Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called il Guercino (Cento 1591-1666 Bologna)
Ecce Homo red and black chalk on paper, laid down 20 x 28.5cm (7 7/8 x 11 1/4in). unframed
PROVENANCE: Private Collection (unrecorded blindstamp M.C./E./75.), the blindstamp or shelfmark is associated with the collection of the Earls of Barrymore or the Smith Barry Family at Marbury Park, Cheshire, sold in June 1933. A drawing from this group, probably an album which was split at that time, was in the Oppé Collection, sold at Christie's, London, 5 December 2006, lot 13.
We are grateful to Nicholas Turner for confirming the attribution of the present drawing upon firsthand inspection and for his assistance in this catalogue entry.
Nicholas Turner identifies the present Ecce Homo as a study, with many differences, for Guercino's painting of the same subject in the Bavarian State Collection, formerly in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, and now at Schloss Schleissheim. The painting was commissioned in 1647 by the Marchese Tanari, an important Bolognese nobleman of the day.
The Ecce Homo is drawn in the deux crayons technique that Guercino sometimes employed, especially in the middle of his Bolognese period.
The horizontal composition, in which Christ stands in the centre behind a parapet, flanked on either side by an Oriental dignitary wearing a turban (Pilate) and a soldier in armour, who holds Christ by ropes tied around his wrists, seems to have been inspired by Francesco Albani's Ecce Homo in the Galleria Colonna, Rome, datable to about 1635. Albani's painting is similarly horizontal in format, the figures seen in half-length behind a parapet, with the difference, however, that two angels appear to either side of Christ instead of the dignitary and the soldier in armour.
As compared with the arrangement of the figures in the present drawing, the grouping of the three figures in Guercino's Schleissheim painting is enlivened by the action of the soldier in armour, who has changed places with the dignitary, so that he now appears on the right of the painting; he raises his gloved right hand to press down the crown of thorns on to the head of Christ, creating a pirouetting movement that breaks up the space in the upper half of the composition. Several further differences in pose between the protagonists in the painting and those in the drawing may also be found.
Moreover, the present drawing has several pentiments, confirming that it is an autograph study. Of the two most significant, one is for the ear of the soldier, which was drawn in red chalk and was only partly concealed by the superimposition of the helmet in black chalk: in the painted result, the soldier's ear is clearly visible, since he wears a helmet with the sides curtailed. The other pentiment is for the position of Christ's upper arm, which was originally drawn further over to the right: its earlier position may be seen in the adjacent upright patch in mostly red but also in some black chalk inside Christ's cloak held back by the dignitary. As for the deux crayons technique, the same medium is used in Guercino's Saint Luke painting the Madonna and Child, in the Royal Library, Windsor Castle, where similar effects of handling and lighting may also be seen.
A number of other drawings by Guercino have been connected with the Schleissheim Ecce Homo. One, in red chalk, which shows all three figures corresponding closely in pose and location to the counterparts in the painting, is in the Royal Library, Windsor Castle. Another, formerly in an English private collection and now in the possession of Richard and Mary Gray of Chicago, is also in red chalk, but is for only two of the figures - Christ and the dignitary. Three further drawings are in the Morgan Library and Museum, New York, though they have been overlooked in the recent literature on Guercino's drawings. One, formerly in the distinguished collection of the 18th century English collector John Bouverie, is in red and black chalk, like the present drawing, and shows the composition with all three figures (inv. no. I.101A). Two others in the Morgan Library show only Christ and his guard. They are Christ crowned with thorns standing at a parapet, accompanied by a soldier, in red chalk (inv. no. I.101B) and Christ crowned with thorns standing at a parapet, accompanied by a soldier holding a staff, a variant of the same subject, in red and black chalk (inv. no. I.101C). It is probably significant that two of the New York drawings are executed in the same distinctive combination of red and black chalk as the present sheet, as if the artist had been required to show his patron a selection of finished modelli for the painting and in doing so had found the pictorial effects of the medium, with its hints of colour, helpful to him.