Art e Dossier

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Art History

Guercino: biography

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, nicknamed “Guercino” [he had a bad eye, and Guercino means “squinter” in Italian], was born in Cento a small village in Emilia in 1591. After having worked in the atelier of a “gouache painter” in his native town, sometime around 1600 he moved to Bologna to work with the perspective wall painter Paolo Zagnoni. In 1607 Guercino returned to Cento to work with Benedetto Gennari. Presumably, after just one year as an assistant, he was actively assisting Gennari on various projects. The canon Antonio Mirandola was attracted by the young Guercino’s paintings and became his sponsor and procured him some commissions such as the Triumph of All Saints for the church of Santo Spirito in Cento (1613). The following year, still in the same town, he frescoed a room in the home of Alberto Provenzale and then he decorated the Pannini residence. In 1616 Guercino founded the first “Academy of the Nude” in Cento, where he taught drawing from live models. In 1617-1618 he worked in Bologna for the archbishop Alessandro Ludovisi. A brief stay in Venice in 1618 gave him an opportunity to learn more about Titian’s and Bassano’s use of color. He spent most of 1619 in Ferrara working for the pontifical legate, Cardinal Jacopo Serra who encouraged him to paint some of his most dynamic and monumental works. In 1620 he completed his first altarpiece for a church in Bologna, St. William Receiving the Cowl. In 1621 he moved to Rome where, during the same year, painted the frescoes of Aurora and Fame in Cardinal Ludovisi’s residence. He also worked for Cardinal Scipione Borghese and painted the Glory of Saint Chrysogonus. In Saint Peter’s he painted the colossal Burial and Assumption of Saint Petronilla, one of the milestones of Baroque art. The sudden death of Pope Gregory XV on 8 July 1623 and hence the loss of his main protector and patron prompted the artist to leave for Cento where he resumed working locally. Aside from a few months that he spent in Piacenza (1626-1627), where he completed the decorations of the cathedral dome that was left unfinished by Morazzone who had died, Guercino spent most of the time between 1623 and 1642 in Cento where he directed a flourishing atelier with an international clientele. In 1643 he moved to Bologna. He replaced Guido Reni who had died a few months earlier, as leader of the movement, as it were and took over may of his clients and uncompleted projects. He died on 22 December 1666 and was buried in the church of San Salvatore in Bologna.

The works