This sheet was once part of the large group of drawings which, on Guercino's death, were inherited by his nephews Benedetto (1633-1715) and Cesare (1637-88) Gennari. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the drawings passed to Cesare's grandson, Carlo Gennari (1712-90), by whom the group was dispersed. At this point, many drawings, including this sheet, were obtained by the Bolognese dealer, Francesco Forni, who then sold them to John Bouverie.1 According to an inventory of the Gennari family's property taken in 1719, prior to the dispersal of the drawings, 1,689 of them were placed in eight large albums, which were organised according to the medium and subject of the drawing.2 One of these albums was entitled Dissegni di Penna, et Acquarella di diverse grandezze, rapresentanti diverse Teste, Figure, e Puttini; it contained 297 drawings, of which the present study was most probably one.3
In Linda Wolk-Simon's entry on this drawing in the catalogue of the 1991-93 Horvitz Collection exhibition, she suggested that it has certain affinities with the kneeling St. Francis in Guercino's altarpiece of 1639-41, which depicts the Madonna and Child with Sts Francis and Clare (Parma, Galleria Nazionale).4 However, since the exhibition catalogue was published, an altarpiece by Guercino has come to light that may provide a stronger connection. The pala in question, which was documented but thought to have been lost, dates from 1663, and depicts the Madonna and Child appearing to Beato Marcolino Amanni di Forlì: it is to the latter figure that the present study appears to relate. The painting was discovered by Prisco Bagni, badly damaged and in storage at the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan. It was subsequently cleaned, restored and published by Bagni in 1991 as a late work, dating from 1663. Before the discovery of the painting, the composition was known, but only from a 1757 engraving by Bolzoni.5 Bagni also identified another drawing connected with the painting, a double-sided red chalk sheet, also in the Brera, which has a compositional study on the recto and a study for the kneeling friar on the verso.6
The present sheet is drawn in a notably different manner from the red chalk drawing: with broad, bold pen and brown ink and wash, rather than the more tentative, loosely sculpted chalk of the double-sided study, which fits with what Nicholas Turner describes as the 'broken contours and lines of fluctuating intensity' of Guercino's late period.7 As Turner has also pointed out, the present study, on the other hand, can best be related stylistically to Guercino's drawings of the 1630s, and in particular to certain drawings of half- or bust-length single male figures that he made at this time, such as the Old Bearded Man in the Royal Library, Windsor Castle, the Man Reading at a Table, in the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Bust of a Man, facing right, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.8
This difference in style between the two sheets may confirm Wolk-Simon's hypothesis that the present drawing was not drawn in preparation for a painting, but was instead an 'independent invention', which accounts for the study's highly poetic nature, and the wonderfully broad, fluid manner in which it has been drawn. Indeed, considering it is thought that Guercino drew far less in the 1650s and '60s, and that his doctor had apparently forbidden him from drawing on account of chest pains,9 the idea that the artist might have used an earlier design, from one of his most intensive periods of draughtsmanship, as inspiration for his last painting seems both appealing and plausible.
1 N. Turner and C. Plazzotta, Drawings by Guercino from British Collections, exh. cat., London 1991, p. 8.
2 D. Mahon and N. Turner, The Drawings of Guercino in the Collection of her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle, Cambridge 1989, pp. xx-xxi.
3 Gainesville, et al., 1991-93, no. 20.
4 D.M. Stone, Guercino: Catalogo completo dei dipinti, Florence 1991, cat. no. 165.
5 D. Mahon, P. Bagni et al., Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, il Guercino, 1591-1666, exh. cat., Bologna 1991, cat. no. 152; the engraving reproduced in P. Bagni's note on the painting in M. Foschi and G. Viroli (eds), Il San Domenico di Forlì. La chiesa, il luogo, la città, exh. cat., Forlì, Oratorio di San Sebasiano, 1991, pp. 98, 101.
6 P. Bagni in Forlì 1991, pp. 99-100.
7 Turner in Turner and Plazzotta 1991, p. 181.
8 Turner's observations cited by Wolk-Simon in the 1991-93 Horvitz exhibition catalogue, loc. cit. For the three comparable drawings, see, respectively: Mahon and Turner 1989, cat. no. 186, fig. 368; D. M. Stone, Guercino, Master Draftsman: Works from North American Collections, exh. cat., Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1991, cat. no. 79; J. Bean, 17th-Century Italian Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1979, cat. no. 246.
9 Turner and Plazzotta 1991, p. 181.
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