Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Reni, Guido

Bacchus and Ariadne
oil on canvas
96 x 86 cm
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA, USA

"He had about him a certain air of grandeur and gravity that exceeded his station in life, which produced in everyone, even those of high rank, a hidden veneration and respect." (so wrote an early biographer of Guido Reni)

Guido Reni (1575-1642), born in Bologna into a family of musicians, was an early Italian Baroque painter noted for the classical idealism of his renderings of mythological and religious subjects. He admired Raphael unconditionally. His graceful, classical style featured refined colors, delicate and varied flesh tones, soft modeling, and gentle emotion that owes a debt to Raphael's work. He did, however, come to terms with Caravaggio's naturalism in a group of youthful works. He spent 1602-13 in Rome, and he was reputed to have met (and quarreled with) Caravaggio in the workshop of Carracci where he learned classicizing style.

Reni exalted the clarity of light, the perfection of the body, and lively color. He was a quintessentially classical academic but he was also one of the most elegant painters in the annals of art history. Toward the end of his life, his paintings became so airy as to seem insubstantial and were almost completely monochrome. He also used long, flowing brushstrokes and conveyed an atmosphere laden with intense melancholy. He was constantly seeking an absolute, rarefied perfection which he measured against classical Antiquity and Raphael.

He was notoriously pious and eccentric. He disliked and feared women, whom he barred from his house even as servants, yet he was devoted to his mother and renowned for his heartfelt Madonnas. "The fear of God was always the first advice that Reni gave his pupils," his biographer wrote. His large studio dominated the Bolognese school, and his fame spread throughout Europe. His success was underlined by the important commissions he received. He died in Bologna and was buried in the Rosary Chapel of the Basilica of San Domenico in Bologna.

The eighteenth century loved him, the nineteenth century, persuaded by the violent criticism of John Ruskin, hated him. But even his detractors cannot deny the exceptional technical quality of his work nor the clarity of his supremely assured and harmonious brushwork.