zinngende jongeren bekeken door oudere man ca. 1625-35 Royal Collection, Windsor

Zestiende-zeventiende eeuw of om nauwkeurig te zijn 1591-1666 strekt zich een schildersleven uit dat oneerbiedig maar geheel in de stijl van de tijd met de naam ‘Guercino’ wordt aangeduid wat zoveel betekent als ‘schele’.
De naam in de burgerlijke stand zou nu: Giovanni Francesco Barbieri zijn, geboren in het dorpje Cento gelegen tussen de Noord-Italiaanse steden Modena en Ferrara.
Dat ‘scheel’ kijken zou een ‘ongelukje’ uit zijn jeugdjaren zijn maar bronnen van ernstigere aard noemen het ‘een lui oog’, iets wat ikzelf persoonlijk ook al levenslang meedraag aan hetzelfde rechtse oog. (-een oog dat te te lui was om te kijken in onze jongste jaren en eens iets ouder niet meer opgevoed kan worden, waardoor als enige handicap een tekort aan dieptezicht kan ontstaan-.) Blijkbaar was dit ‘gebrek’ bij Guercino ook wel zichtbaar door een ‘schevere’ oogstand waar een klassiek lui oog niet wordt opgemerkt door ‘de buitenstaander’. Een mengeling dus.
Maar nauwelijks tien zien we hem als leerling bij de kunstschilder Paolo Zagnoni in Bologna, een specialist in perspectief. Een kunde die met zijn ooggebrek niet makkelijk was om te verwerven. (Echter aardig gelukt in dit jeugdig landschapje in de maneschijn.)

Guercino, Landschap in de maneschijn, 1615, olieverf op doek, 55.5 x 71.5 cm, Nationalmuseum,

Na zijn leertijd bij Zagnoni krijgt Guercino in 1613 voor het eerst een opdracht als onafhankelijk kunstenaar voor een altaarstuk in zijn geboorteplaats Cento. Hij wordt in eerste instantie beïnvloed door kunstenaar Ludovico Carracci (1555-1619), die in Bologna de gangbare stijl van het maniërisme een nieuwe impuls had gegeven in de richting van de destijds vernieuwende barokstijl. Guercino werkt in 1617 enige tijd met Carraci samen. In de vroegste fase van zijn carrière wordt Guercino tevens beïnvloed door het Caravaggisme van de kunstenaar Bartolomeo Schedoni (1578-1615) uit Reggio Emilia. (ArtSalon Holland)
Een mooi voorbeeld deze fraaie thuiskomst van de verloren zoon, dadelijk door de gelukkige vader weer in het pak gehesen.

Guercino, De terugkeer van de verloren zoon, ca. 1619, olieverf op doek, 107 x 143.5 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wenen, Oostenrijk

In deze bijdrage wil ik echter graag zijn tekeningen en prenten belichten omdat ze beter dan de afgewerkte producten de hand en het oog verbinden, de direkte waarnemer dichterbij brengen. Ik laat graag enkele specialisten aan het woord en verwijs naar een degelijke catalogus uit 2006.

Portrait of a bearded man at a table, looking at a female portrait drawing, pen and brown ink, on laid paper, 14,4 x 20,3 cm

Nicholas Turner has written of Guercino’s genre drawings that ‘they are characterized by a rapid touch, an economy of means, and a remarkable acuteness of observation, many of them clearly based on scenes taken directly from life. The foibles of the men, women, and children of all rank who were his unwitting subjects are captured with great immediacy, which has always given these drawings a special appeal. Although the nobles, gentlefolk, and clergy, largely from his native Cento, came under his powerful scrutiny, the most frequent subjects were the peasant folk, or contadini, for whom it seems the painter had a particular affection.’

Shepherds Peering into a Chasm, 1620s
Pen and brown ink with brown wash on laid paper
20 × 27.8 cm

Guercino was among the most prolific draughtsmen of the 17th century in Italy, and his preferred medium was pen and brown ink, although he also worked in red chalk, black chalk, and charcoal. He appears to have assiduously kept his drawings throughout his long career, and to have only parted with a few of them. Indeed, more drawings by him survive today than by any other Italian artist of the period. On his death in 1666 all of the numerous surviving sheets in his studio passed to his nephews and heirs, the painters Benedetto and Cesare Gennari, known as the ‘Casa Gennari’.

Landscape with a Waterfall
Pen and brown ink on laid paper
28.7 × 42.7 cm

Guercino’s landscape drawings belong to a tradition of Bolognese romanticism quite different from the classical compositions of the Roman school. The Carracci were largely responsible for developing both schools around 1600, though the way in which their followers interpreted their example diverged dramatically. None of Guercino’s many landscape drawings can be related directly to a painting, and they were all probably drawn as ends in themselves – the rougher studies such as this for the artist’s own pleasure or for friends, the more polished drawings (none of which, significantly, is to be found in the Royal Collection) probably as finished works of art for sale.

River Landscape with Figures near Ruins
National Galleries of Scotland

Guercino brought to the genre a great sense of space, achieved through sweeping horizontal strokes that emphasise the breadth of the landscape, together with carefully judged variations in the density of the ink to convey atmospheric recession. This drawing shares many of its qualities with a sheet in the Uffizi inscribed with the date 1626, and may thus be assigned cautiously to the mid-1620s.(Royal Collection Trust)

A landscape with an ox-cart on a road in front of a walled town
Pen and wash | 17.2 x 21.8 cm (sheet of paper)

Almost always executed in pen and ink, but without wash, Guercino’s landscape drawings display little of the reworking and experimentation so typical of his figure studies. Carefully composed and incorporating such stock elements as solitary windblown trees, many of these drawings were probably not drawn on the spot, although they often contain motifs reminiscent of the landscape and river of the artist’s native town of Cento. Indeed, while a number of Guercino’s landscape drawings appear to depict actual views in and around Cento, most are imaginary views, combining different topographical and figural motifs in a fanciful manner to create a pleasing scene. As Mahon and Turner note, ‘As statements, many of [these landscape drawings] have a completeness not found in his more experimental and hastily drawn figure studies, and they contain something of the force and concentration of a painting rather than a drawing. In them the artist demonstrates the fecundity and power of his imagination by inventing a scene, shaping the space within it, giving the whole a unity by the suggestion of light and, finally, evoking a mood – all within the confines of a relatively small piece of paper.’

Landscape-with-river-before 1666-drawing
Morgan-Library-New York

Guercino was a most prodigious draftsman, and many hundreds of his drawings survive. In them we can almost feel the artist’s pen scratching the paper. Guercino’s favorite medium was a goose-feather pen dipped in ink that allowed him to quickly record his ideas on paper. Touches of wash, areas of diagonal lines, and blurring effects of pentimenti (minor changes) heighten the sense of drama and spontaneity.

Boy with cap, looking down National Galleries Scotland
Engel bij dode Christus, Palais des beaux arts de Lille Ville de Lille

Guercino possessed extraordinary talents when it came to the manipulation of materials. The furious vitality of his pen work is Guercino’s most recognizable stylistic trait, perhaps best seen in looping, calligraphic pen lines that do not depict drapery folds so much as they convey a sense of fluttering cloth. After this energetic sketching with the pen, he would typically take up a brush, clarifying a design or even seeming to sculpt forms with multiple layers of wash— sometimes using thin, fluid, transparent washes, and other times thick, more opaque washes. Later in his career, he more often made use of red chalk, creating luminous, delicate studies; occasionally, he would combine pen, wash, and chalk in highly finished drawings that were complete works in their own right.(Julian Brooks Guercino Mind to Paper, 2006)

Interior of a Baker’s Shop Drawing
Mocking of the Village Madman
ca. 1619
Pen and brown ink and wash on paper.
10 1/4 x 15 11/16 inches (260 x 398 mm) The Morgan Library & Museum

One workshop tool that helped him visualize compositions and figures from different viewpoints, and of which he made great use, was the counterproof, or offset.This was a technique whereby a damp sheet of blank paper was laid on top of a drawing in red or black chalk; when the sheet was removed, chalk particles would stick to it, creating a weaker, reversed version of the image. This enabled the artist to “flip” a composition or figure easily; the technique was common in sixteenth-century Bolognese, Florentine, and Roman drawing practice. (ibidem)

St Peter and the angel early 1650s red chalk on paper Bologna
A boy Arranging his Master’s Dress 1620 National Galleries Scotland

Going hand in hand with Guercinos inventiveness and creativity was his ability to put ideas on paper at the moment of inspiration. He worked very quickly, placing subjects on a sheet deftly and surely. The speed of his draftsmanship conveys an appealing energy, which Malvasia memorably characterizes using the word guizzanti, fromguizzare, meaning to “dartwith a flick of the tail, as fishes. All modern commentators have noted the spontaneity of Guercinos draftsmanship.The medium through which Guercino found he could express himself be stremained the same for most of his career. He made the majority of his drawings using pendipped in brown ink, over which he applied brown or gray wash with a brush. These media, in particular, allow great fluidity and speed. In contrast to most of his contemporaries, Guercino did not generally first sketch out his ideas on the page in black chalk,which could be erased; instead—in a testament to his confidence and capability—he reached straight for his pen.

Old man and young man Teylers Museum Haarlem

Guercino mostly used a quill pen (a type made from a goosefeather), which could hold more ink than a reed pen and thus allowed longer, more calli-graphic lines. The pen still had to be dipped in ink at regular intervals, and NicholasTurner and Carol Plazzotta have noted the skillful way Guercino used a fully loaded nibfor the passages requiring darker accents. His mastery of line also allowed a conspicuous brevity of draftsmanship; in many cases, he delineates only as much as the human visualbrain needs to identify a scene. He achieves the same economy— and thus speed—when he adds wash (ibidem)

Cupid restraining Mars, 1640 (circa), The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London
Vision of St. Philip Neri
Pen and brown ink, with brown wash, on paper
The Morgan Library & Museum
The Assassination of Amnon
Pen and brown ink, brush with brown wash
7 7/8 x 10 3/8 in.
Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, London

Natuurlijk is er vlugger een verwantschap tussen kijker en kunstenaar als je een brede waaier aan onderwerpen deelt. Het heilige, het politieke, maar ook het alledaagse leven is in zijn tekenwerk ten zeerste aanwezig. Komt daarbij dat naast de handel -hij maakte tijdens zijn leven ongeveer 140 altaarstukken- er plaats bleef voor het louter tekenplezier, de observatie van de medemens die ons ook vandaag nog verbindt. Ik hou van de dynamiek in zijn werk, je hoort ze aankomen en verdwijnen, ze laten zich niet doen, staan stil bij het grote lijden maar bewaren een glimlach voor de kleine gebeurtenissen. Twee vrouwen drogen hun haar, niet dadelijk een esthetisch onderwerp, maar kijk hoe ze voorovergebogen hun hoofden schudden en je dadelijk weer lachend zullen aankijken.

In this work, astonishingly modern in effect, Guercino reveals himself as an intimate observer of everyday life. He also demonstrates his exceptional compositional skills, lending monumentality to the two voluminous figures leaning forward to dry their long hair. The use of wash is particularly admirable: the saturated brush describes the dense and sodden locks, whilst the tips are rendered in dryer brush strokes, and the warm air drifting up from the fire is captured with light touches.(Courtauld)

wo seated women drying their hair in front of a fire, 1635 (circa), © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

En net zo goed staat er een ventje met zijn wandelstokje je aan te kijken, hoedje op de ronde kop, rechtse been ietsje vooruitgeschoven. En daaronder een studie voor ‘een baardloze profeet’. Een mooie combinatie.

Je kunt de mooie catalogus uit 2006 raadplegen wil je nog meer van deze wondere kunstenaar te weten komen.

Klik om toegang te krijgen tot 0892368624.pdf

Angel looking down from cloud-1635-36-Teylers Museum Haarlem