(n/a) Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called il Guercino (Cento 1591-1666 Bologna)
The Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John Baptist pen and brown ink and wash, arched top 171 x 125 mm.
PROVENANCE: Paignon-Dijonval; Thomas Dimsdale (Frits Lugt 2426). Most probably the Collection of Leonard Cunliffe of Trelissick, Cornwall and thence by family descent to the present owner
This important, previously unknown, compositional study is for Guercinos early, unfinished painting on copper of the Virgin and Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist in the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston, Texas. In the picture the composition is reversed, so that the Infant Christ is seated in the lower left corner instead of the right, and there are a number of changes of detail. Iconographically, the most significant of these modifications is the discarding of the banderole with the Inscription ECCE [AGNUS DEI], seen in the drawing, for another prolepsis of Christs death for mans salvation: Saint John the Baptists kissing of a wound on Christs hand. The drawings style, with its echoes of the graphic work of Ludovico Carracci (1555-1619) and Parmigianino (1503 1540) agrees with a dating from the middle of the second decade of the century.
Four other drawings are very likely connected with this same composition. One, in pen and wash, is in the Albertina, Vienna, in which the two infants, closely supervised by the Virgin, are playing with a bird: the Infant Saint John is there identified by a reed cross, which rests on his left shoulder. In the second drawing, in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Christ Child is seated on his mothers arm, while Saint John, his reed cross again resting on his shoulder, kisses the Christ Childs hand. In the third drawing, in the Royal Library, Windsor Castle, the two infants are standing and the Christ Child reaches up to embrace his cousin, who prepares to reciprocate the gesture: the Virgin looks on attentively, keeping the Christ Child in check with some reins. Finally, a fourth drawing, in pen alone, in a private collection, is a study for the two infants in much the same positions as they appear in the Amsterdam drawing.
The existence of so many drawings, very probably all for the same painted composition, is an indication of the length to which Guercino went to prepare his early painted works, even those on a small scale.
We are grateful to Nicholas Turner for his kind assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.