Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Guercino (Cento 1591 – 1666 Bologna)
Head of a Young Man in Profile
Pen and brown ink, 176 x 179 mm (6.9 x 7 inch)
- With Folio Fine Art, London, c. 1970
- Private collection, U.K.
By Francesco Curti (1610 – 1690), c. 1635-40
Giovanni Francesco Barberi was nicknamed Guercino because he was guercio, or cross-eyed. Born in poverty in Cento, near Ferrara, he was largely self-taught, though he also served an apprenticeship. The glowing colourism and emotion of Lodovico Carracci's Holy Family with Saint Francis in Bologna influenced him profoundly, and Lodovico himself encouraged the young man. From 1614 to 1621, the year Pope Gregory XV summoned him to Rome, Guercino painted the altarpieces that are his most Baroque creations. With Lodovico's and Caravaggio's works pointing the way, Guercino brought the viewer into the painting's space, adding dramatic lights and darks and greater emotional intensity.
Throughout his career, Guercino's style underwent dramatic changes. In Rome he first felt pressured to paint in the popular classicizing style. Returning to Cento two years later, his dark shadows faded, strong movement disappeared, and details emerged distinctly in clear light. To "satisfy as well as he could most of the people, especially those who asked for paintings and had the money to pay for them, he had shown paintings in the lighter style," reported his first biographer. Guercino ran his Cento studio until 1642, when Guido Reni, who had loathed him, died. Guercino then moved to Bologna, taking over Reni's religious picture workshop and his role as the city's leading painter.
Guercino was a most prodigious draftsman, and many hundreds of his drawings survive. In them we can almost feel the artist's pen scratching the paper. Guercino's favorite medium was a goose-feather pen dipped in ink that allowed him to quickly record his ideas on paper. Touches of wash, areas of diagonal lines, and blurring effects of pentimenti (minor changes) heighten the sense of drama and spontaneity.
The present powerful and carefully drawn sheet was executed around 1635-40 and was intended as a model for the engraver Francesco Curti (1610 – 1690), who published a collection of twenty engravings of busts of figures after drawings by Guercino around this period (see image).1 This Libro dei Disegno was dedicated to Marquis Francesco Montecuccoli, and served as a model book for students of drawing. Only a single other drawing by Guercino for the series by Curti has survived: A Bearded Man in Profile, in Stockholm.2 Another engraving by Curti is known however, not part of the series, of The Virgin Mary teaching the Infant Christ to Read, made around the same period, for which Guercino’s drawing is preserved in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.3 Unfortunately our drawing has been somewhat abraded, and therefore it is very advantageously priced for an authentic Guercino drawing.
1. Engraving, 165 x 223 mm. An example is preserved in the British Museum, London, inv. no. U,4.180.
2. Statens Kunstmuseum, inv. no. NM H 1127/1863. An example of the engraving after this drawing is preserved in the British Museum, London, inv. no. U,4.190.
3. Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, inv. no. IV.168g. An example of the engraving after this drawing is preserved in the British Museum, London, inv. no. U,4.112.