GIOVANNI FRANCESCO BARBIERI, called IL GUERCINO
Cento 1591 — 1666 Bologna
pen & ink. 81/16 x 101/4" (205 x 261mm). laid down. inscription on the verso above right-angle tool cannot be made out (Cirolica) ? some loss of drawing lower right due to hungry silverfish.
This hitherto unpublished drawing by Guercino is a splendid example of the artist's pen & ink single figure studies. The scale of Thomas is larger than many of Guercino's bust-length drawings. A few horizontal comparable sheets with which I am familiar that employ pen & ink and are executed in similar technique and still retain their Casa Gennari mounts.1 These include a St Mathew2 measuring 185 x 220 mm, which though somewhat smaller, is drawn very much in the same vain as Thomas. In both drawings, Guercino employs a series of curving parallel lines to describe distinct areas such as the long wavy lines to describe the hair, another shorter arrangement of lines to create the beard, straighter lines to produce the shadow on the drapery. A second slightly more than bust-length single figure, also attached to a Gennari mount, is in the Metropolitan Museum.3 The technique here is very similar as well, though there is in addition the use of wash applied with a brush. A 3rd comparable drawing, at the Achenbach in San Francisco, is St. John the Evangelist.4 This drawing was mounted to a similarly designed border as the Met's aforementioned drawing, It's format is slightly more vertical as it appears to have been cut . In cataloguing this drawing which he dates 1645-50, Prof. Stone writes of "an arresting calmness and stability that seem almost neo-classical in feeling." This he continues, is "in stark contrast to the pulsating rhythms and vibrato effects of light and shadow in sketches of the mid 1620's..." While our St. Thomas also suggests calmness and stability, it's dating, like the technically comparable drawings mentioned above, is of the 1630's or 40's, according to Prof. Stone, though I would hazarded an opinion that the drawing was of the late 30's or early 40's.
The use of ink dots on Thomas's forehead and cheek adds further interest to the linear nature of the drawing. This stippling is not uncommon and is found as well in the Achenbach's and the Met's drawings. We also find series of straight parallel lines which shade and describe the chest and cloak and give distance to the background. Also wavy pen lines that are closely applied, create density, darkness and shadow which contrasts with the areas of light where the lines are less numerous, as in the hair, where they appear as singular strands. Such intelligent, varied and animated use of the pen is one of the reasons Guercino's drawings are so successful. Indeed Dr. Stone has exclaimed upon seeing our St. Thomas, "this is beautiful!"
The iron gall ink used by Guercino is acidic in nature. Here it has spread on the paper and burned slightly through it where the artist applied it liberally such as in the iris of the Apostle's left eye, the hair just above that eye, and in the deep creases of his cloak just left of center. Still and importantly, the drawing reads as the artist intended. As noted by Prof. David Stone, the lively variation in the quality and thickness of the penline quickly and adeptly applied is in evidence in the contours of the Thomas's neckline. Dr. Stone also observes the three dimensional aspect of the right angle; it appears to exist in space, and this he attributes in part to Guercino's choice of drawing it freehand rather than with the use of a straight edge.
As for the purpose of the drawing: was it intended to be part of a group of important biblical figures to be engraved or perhaps a study for a painting? Or might it have been executed for it's own sake? Hard to know what Guercino had in mind...
Thomas was an evangelist in Persia and India. In India he is reported to have built a church with his own hands. That is why his symbol is a right angle. Thomas was martyred by being shot with arrows, stoned and left to die. A priest then ran a spear through him. Charming.
All Gennari drawings sold to and then by the Bolognese art dealer Francesco Forni around 1745 were mounted with a decorative border; Forni acted as sole agent in the sale of hundreds of Guercino drawings then owned by Carlo Gennari.
See Drawings by Guercino, Day & Faber, London, undated, unpaginated, illustrated.
The Metropolitan Museum Bulletin, Spring, 1991, p.54, pl.48.
David M. Stone, Guercino, Master Draftsman, Works from North American Collections, Harvard Univ., 1991, pp 108-109, illus.