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Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called il Guercino (Cento 1591 – 1666 Bologna), Diana burning the instruments of love. Photo Sotheby’s.

Red chalk; 270 by 295 mm; 10 5/8  by 11 5/8  in. Estimate 90,000120,000 USD

Provenance: George, Earl Cholmondeley in 1762;
John Barnard (L.1419, his mount with initials, lower right, and inscriptions verso);
Baron D. Vivant-Denon (L.779);
Buhler (according to the present owner);
J. Cantacuzène (L.4030);
Private Collection, Paris;
Private Collection, New Haven, Connecticut

Exhibition: Cambridge, Havard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum; Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada; Cleveland, Cleveland Museum of Art, Guercino Master Draftsman. Works from North American Collections, 1991, (catalogue by David M. Stone), no. 60, reproduced p. 138, and p. 220, under no. 136

Literature: C. Rogers, A Collection of Prints, in Imitation of Drawings…, London 1778, vol. II, p. 115 (the engraving, in the same direction, by W.W. Ryland, dated 1762, as Chastity burning the arms of Cupid in the Cholmondeley collection);
L.J.J. Dubois, Description des objets d’art qui composent le cabinet de feu de M. le Baron V. Denon…, Paris, 1826, p. 134, no. 453 (‘Dessin de la sanguine, representant l’Hymen brûlant les armes de l’amour’)

Notes: This splendid and highly finished late Guercino drawing, with exceptionally distinguished provenance, was rediscovered and exhibited by David Stone in 1991.  Stone stressed its importance and refinement in his catalogue entry, writing: ’Few late drawings by the master could compete with its high degree of finish and grand design. The exquisite landscape background is perhaps the most beautiful and extensive by the artist in a red-chalk drawing of a historical subject.’

The drawing does not appear to be connected with any known paintings by Guercino, but Stone considered that a painting based on this drawing, had one existed, would have been not dissimilar to the Venus Mourning the Dead Adonis of 1647,commissioned from the artist by Cardinal Mazarin, and formerly in Dresden.On general stylistic grounds, Stone feels a dating of around 1650 or slightly earlier is appropriate, and he suggests that because of the high degree of finish, the drawing might have been made either as a presentation drawing for a patron or as a study for a print, comparing it with another late study, The Magdalen Praying in a Landscape, in the Morgan Library.2  The subtle emphases in the use of red chalk and the clear transitions from light to shadow are indeed very comparable, although the allure of a profane subject adds a further dimension to the present sheet.  Diana, the goddess of Chastity, wears only a loosely draped cloth around her naked body and some elaborate Roman sandals, surely to emphasise her link to an ancient past.  While she burns Cupid’s instruments of love – his bow, arrows and quiver – Diana utters some unknown words to the desperate Cupid, who flies off to the left of the composition, half covering his eyes.

Guercino seems here to have gone back to a type of subject more typical of his youth, but in this case depicted using the warm red chalk technique of his later years, to magnificent effect.  Throughout his career Guercino was always extremely accomplished in his use of red chalk, but this was particularly the case later on, when, as we see here, he often achieved an extraordinary variety in the tonal range and intensity in the rendering of the flesh.  The extensive landscape in the background also adds depth to the elegantly drawn figures, and completes the scene beautifully.  This is a work in which the artist has reached the highest peak of refinement, a finished work of art in its own right, in contrast to those many drawings in which he is continuously searching for solutions and making endless changes.  Highly finished studies such as this are much rarer within Guercino’s drawn oeuvre, and are rightly admired as some of the greatest drawings that he ever made.

1 Destroyed; L. Salerno, I Dipinti del Guercino, Rome 1988, p. 311, no. 237, reproduced
2 Inv. no. It. 17.13; D.M. Stone, exhib. cat., op. cit., 1991, p. 220, no. 136, reproduced p. 229, pl. A

Sotheby’s. Old Master Drawings. New York, 28 janv. 2015, 10:00 AM