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All That Glistens

Guido Reni
Bologna 1575 – 1642
Christ Bearing the Cross
oil on copper
17 ¾ x 12 ½ inches
45.1 x 31.7 cm

Set in an expansive landscape of luscious green and towering buildings depicting the old walls of Jerusalem, this moving composition depicts the moment in which Christ, wearing a flowing pink robe and the Crown of Thorns, falls under the weight of the Cross on the road to Golgotha. Two men come to His aid, eager to follow the soldiers’ instructions to take up the Cross: one is dressed in a white loincloth and the other is Simon of Cyrene, an elderly man dressed in an orange cloak and purple tunic. At his shoulder are two women, both visibly distressed. To the right of the scene is a soldier dressed in full armor presumably pointing in the direction of Golgotha. At the center of the scene, Christ gazes to His right at Saint Veronica, whose pathos is increased by her profil perdu as she genuflects before Him while holding up the cloth that will then bear His image.

This important addition to the oeuvre of Guido Reni, whose attribution has been confirmed both by Erich Schleier and Cecilia Cavalca, represents a significant contribution to the reconstruction and understanding of the artist’s early activity. Furthermore, the enchanting ingenuity, formal precision, and great quality all recognizable as part of a transitional moment in Reni’s work, suggest that the present image should be dated to around 1595-1596. The attribution has been further supported by Alessandro Brogi as well as Daniele Benati, who assert that, despite the lack of any specific mention in documentary sources, the stylistic characteristics of the present composition enable a confident attribution to Guido Reni.

This Christ Carrying the Cross finds an echo in Reni’s Madonna and Child with Saints Catherine and Hyacinth, now in a Bolognese private collection.[1] While Carlo Cesare Malvasia [2] refers to the admonishment on the part of Ludovico for an immoderacy of ‘diligence’, which in his eyes weakened the style of the younger, promising artist; this was, in reality, a deliberate artistic stance that was already beginning to mark the development of Reni’s artistic individuality. The similarity of this to the Bologna Madonna and Child is particularly noticeable in such details as the garment of Veronica, which displays the same shimmering transition of hues from blue to pink of the Saint Catherine, as well as their fine, puffed sleeves held with a golden ribbon, and in the landscape, which is similar to the landscape appearing beyond the slightly open curtain in the Madonna and Child with Saints Catherine and Hyacinth.

Displaying close similarities to other works from his early career, around 1595, this copper reflects a shift when the artist, together with Francesco Albani, threw off the influence of Denys Calvaert as a result of learning at the Accademia degli Incamminati, founded in 1582 in Bologna by the Carracci. This exquisite work exhibits a closeness to the style of Ludovico Carracci, who was in charge of the Accademia following the 1589 departure of Annibale and Agostino for Rome. This is apparent in the powerful musculature of the man in the foreground who is depicted in energetic torsion and can be compared to the compositions by Ludovico painted for San Girolamo della Certosa in Bologna (Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, The Flagellation, inv. 456 and The Crowning with Thorns, inv. 464, figs. 1-2). Confirmation of the link to the Carracci comes from the subject depicted, which reappears with significant differences in another oil on copper at Chatsworth, of lesser quality, attributed to a follower of Ludovico Carracci, perhaps Francesco Carracci.[3]

Left: Fig. 1 Ludovico Carracci, The Flagellation, Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, inv. 456.jpg / Fig. 2 Ludovico Carracci, The Crowning with Thorns, Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, inv. 464

This work also shows similarities with the artistic production of Annibale Carracci. The compositional type and the characteristics of the figures recall compositions by Annibale from the period 1585 and circa 1595-97, following his stay in Parma. It was then, with the study of Correggio’s masterpieces, including the National Gallery in London’s Christ Taking Leave of His Mother, that Annibale began showing an interest in Venetian painting, particularly Paolo Veronese, who appears here to leave a trace in the articulation of the action, which is solemn and perfectly laid out along the diagonal axes. Furthermore, the figure of the young man seen from behind displays evident links with the 1584-85 drawing of a nude showing a young rower in the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice (inv. 289), depicting the tension in the muscles of the arms and back. The head of Simon of Cyrene also reflects that of the Saint Joseph in the  Holy Family with the Young Saint John the Baptist (Madonna Montalto), now in the National Gallery, London (circa 1595–1597), while the profile of Veronica echoes that in a number of paintings produced by Annibale towards the end of the 16th century; one in particular, the face of the Samaritan depicted in the Christ and the Woman of Samaria in the Szépmüvészeti Mùseum in Budapest of circa 1596–1597. However, the ultimate influence here is that of Raphael, and in particular his Spasimo di Sicilia (1515/1516) now in the Prado, Madrid which was a famous depiction of the subject which Reni would have known through the engraving by Agostino Veneziano.

There seem to be a close tie to the oil on copper depicting the Assumption of the Virgin by Guido Reni recently acquired by the Frankfurt Städel Museum painted at around the same time (inv.2434; fig. 3). A comparison can be drawn between the naked back of the angel in the foreground and that of the young man to the right in the present composition, as well as between the faces of the angels to the right of the Virgin and the weeping female figures behind Christ. There are equally close similarities between the light range of pastel colors and refined handling of the hems of the drapery and in the depiction of the hair. Above all, the features of Veronica that have the same enchanting, soft and ecstatic expression as the angel playing the lute in the Frankfurt copper. The Städel copper also shows Guido’s familiarity with Annibale Carracci.

The loan of this painting has been requested for the Guido Reni monographic exhibition to be held at the Städel, Frankfurt in 2022. ❖

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Fig. 3 Guido Reni, Assumption of the Virgin, oil on copper, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, inv. 2434

Counts Boselli, Parma

By descent in the family

Private collection, Europe

Vienna, Dorotheum, 19 April 2016, lot 3

with European Masterpiece Artworks Limited, Europe

Private collection, United States


Requested for Guido Reni. The Beauty of the Divine at the Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, scheduled to take place between 23 November 2022 – 5 March 2023. 

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