Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called il Guercino (Cento 1591-1666 Bologna)
Study for an executioner inscribed with the number '2' (upper right) pen and ink 21.4 x 17.2cm (8 7/16 x 6 3/4in).
PROVENANCE: The artist's studio and by descent to his nephews Benedetto (1633-1715) and Cesare Gennari (1637-1688) Probably with Francesco Forni, Bologna John Bouverie (circa 1723-1750), circa 1745 John Hervey (d. 1764), through his wife Anne Bouverie (d. 1757) Thence by descent to Elizabeth Bouverie (d. 1798) Thence by bequest to Sir Charles Middleton, later 1st Baron Barham (1726-1813) Thence by descent to Charles Noel (1781-1866), later 1st Earl of Gainsborough, Thence by descent to the 3rd Earl of Gainsborough By whom sold, Christie's, London, 27 July 1922 (lot number unknown) Where purchased by E. Parsons and Sons, London From whom purchased by Dan Fellowes Platt (1873-1937), 1922 Thence by descent to his widow
The provenance of the drawing is confirmed by the presence of the number 2 inscribed in a box in the upper right corner. The same type of numbering appears on Guercino's drawing Landscape with a Winding Road, numbered '12' or possibly '72', now in the Collection of her Majesty the Queen, suggesting that both works formed part of the same series. The latter drawing is further inscribed on the verso by a contemporary hand 'Sono in tutte Carte numero 32/ che fanno 32 disegni/ Opera del Sig.r Gio: Francesco Barbieri/ da Cento' and dated 1635. Nicholas Turner believes that both the present drawing and the Windsor drawing belong stylistically to the 1630s, further supporting the possibility that both drawings were part of this series of 32. The Windsor group (made up of more than eight hundred works by Guercino and his school), also originating from Guercino's studio, were bought nearly twenty years after John Bouverie's purchase of this drawing and others of circa 1745.
Nicholas Turner suggests that the present drawing is a study for an executioner or boia. In all three paintings of the 1630s in which executions are depicted, the executioner wears a very flimsy white shirt leaving one shoulder and his back uncovered (see, for example, his Martyrdom of Saints John and Paul, now in the Musée des Augustins, Toulouse, or Damon and Pythias, in the Palazzo Rospigliosi, Rome). In his depiction of Damon and Pythias of 1632, the executioner is shown as a young, short-haired, beardless man, as in the present drawing, suggesting perhaps a dating of early on in the 1630s.
We are grateful to Nicholas Turner for confirming the attribution to Guercino upon firsthand inspection of the drawing and for his kind help with the catalogue entry.