Guido Reni: biography
Son of the musician, Daniele Reni, Guido was born in Bologna on 4 November 1575, and as a youth frequented the atelier of the Mannerist painter, Denys Calvaert. He transferred to the Accadmia degli Incamminati sometime before 1591 and his early works such as the altarpiece with the Coronation of the Virgin (Bologna, Pinacoteca) reveal the influence of both Annibale and Ludovico Carracci. After Agostino and Annibale left for Rome, Reni soon revealed his lack of tolerance for the sentimental and dramatic tones of Ludovico’s paintings and moved closer and closer to Annibale’s classicism. The conflict with his teacher became more acute when the commission for the frescoes on the façade of the Palazzo Pubblico to celebrate the arrival of pope Clement VII (November 1598) was announced. Reni competed with Ludovico and obtained the commission. All that remains of this is an engraving by Reni, but we can see examples of his personal classicism in the contemporary frescoes in Palazzo Zani, in the Assumption in the Pieve di Cento and in the Resurrection that he painted for San Domenico. He probably moved to Rome with Albani in 1601 and remained there until 1614. In 1601 he did the cycle of paintings for the church of Santa Cecilia that were commissioned by Cardinal Paolo Emilio Sfondrato. Very aware of the city’s linguistic innovations, Reni was interested in Caravaggio’s works as we can see from some paintings such as the Martyrdom of St. Peter in the Vatican Museums and the David (Paris, Louvre). He returned to Bologna in 1603 for a brief stay and worked decorations for Agostino Caracci’s funeral as well as the decorations of the octagonal cloister of San Michele in Bosco. Upon his return to Rome, via his acquaintance with Cavalier d’Arpino, he met Scipione Borghese, nephew of pope Paul V who commissioned him to do the frescoes in the rooms of the Nozze Aldobrandini and of the Dame in the Vatican (1607-1608). In 1609 – still working for Scipione Borghese – he painted the fresco depicting the Martyrdom of St. Andrew in San Gregorio al Celio, and then, by the end of 1610 he completed the decorations in the Chapel of the Annunciation in the Palazzo Quirinale. While he was working on the Pauline chapel in Santa Maria Maggiore (1611-1612) he painted one of his great masterpieces, the Slaughter of the Innocents for the Berò chapel in the church of San Domenico in Bologna (1611). Prior to leaving Rome for his home town, Guido painted the large fresco of Aurora for the casino in Scipione Borghese’s palazzo at Montecavallo (currently known as Palazzo Rospigliosi-Pallavicini). In 1613 in Bologna he painted the fresco of The Glory of St. Dominic in the chapel of the Ark in San Domenico, but in 1614 he was summoned to Rome by the Pope. Reni, however, broke off relations with the pontiff that same year because he accepted the job of decorating the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in the Ravenna cathedral for Pietro Aldobrandini who was hostile to the pope. He completed the chapel in 1616 with the help of Gessi and Sementi. When he resettled permanently in Bologna he had a flourishing atelier dedicated mainly to painting religious and secular half-length portraits. This was also the period of his greatest works such as the Crucifixion of the Capuchins (Bologna, Pinacoteca), the canvases of the Labors of Hercules (1617-1621, Paris, Louvre) and the two versions of Atalanta and Hippomenes (Naples, Museo di Capodimonte and Madrid, Prado). In 1621 he went to Naples where he was to fresco a chapel in the cathedral, but never obtained the commission, and then between 1621 and 1626 he was engaged in painting two pictures for the church of the Filippini di Fano that marked the beginning of a new and crystalline phase in his career. One outstanding example of this phase is The Trinity that he painted for the church of the Pellegrini in Rome. In 1627 he went to Rome to set up one of the new altars in St. Peter’s Basilica, a job that was never led to anything, but Bernardo Spada introduced him to the French circles in Rome. During the fourth decade of the century he softened his brushstrokes and used softer, more fluid colors as we can see in the Triumph of Job that he painted for the church of the Mendicanti in Bologna. Over the years he accentuated this tendency until he achieved an almost impalpable and evanescent manner. The “Sacchetti” canvas – now in the Pinacoteca Capitolina, and the Adoration of the Magi (Cleveland) are typical examples of this “unfinished” style.
Guido Reni: the works
Coronation of the Virgin
This canvas comes from the church of San Bernardo in Bologna and both Bellori and Malvasia considered it Reni’s first painting, when he made the transition from Calvaert’s Mannerist atelier to the Accademia degli Incamminati. Datable around 1595 the painting, though “betraying” Calvaert’s imprint – that is visible in another, earlier work – the fresco of The Rest on the Flight into Egypt now in a private collection – it reveals a consistent quest for autonomy on the part of the young Guido. He had entered the Flemish artist’s workshop when he was only nine and left it many years later with a feeling of great resentment.
The Fall of Phaethon
This fresco, considered the most beautiful from Guido’s youth, portrays the moment in which the young son of the Sun, Phaeton who had insistently begged his father to lend him his chariot for one day, let go of the horses’ reins and fell to earth. In the upper left we can see a sign of the Zodiac, the terrible Scorpio, cause of the disaster. This work is a wonderful example of Guido’s new “moment” after he left Calvaert’s atelier for the Accademia degli Incamminati and is much closer to Annibale’s classicism. The scene with The Separation of the Light from the Darkness that has been detached and is now at Kingston Lacy, was also part of the decorations in the Palazzo.Iconography
Martyrdom of St. Peter
This painting was commissioned by cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini in 1604 for the church of San Paolo alle Tre Fontane in Rome. According to Bellori, Guido painted it as an experiment in emulating Caravaggio, while Malvasia maintains that the Cavalier d’Arpino the Lombard painter’s rival wanted to take advantage of Reni’s skills to diminish the painter’s fame on his own field of action. During his early years in Rome Guido was the only one of Caracci’s pupils to approach Caravaggio’s style – it was a language he adopted for only a short period. The canvas based on Caravaggio’s altarpiece in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo.Iconography
Birth of the Virgin
It was the Borghese pope, Paul V who commissioned Guido Reni to decorate the chapel of the Annunciation in the Palazzo Quirinale. The work lasted from the autumn of 1609 through to the end of 1611 and Reni worked with some helpers including Antonio Caracci, Giovanni Lanfranco, Tommaso Campani and Alessandro Albani with whom he later broke off his relationship. As opposed to the highly idealized painting of the Annunciation on the altar, the scenes in the fresco are more intimate and naturalistic in tone.Iconography
Although it is entitled Aurora, the subject of this fresco that Reni painted in 1614 for cardinal Scipione Borghese in a loggia in the garden of his Palazzo di Montecavallo on the Quirinale Hill is actually daybreak. The chariot appears against a background of clouds and is surrounded by the Horae. It is preceded by the figure of Aurora that gives the painting its title. The scene is cut diagonally, and in the lower right we see a seascape. Above, the four horses flies a torch-bearing putto that as been identified as Phosphorous the morning star. This grandiose fresco was conceived as a Renaissance painting and reveals unconditional conformity to Raphaelesque dictates.
Pietà (Mendicanti Altarpiece)
The senate of Bologna commissioned this altarpiece when Reni returned to his native city after a long sojourn in Rome. It was destined for the church of Santa Maria della Pietà, also known as the church of the Mendicanti. It was placed on the altar in 1616; it is symmetrically divided into two parts. The upper portion portrays the Lamentation over the Dead Christ where the Virgin is surrounded by two angels. The lower part depicts St. Charles Borromeo with the protectors of Bologna Saints Petronius and Dominic on his left and Francis and Florian on his right. The city, shown as an architectural model is on a low step. The lower portion of the painting recalls the arrangement of Raphael’s Ecstasy of St. Cecilia, much like Guido’s early works.
The Delivery of the Keys to Peter
It was Guido Gabrielli who commissioned Reni to paint this large altarpiece along with the Annunciation in the church of San Pietro in Valle at Fano. According to Malvasia, he completed it in just twenty-seven days. It was taken to Paris in 1798 by Napoleon’s troops and was replaced by a copy early in the XIX century. The Delivery of the Keys to Peter is from a new phase in Reni’s career distinguished by a brilliant composition and chromatics of a neo-humanistic stature. We can also clearly see his youthful reflections on Raphael, specifically the cartoons for tapestries.Iconography
This painting was done in 1629 for Eleonora Alvitreti in the church of Santa Maria della Carità in Ascoli; today it is that city’s museum. The painting bears a great similarity to his pre-1629 painting of the same subject for Maria de’Medici (Louvre). The two paintings are very similar in composition and luminosity even though the slightly later version is more simplified in detail and space, thus making the figures even more powerful. Both works reveal$ the process of extreme stylistic simplification that the painter had implemented starting from the mid ‘Twenties.Iconography
The Archangel St. Michael
According to Malvasia, it was Cardinal Antonio Barberini, brother to pope Urban VIII who commissioned Reni to do this painting. He completed it before 1636 the year that De Rossi made an engraving based on it. The cardinal, who was a member of the Capuchins, wanted the painting for the Order’s Rome church and that is where it still is today. Executed in Bologna, this painting too recalls Raphael in its style and subject. The artist himself said so in a letter to the pope’s chief steward: “I wish I had had an angelic brush, or moulds from Paradise to create the Archangel or to see him in heaven; but I could not rise so high and vainly sought him on earth. So I transferred the idea I had formed into that shape.” According to a story reported by Malvasia – but denied by the artist – the demon’s face resembled cardinal Pamphili the future pope Innocent X who did not have a good relationship with the Barberini family.Iconography
According to Greek and Roman traditions the Sibyls were women with prophetic powers who could see into the future. For this reason they were accepted by Christian thought as it was believed that they had presaged the advent of Christ. This painting became famous on the occasion of 1954 exhibition of Guido Reni’s works. It came from the collection of cardinal Giovanni Carlo de’Medici who had received it from Jacopo Altoviti, the man who had ordered it from the artist. The Sibyl dates from the final phase of Guido’ career and presents a soft and delicate rendering of the flesh and a fluid use of color, features that became increasingly accentuated during the artist’s last years.Iconography
In the fifth decade of the XVII century Guido began to soften his brushstroke and used softer, more fluid colors. He continued accentuating this tendency over the years until he achieved an almost impalpable and evanescent manner that is well evident in this St. Sebastian – a subject he had already painted in the past. The painting was originally placed in the sacristy of the church of San Salvatore in Bologna, where Malvasia described it as “properly drawn and gently colored”.Iconography