Unidentifed collectors stamp P & L.W (verso), Australia.
Private collection, U.K.
Black chalk, on ruled laid paper
167 x 145 mm. (6 5/8x 5 3/4 in.)
Giovanni Francesco Barbieri was born on the outskirts of Cento in Emilia and was nicknamed Guercino (the squinter) at an early age, on account of the squint he is said to have suddenly developed from a shock he received while in the care of his nurse. He was a prodigious draughtsman and his career lasted for more than 50 years. He maintained his workshop in Cento, apart from between 1621 and 1623 and other short periods of absence, until 1642, when he settled in Bologna immediately after the death of Guido Reni. Guercino was essentially a self-taught artist, though he owed a great debt to Ludovico Carracci, and undoubtedly familiarized himself with the work of Bologna, Ferrara and Modena. Guercino visited Rome for 25 months, from 1621-3, which formed an important influence on his work. Despite gaining an international reputation during his lifetime, he was courted by the kings of England and France, he chose largely to remain in his native Bologna.
The present drawing has been dated by Nicholas Turner to Guercinos mature style, made towards the end of his later Cento period. At this time, for reasons that are not entirely clear, the painter often turned to black chalk for his more elaborate studies. For many years, he had invariably used red chalk for them. [it] is very likely a study for the head of St Matthew in a lost, or never executed, half-length painting by Guercino of St Matthew and the Angel, datable in the mid-1630s; the appearance of this composition is known from a number of surviving preparatory studies.1 The head corresponds closely to that of the saint in a pen-and-wash drawing by Guercino of St Matthew and the Angel in the Codice Resta, the Amrosiana, Milan, where, however, the book lies open on a table in front of the saint.2 In the Milan drawing, the figure has the same curly beard, rugged bald head and venerable features, while his bust is lit in precisely the same way, the lighting coming from the top left and projecting a shadow from his head across his left shoulder. A slight modification to the position of the head would suggest that [our] drawing was made after that in Milan. Another drawing by Guercino for this same composition, this time in the Royal Library, Windsor Castle, was clearly drawn before that in Milan, since the composition is far from being resolved; it is also of interest in the present context because it too is in black chalk.3 Finally, the line ruled with a stylus, a few millimetres above the bottom of the drawing, parallel to it, indicated that the paper had originated from an unused ledger or account book, the lines of which had been ruled vertically to indicate columns. A number of drawings by Guercino made in the 1630s are on this paper, usually, as here, with the sheet turned so that the ruled line or lines appear horizontally rather than vertically.4
1.N. Turner, Guercino, la scuola, la maniera. I disegni agli Uffizi, exh. cat., Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, 2008, pp. 65-66, no. 26. Although the work is otherwise undocumented in the sources, some four drawings indicate that Guercino worked on such a commission, which may for some reason or another have been withdrawn. Citing correspondence from Nicholas Turner 1 June 2010.
2.Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Codice Resta: inv. No. 219; pen and brown ink and brown wash; 173 x 191 mm. (G. Bora, I disegni del Codice Resta, Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 1976, p. 202, no. 219); Turner, 2008, p. 65 and fig. 26b.
3. Windsor, Royal Library: inv. No. 2435; black chalk; 202 x 260 mm. (D. Mahon and N. Turner, The Drawings of Guercino in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle, Cambridge, 1989, pp. 39-40, no. 69).
4.Citing examples at Windsor alone, they include Mahon and Turner nos. 77, 80 and 82, three drawings connected with two commissions datable in the mid-1630s.