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Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called il Guercino (Cento 1591 – 1666 Bologna), The Penitent Saint Jerome. Photo Sotheby’s.

Red chalk, within black chalk framing lines; inscribed: Guercino da Cento and numbered: 16 on the old backing sheet; 204 by 190 mm;  8 by 7  1/2  in. Estimate 20,000 —25,000 USD

Provenance: Giuseppe Vallardi (L.1223) (only half his collector’s mark visible),
possibly his sale, Paris, Hotel des Commissaires-Priseurs, 10-15 December 1860, part of lot 127;
with Colnaghi, New York and London, An Exhibition of Master Drawings, 2000, no. 18,
from whom purchased by the present owner

Notes: This characteristic red chalk study by Guercino seems to relate to a painting by the artist, rediscovered some years ago in the church of Saint-Laurent in Nogent-sur-Seine.1  Although Malvasia mentions the painting among those that Guercino executed in 1649, the artist seems to have received payment for it already in August 1645, from the patron, the Papal legate in Bologna, Cardinal Fabrizio Savelli.

According to the Libro dei conti,2 Guercino treated the subject of St Jerome in penitence no fewer than seventeen times.  This drawing shows St. Jerome half-length, looking at the Crucifix which is just visible to the upper right corner.  In the Nogent-sur-Seine canvas, the Saint is shown full-length, kneeling, but such a change could easily have been made during the development of the painting, probably at the request of the patron.  Both the facial type and the position of the left hand are very close to the finished painting, and the style of the drawing is also compatible with a date in the second half of the 1640s, making this connection perfectly possible.  Guercino continuously made changes and alterations, often very significant ones, while working out his final composition, and used drawings to clarify his ideas.  Red chalk was a medium that he employed with extreme skill throughout his career, and particularly in his later years, allowing him to achieve an astonishing variety in the tonal range of the flesh.  Here, the very finely drawn figure is harmoniously counterbalanced by the indications of a landscape behind.

1 Le Guerchin de France, exhib. cat., Paris, Musée du Louvre, 1990, p. 63, reproduced
2 B. Ghelfi, Il libro dei conti del Guercino, Venice 1997, p. 143, no. 408

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