface of the paper, which he frequently used to great effect in creating his lighting schemes. In fact, as we can see in the present drawing, the female body is mostly defined by the white of the paper, emerging from the warm tonality of the red chalk, with all possible variations and different degrees of intensity.
Guercino used this same technique often, and also much earlier in his career, see for instance a sheet in the Ashmolean Museum: Two women conversing, a study from life executed in red chalk, with a similar strong use of the chiaroscuro, and a blocked out background.1 That drawing is dated by Turner and Plazzotta to 1621. Works like these clearly show that although Guercino never attended the Carracci Academy, founded in around 1582 in Bologna, he was instrumental in carrying forward the lessons of the Carracci, learning from their examples the secrets of a highly naturalistic and expressive style, which he developed into his own very personal manner.
This handsome sheet was owned by the sculptor Thomas Banks (1735-1805), who created a good collection of Old Master drawings, which at his death was inherited by his only daughter, Mrs. Lavinia Forster.
1. Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, inv. no. KTP 864; see N. Turner and C. Plazzotta, Drawings by Guercino from British Collections, exh. cat., London, The British Museum, 1991, p. 206, no. 183, reproduced p. 209, fig. 183
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