Guido Reni, an Exhibition at the Prado Museum
This ambitious exhibition, sponsored exclusively by the BBVA Foundation, includes almost a hundred works from more than 40 museums, institutions and public and private collections in Europe and America to offer a complete vision of the career of this great Bolognese artist of the seventeenth century and draw attention to its decisive contribution to the configuration of the aesthetic universe of the European Baroque.
Visitors to this exhibition, which has the collaboration of the Städel Museum, will have the opportunity to see important achievements rarely seen outside their usual locations, such as the imposing Triumph of Job, coming from the cathedral of Nôtre-Dame from Paris, along with other more renowned ones, such as the Immaculate Conception from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; Cleopatra from The Royal Collection in London, Drawing and color from the Musée du Louvre in Paris; or Salome with the head of Saint John the Baptist and penitent Magdalene from the Gallerie Nazionale d’Arte Antica di Roma (Barberini and Corsini Palaces).
These and other masterpieces are joined by those of the Prado Museum itself, many expressly restored for the occasion such as San Sebastián, Hipómenes and Atalanta, Girl with a rose or Virgin of the chair.
Hippomenes and Atalanta
Oil on canvas, 206 x 279 cm
Madrid, Prado National Museum
The Guido Reni Exhibition at the Prado Museum
The Museo Nacional del Prado and the Fundación BBVA present Guido Reni, an exhibition curated by David García Cueto, Head of the Department of Italian and French Painting until 1800 at the Prado Museum which brings together almost a hundred works from 40 cultural entities from all over the world to draw attention to the decisive contribution of this Bolognese master in shaping the aesthetic universe of the European Baroque. It does so by taking into account the most recent historiographical contributions and paying special attention to his link with Spain, perceptible both in the collecting of the crown and the aristocracy and in the influence of his successful iconographic models on fundamental artists of the so-called Golden Age.
In this exhibition it will be possible to contemplate the work Hipómenes and Atalanta conserved in the Prado; San Sebastián, just as the artist conceived him, stripped of the great repainting that expanded the cloth of purity that covered his body; The preaching of Saint John the Baptist belonging to the Augustinian Mothers of Salamanca, recently incorporated into the artist’s catalogue; or the unpublished Bacchus and Ariadne, from a private Swiss collection.
This broad representation of Reni’s work will be exhibited in close dialogue with a selection of paintings and sculptures by other authors that seek to highlight the main influences that the master received in forging his personality and those he exerted on other creators. of his time. Likewise, a notable selection of Reni’s drawings will allow us to appreciate the richness and beauty of his creative process.
This exhibition initiative also reveals the renewed vivacity of studies on this great 17th-century painter, whose fame and influence spread not only throughout Italy in that century but also throughout various parts of Europe – including the Iberian Peninsula. , offering his creations an aesthetic canon that fascinated several successive generations of artists. Recent historiographical contributions have shed new light on the painter: a better knowledge of his biography to address the scientific rereading of his personality through the various historical and artistic contexts in which he lived his life.
The Union of Drawing and Color
Oil on canvas, 120.5 x 120.5 cm
Paris, Musee du Louvre. department of paintings
The Path of Perfection
Reni’s first apprenticeship in the art of painting was with Denys Calvaert (c. 1540-1619), a Bologna-based Flemish master who practiced an elegant, Nordic-tinged version of late Mannerism. Calvaert subjected him to harsh discipline and took great advantage of the talent of his disciple.
The Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin
Oil on panel, 77 x 51 cm
Madrid, Prado National Museum
After acquiring a neat drawing and a striking and sensual color, Reni will endorse the commercial vision of the master, especially skilled in introducing small oil paintings on copper to the artistic market. Dissatisfied with his situation, in 1594 he continued his studies with the Carracci, Ludovico, Annibale and Agostino, who had created around 1582 an academy for the practical and theoretical training of young artists, the so-called Accademia degli Incamminati.
In addition to delving into drawing from life, Reni learned the techniques of engraving and modeling in terracotta. In that context, he began to produce his first fully autonomous works, sometimes as part of Ludovico’s team and other times completely independently, working for private clients, the clergy or attending official commissions from the city of Bologna.
Samsung Store: Frame
In Rome, between Raphael and Caravaggio
After the jubilee year of 1600, and perhaps because of some disagreements with his teacher Ludovico Carracci, Guido Reni traveled for the first time to the city of Rome, at that time the undisputed artistic capital of Europe. Since then, his biography will be linked to the City, in which he will discover the great legacy of Antiquity, while he will learn about the works of his admired Raphael of Urbino.
David beheading Goliath
Oil on canvas, 174.5 x 133 cm
Remagen, Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck / Sammlung Rau für UNICEF
But the most singular episode of those years was his efforts to emulate the art of Caravaggio, the most radical and groundbreaking artist active in Rome. Guido, after learning about his painting, changed his own style, trying to surpass Caravaggio by imitating his work.
Such an attitude made him for a time a kind of “anti-Caravaggio”. In that interest he coincided with who would become another of the great protagonists of the artistic scene of the century, the Spanish José de Ribera. But such experimentation was no more than a transitory phase in his art, one more step in the forging of his own identity, as the exceptional altar canvas of the Massacre of the Innocents demonstrates.
The beauty of the Divine Body
Oil on canvas. 371 x 216cm
Sienna, Arcidiocesi di Siena-Colle di Val d’Elsa-Montalcino. Chiesa di San Martino
Guido’s ability to bring the viewer closer to divinity was a value unanimously recognized in his art already in his time. His biographer, Carlo Cesare Malvasia, therefore compared him to a “generous eagle” that after his “flight to the spheres” brought “heavenly ideas” to earth.
The writer Francesco Scannelli considered that his painting went “beyond the human” to lead to the divine. Malvasia himself alluded to his sacred characters as a “humanized divinity”, thereby referring to the power of some of his works to make the viewer participate in the transcendent. That is why Reni was an extraordinary interpreter of the life and Passion of Jesus, presenting Christ as possessing great physical beauty, capable of harboring a divine soul.
At the same time, certain evangelical themes, such as those carried out by the young figure of the Baptist, allowed him to experience an essential moment of the human condition, that of the transition from the adolescent to the adult body.
Heroes and gods of supernatural anatomy
In Rome, Reni met and studied some of the main artistic references that represented a grandiose and monumental vision of human anatomy, such as the famous Torso del Belvedere and, in a very special way, Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. Reni thus masterfully faced the realization of certain works, with a mythological theme, which were based on an interpretation of the male body in a similar key, painting anatomies that, although they were plausible, bordered on the supernatural.
The fall of the giants
Oil on canvas, 208.5 x 189 cm
Pesaro, Palazzo Mosca. Civic Museum
Such a bodily concept was adequate to represent certain episodes of classical mythology, such as the fall of the giants or the labors of Hercules. Guido’s works with those iconographies were commonly commissioned or collected by members of the aristocracy, who associated them with their desire to exalt the greatness of their own lineages.
In a similar way, the Hispanic Monarchy made use of works of art with the embodiment of those same myths for their self-representative purposes, for which they used authors such as Francisco de Zurbarán or Alessandro Algardi, a Bolognese sculptor who would be remembered as “Guido in marble ».
The power of the saints and the beautiful old age
In Baroque society, saints were assigned a primary role as protectors and intercessors of the Catholic faithful. Echoing that religious sentiment, Reni developed an enormous ability to show them and their biographical episodes beautifully and movingly, both when they were complex compositions and when he approached them as isolated figures.
Oil on canvas, 410 x 270 cm
Paris, Notre-Dame cathedral
His success in the construction of hagiographic stories is revealed in the impressive canvas of the Triumph of Job, in which the richness of the secondary elements exalts the holy protagonist without diminishing his relevance. But it was in the independent representations of apostles, evangelists or ascetics where the artist knew how to project all his sensitivity, dealing with a concept in which he especially shone: that of the beauty of the body beyond youth.
The elderly faces and the anatomies that begin to show flaccidity are treated by Reni with such exquisite attention and with such pictorial intensity that they reveal a singular charm. Such proposal connects with the Christian notion of the beauty of the soul beyond the expiration of the flesh, and coincides with similar reflections of other great painters of the moment.
Mary or the humanized divinity
At the end of the 1620s, Reni received two important commissions for the Spanish Crown. The first of these was a representation of the Kidnapping of Helena, conceived for the main space of the Alcázar in Madrid, the then called Salón Nuevo. Due to various disagreements, the painting —which was highly celebrated in its time— never came to Spain.
The Immaculate Conception
Oil on canvas, 268 x 185.4 cm
1627- New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Victor Wilbour Memorial Fund
The second was an Immaculate Conception, destined for María de Austria, sister of Felipe IV, and subsequently donated to the Cathedral of Seville, where it remained until the Napoleonic invasion and inspired Murillo in his creations. In that work, Reni had to face the controversial issue of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, fervently defended by the Hispanic Monarchy while condemned by the Dominican order. His sensitivity as an interpreter of this theme is shown in all the other Marian works due to him, a reflection of a lifetime of fervent devotion to the Virgin. With her brushes, Maria approaches the viewer in her divine condition from the most beautiful human idealization.
Bodies and desire: the sensuality of the nude
On various occasions Reni addressed the representation of naked male and female bodies, almost always within the framework of stories from classical mythology. In them he combined his observation of nature with the study of ancient statues. In his workshop, some of his disciples served as models for his creations, and he also occasionally featured female posers.
Bacchus and Ariadne
Oil on canvas, 222.5 x 147 cm
h. 1617-19 – Private collection
His conception of the beauty of the naked body can be masterfully appreciated in works such as Hippomenes and Atalanta, where the splendid anatomies of youth are presented in an instant of sensual interplay. More serene is the case of Bacchus and Ariadne, while the maximum expressiveness is reached in Apollo and Marsyas, where the interpretation of the mythological story involves the violent confrontation of a beautiful male body with a rougher one.
Reni created these works from his renouncement of sexual relations, commonly assuming him to be a virgin. Although this trait can be interpreted from the contemporary mentality as a symptom of repressed homosexuality, at his time he was considered a being of angelic nature, a man who, like his art, was not entirely of this world.
In the kingdom of Cupid: game, love and tenderness
Within the common interest of the Italian artists of the Renaissance and the Baroque for the representation of the child’s body, Reni offered singular examples in some of his works. On occasions he did it by enjoying the carefree games of putti or putti, and on others including Cupid, the pagan god of love and symbol of that universal feeling.
Oil on canvas, 101.0 x 88.0 cm
h. 1637-38- Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
His models reflect a predilection for the “buttery and plump” bodies of children, as his biographer Malvasia recalls. We must also highlight the close relationship that existed between Guido’s proposals in this field and the sculpture of his time, as is the case with some works by Alessandro Algardi, very close to Guido’s models, or with those of Giovanni Battista Morelli, author Italian present in Madrid in the 17th century as a stucco artist and terracotta sculptor.
Guido’s iconography of love also had feminine expressions, as is the case with the Girl with a Rose, a work that hung in the summer office of Felipe IV in the Alcázar in Madrid together with a sensual Venetian lady by Tintoretto, composing a singular duet of visions opposite although complementary of love.
Guido Reni on Prado Museum: Skin and clothing
The paintings dedicated by Reni to goddesses, saints and heroines of Antiquity were very successful in the Europe of his time. He represented most of them in half length or in three quarters, as Caravaggio had already done, which invited the viewer to a very direct approach to the work.
Salome with the head of Saint John the Baptist
Oil on canvas, 248.5 x 174 cm
Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Louise B. and Frank H. Woods Purchase Fund
With enormous technical mastery and great sensitivity, the artist recreates these women from the past in a way that is far from direct sensory experience. Reni creates a suggestive and unique language with the sets of cloths, which wrap the body without barely marking its anatomy —contrary to what had been mandatory in mannerism— and contrast with the whiteness and smoothness of the skin.
The intense expressions of the faces take as their point of departure the heads of some classical statues that he studied in Rome, while the rich fabrics probably allude to the weaving of Bologna, which was then a great center of silk production. With all this, an enigmatic, cold and captivating sensuality emerges from these paintings, repeated on numerous occasions by Reni himself with slight variations to meet the high demand of the market.
Money, matter and spirit: the last years and the finite non
In the last years of his life, Reni’s art underwent such a radical change that even the most fervent admirers of his had a hard time understanding it. From a marked search for essentialism in the pictorial language, his forms were undone, the drawing almost disappearing and the contours blurring.
Oil on canvas, 252 x 153 cm. h. 1638-42
Rome, Musei Capitolini, Pinacoteca Capitoline
At the same time, the bright and varied coloring of it was drastically dimmed and reduced, adapting to a concept close to grisaille. A good part of that simplification process was related to the fact of consciously leaving numerous works unfinished, either due to lack of time or energy, or due to the intention of keeping them in that state in his workshop until he found a potential buyer for whom to finish them.
Thus arose the “non finito” of Guido Reni, a stage in which the fatigue of old age was mixed with the grievance of the economic problems derived from his gambling, which made him produce quickly to be able to face his debts of game.
But beyond being a consequence of his need, these works translate a self-satisfied search for the beauty of the unfinished, giving a certain idea of the spiritualization of art that coincides with the creator’s own goal. Reni would die in Bologna on August 18, 1642, being fired from him with great and sincere emotion by his fellow citizens.