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

Allegory of Painting and Sculpture

Oil on canvas, 114 x 139 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

Recent literature connected this picture to a 1637 payment made to Guercino by the community of Cento for a Pittura e Scultura, a canvas that the city presented to Cardinal Colonna, Archbishop of Cento. This is confirmed by the high quality of the picture, and by stylistic characteristics that place it solidly within Guercino's production in the 1630's. In this phase of his career, while not abandoning his rich, heavily impasted manner of painting, the drama of which is underscored by flickering flashes of light, Guercino was shifting (under the influence of Reni) towards more classical compositions and a less shrill chromatic range.

With the figures arranged with stern flatness along a single plane, the treatment of space in this painting is almost relief-like. This compositional restraint is broken only by the edge of "Painting"'s canvas, which juts audaciously out towards the viewer. The clean profile of the face of "Painting" is also notable: in its unnatural rigidity, it seems to derive from an engraving. Other passages, however, reveal the extreme pictorial liberties taken by Guercino who, for example, leaves the red ground of the canvas visible, using its tone for the rendering of shadows in the flesh. Also the thumb of "Painting" is shown realistically dirtied with actual paint; while the hand of "Sculpture" can be seen through the drapery of the statue she holds, as if the drapery is of real transparent cloth instead of marble.

The refined Cardinal Colonna, recipient of this gift, already possessed a choice collection of artworks. In the context of the commission, the allegorical theme of painting and sculpture can be considered Cento's homage to the Archbishop's passion for collecting and patronage of the arts.

A preparatory design for the figure of "Painting" has been found at the Teylers Museum (Haarlem, the Netherlands).

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.