Traces of the Hand

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Traces of the Hand: Master Drawings from the Collection of Frederick and Lucy S. Herman

Figure Study

Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) or a Follower
Italian, 1591–1666
Madonna and Child (recto); sketch of a hand (verso; in a different hand), c. 1640–1666
Black chalk (recto); red chalk (verso)
8 1/4 x 6 1/16 in, 20.96 x 15.4 cm (sheet)
Inscriptions: (recto) in pen and brown ink in an old hand: "il [?] Guercino" (noted as having been "almost completely removed on recent cleaning"1); (verso) in pen and brown ink in old hand "Guercino da Cento"; in pencil "Guercino"; and "158 not framed."
Provenance: Giovanni Piancastelli (Lugt 2078a); Edward and Mary Brandegee (Lugt 1860c); Frederick and Lucy S. Herman, 1949
Gift of The Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2007.15.42

verso

One of the most significant Italian artists of the seventeenth century, Giovanni Francesco Barbieri—better known as Il Guercino (the cross-eyed)—produced a corpus of drawings both prodigious in number and exquisite in style.2 As a result, his drawings have been highly sought after since the seventeenth century. Though the authenticity of this Madonna and Child as an autograph work by Guercino has been questioned, this charming drawing is characteristic of Guercino’s draftsmanship.

The first drawing the Herman’s bought for their collection, the Madonna and Child was extensively cleaned at one point.3 The stains still visible on the paper suggest that it spent some time in a workshop context. Though no painted version of the composition has been found, Guercino and his shop produced purely imaginative drawings, in addition to numerous studies for his paintings. He also seems to have made a sizable number of drawings simply for his own enjoyment.4

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Guercino’s draftsmanship is his extraordinarily rapid touch.5 In combination with these distinctively brisk strokes, subtle gradations of light give Guercino’s works an air of naturalism and movement, an important characteristic of the drawing tradition deriving from the Carracci to which Guercino belonged.6 The Madonna and Child clearly displays these characteristics in the delineation of the garments, where the swirl of lines around the stable core of the weighty female figure are applied in a quick and effortless manner. The smooth flesh of the figures, especially the face of the youthful mother, radiates a soft luminosity. This effect is created through stumping, a blending technique characteristic of Guercino’s oeuvre.

The sweetness and charm of this Madonna and Child are another of Guercino’s hallmarks.7 While the sympathetic portrayal of people was a constant feature of his work, Guercino tended to rely heavily on certain media at various points during his long artistic output, and his use of sharpened black chalk predominates in the late 1630s and 1640s.8

Miles Chappell has suggested that this drawing is not by Guercino himself, but by a later follower.9 If in fact a work by a later hand, this drawing can at least be seen as a testament to Guercino’s continuing influence on draftsman after his death in 1666.

Katherine Baker

 

1. Chappell, Form, Function, and Finesse, 68.

2. J. Carter Brown, foreword to Guercino: Master Painter of the Baroque, ed. Frances P. Smyth and Tam Curry. Washington D.C, 1992, 7.

3. Chappell, Form, Function, and Finesse, 68. This cleansing nearly erased the pen inscription of 'il Guercino' on the front side of the paper, though it seems not to have effected the drawing itself.

4. Nicolas Turner, Guercino: Drawings from Windsor Castle, 7. These drawings for pleasure are mainly composed of "informal landscapes, caricatures, and genre subjects." (Turner, 7).

5. Denis Mahon and Nicolas Turner, The Drawings of Guercino in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), xiv.

6. Mahon and Turner, The Drawings of Guercino, xiv.

7. J. Carter Brown, foreword to Guercino: Master Painter of the Baroque, 7.

8. Mahon and Turner, The Drawings of Guercino, xvi.

9. Chappell, Form, Function, and Finesse, 68, citing concurring opinions from Nicholas Turner and Annamaria Petrioli Tofani, who suggest an artist familiar with the classicizing trends in later Roman Baroque art.

 

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