Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Guercino, Cento 1591 - 1666 Bologna

  • Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Guercino

    Cento 1591 - 1666 Bologna

One of the most outstanding painters of seventeenth-century Italy, Giovanni Francesco Barbieri was born in Cento, a small town near Ferrara. An eye defect gave him his nickname, Guercino, literally, meaning “the little crossed-eyed”. Though apprenticed for a period to a local artist, Benedetto Gennari, Guercino was largely self-taught, with the work of the Carracci in nearby Bologna being a particularly strong exemplar. From early on, discerning collectors including Cosimo II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cardinal Jacopo Serra, papal legate of Ferrara, and Ferdinando Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua were attracted to the bold naturalism, broad brushwork, powerful chiaroscuro, and daring compositional inventiveness of Guercino’s paintings. In 1621, another important patron, Cardinal Alessandro Ludovisi, Archbishop of Bologna, was elected Pope Gregory XV, and summoned the artist to Rome. Guercino returned to Cento after only two years, departing upon the death of the pope in 1623, but during this sojourn the artist fundamentally modified his style, lightening his palette and introducing greater spatial clarity into his works in response to the taste for a classical visual language enjoyed by sophisticated Roman patrons. In 1642, the artist moved to Bologna, supplanting the recently deceased Guido Reni as the leading painter in the city. During this period, Guercino’s idealizing classical elegance reached its apex.