107 x 89 cm
Oil on canvas
1644


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Artwork profile

St. Paul

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Guercino

The Expertise


1) That the subject matter is St. Paul it can be detected from the presence of the sword as an iconographic symbol. Such attribute, compulsory for this saint, is accompanied by the feature of the book on which the Saint is intent on writing, pen and ink-pot at the hand as a reminder that his spreading of the Word was no less written than spoken. This painting was displayed in the monographic exhibition of 1968 devoted to Guercino, of which the writer was a member of the scientific board (see Exhibition Catalogue, Bologna 1968, p. 175 record 76, pl. 76). The whole board agreed in considering the painting, at the time belonging to a private collection in Verona, an original work of Guercino. Denis Mahon, compiler of the record, underlined in addition that in the Artist’s Account Book are listed the deliveries of two canvases with a St. Paul in the year 1644 and was keen on identifying this painting with the one given on the 20th of February to sig. Abbate Panici, supporting his statement with well grounded considerations: the picture itself is cited in the same year in Malvasia’s “Felsina Pittrice”. Such considerations sprang from the discovery, on the rear of the original canvas, of an ancient writing bearing the date of 1644. The beautiful image of the figure seated within a bright and diffused light, nevertheless set against a background crossed by a shadow reminiscent of Caravaggio, iterates though with a more accurate sentimental characterization that of St. Paul in the Certosa of Pavia, painted three years before, as emphasized by Longhi in publishing again the picture as a “comparison” within his review of the Bolognese Exhibition. The gap of three years between the larger picture in Pavia and this version of the sole St. Paul explains well the slight differences, thought over by the Master not by means of copying the earlier version but by using its drawings; in addition, it seems that Mahon was exceedingly confident in considering the detail of the sword as painted by the brother of the artist, Paolo Antonio Barbieri. (15th October 1972 Carlo Volpe)

 

 

2) It is a remarkable work from Guercino, mentioned in the Account Book on a date of high importance for the whole of the great Master’s career. The painting is recorded on the year 1644 as a work made for Abbate Panici. The painting, solemn and skilfully composed, has been studied by Carlo Volpe who stressed its beautiful contrast between the bright diffused light that is cast on the figure and the shadow that crosses the background, creating an atmosphere of wise meditation typical of Guercino at the apex of his skills, when the strong energy conveyed in his early works is subdued by the control of the mind and by the expression of the human being’s speculative and creative attitude, disclosed by the Master through the images of saints and martyrs that he was fond of portraying with transport and devotion, without ever losing sight of the laity that distinguished him throughout. (Claudio Strinati)