(b. 1591, Cento, d. 1666, Bologna)

Abraham Casting Out Hagar and Ishmael

Oil on canvas, 115 x 154 cm
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

Guercino is one of the most interesting personalities in seventeenth-century Bolognese art, and his activity in Rome made him an important influence on all Italian painting. More than from Venice and Correggio, his work derives from Dosso Dossi and the school of Ferrara. This painting represents one of the high points of Guercino's mature style. Its restoration by the Brera's laboratory has revealed the original colours and eliminated the yellowish patina that obfuscated and partially hid the composition.

The painting is built up on a measured circular rhythm, and the prominent gestures of the figures are emphasized almost to the point of theatricality. Little Ishmael is crying and leaning his head against Hagar. As she consoles him and holds out a handkerchief, she turns toward Abraham, who stands stern and still, making a gesture of repudiation. Sarah, seen from behind, appears to be moving away from the scene. The low-keyed colour helps avoid any rhetorical suggestion, while the slow rhythm of the composition creates a sense of inevitability.

The city of Cento commissioned this painting, which was then presented to the Cardinal Legate of Ferrara, Lorenzo Imperiali.