G. F. Barbieri, called Guercino, (1591-1666) though born in the city of Cento, was trained and spent most of his productive and celebrated life in nearby Bologna, then one of the great artistic centers of Europe. Some of his most brilliant works were done in Rome—for example the deeply felt Ludovisi Aurora,
in which the uncompromising naturalism of Caravaggio gave depth and sonority to his own gentle and poetic personal vision. Spontaneous, of the purest and strongest gifts, Guercino has always been considered one of the most natural of artists. He is also one of the most delightful and moving.An important example of his work has entered our collection: the life-size Erminia and the Shepherds.
This illustration to Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered
is one of the two versions of the subject Guercino painted and the only one now known. Our version can be identified with that done for Don Antonio Ruffo, the distinguished Messinese collector, in 1648. Ruffo commissioned a number of works from the artist; one of these was to be a companion to Ruffo's now very famous Rembrandt, the Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer.
This pendant was not, of course, the Minneapolis picture, which would have been a more lucrative commission. Nor could it have been more beautiful than our Erminia,
in which the Saracen heroine is one of Guercino's great moments. Quite as real and even more directly touching than those of contemporary Dutch genre
painting, the peasants in center and right nobly outdo their more modest Northern cousins. The landscape behind, simple and barely indicted, prophecies Gainsborough and is worthy of Claude. Although the poetry of the scene is the purest Guercino, the picture is a literal illustration of Seventh Canto of the famous sixteenth-century poem:She rose; and gently, guided by her ear
Came where an old man on a rising ground
In the fresh shade, his white flocks feeding near
Twin-baskets wove, and listened to the sound
Trilled by three blooming boys, who sate disporting round.They at the shining of her silver arms
Were seized at once with wonder and despair;
But sweet Erminia soothed their vain alarms,
Discovering her dove's eyes, and golden hair. . .1Endnotes
Referenced Work of Art
- Translation of J. H. Wiffen, 1824.
- Guercino (G. F. Barbieri), Bolognese, 1591-1666. Erminia and the Shepherds, c. 1648. Oil on canvas, 93 1/2” x 112”. The William Hood Dunwoody Fund, 1962, 62.12.