RENI, Guido
(b. 1575, Calvenzano, d. 1642, Bologna)

Interior view looking toward the choir

Cappella dell'Annunziata, Palazzo del Quirinale, Rome

Beginning in 1607, Scipione Borghese, the art-loving nephew of Camillo Borghese, elected pope as Paul V, gave Guido Reni a series of important commissions, on which he was assisted by Annibale Carracci's pupils. In the fall of 1609 Reni was given the commission to paint the pope's private chapel in the Palazzo del Quirinale. The chapel, consecrated to the Annunciation to the Virgin, was on the piano nobile. The actual painting took a total of seven months. Nevertheless, payments to Reni stretched out over two years, until 1612. Reni was assisted in the execution of the painting by Giovanni Lanfranco, Francesco Albani and Antonio Carracci. The identification of the works executed by Lanfranco and Antonio Carracci is uncertain. After years of debate it is now generally agreed that each of them painted one of the two lunettes in the main room of the chapel. Francesco Albani painted the seven putti in the left-hand niche in the choir. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Reni was responsible for the overall planning of the decoration, and purportedly engaged the other painters only because the pope wished it.

The paintings of this chapel are among Reni's most outstanding works from a time when he was at the height of his powers. He painted a cycle of the Virgin concentrating on scenes related to the subject of the Immaculate Conception. In the small cupola of the main room we are shown God's election of Mary surrounded by choirs of angels, and in the pendentive below appear the four prophets Moses, David, Solomon, and Isaiah. In the lunettes of the main room the scenes Presentation of Mary to the Temple (left) and Annunciation to Joachim (right) are depicted.

The cupola-like vault of the choir shows God the Father with arms outspread, surrounded by a glory of angels singing the Virgin's praises. The nude figure of Adam in the niche to the left of the altar alludes the original sin, which has been overcome thanks to Mary's contribution. The only narrative wall painting in the choir, on the left wall, is striking because of its unusual and rarely depicted subject matter. Mary, wearing a red dress and with her hair falling loosely across her shoulders, is bent over her sewing. She is framed by two adult angels while above her hover two putti with inscription ribbons alluding to her predestined role as mother of God.

On the inner façade above the door the multifigured scene of Mary's birth is painted. It is a visual and iconographic counterpart to the altarpiece, the Annunciation, an oil painting by Reni.

The barrel vault and the lunettes in the extensions off the choir are filled with vivacious, charmingly arranged, frolicking putti with inscription ribbons and symbols of the Virgin (lily, palm branches, rose bush, olive branches) that combine to form an aesthetically pleasing ensemble.

The picture shows a view of the chapel toward the choir: in the vault, God the Father giving benediction with angels, the altarpiece with Reni's Annunciation to the Virgin.