BARBIERI Giovanni Francesco, known as
(Cento, 1591 - Bologne, 1666)
Saint Francis in meditation , 1618-1620
Oil on canvas, Gift François-Xavier Fabre, 1825
St Francis in Meditation was long overlooked, but has gradually become recognised as one of the finest examples of Guercino's early Baroque period. The saint is shown deep in meditation, leaning his head on his right hand. His left hand holds a crucifix, of which only the bottom part is visible. The thick, vigorous handling of the paint, and the sparkling highlights on the saint's hands and face, and the thick folds of his habit, heighten his extraordinary physical presence. St Francis seems to rise up out of nowhere, as if by surprise, into the picture space. The painting's pronounced use of chiaroscuro recalls the work of Caravaggio; the lively surface handling and the colour palette, based on shades of brown, are typical of masterpieces by Guercino dating from 1618 and 1619, notably his St Francis in Ecstasy with St Benedict and a Musical Angel, and the Vision of St Jerome, both in the Louvre. These small, devotional works were highly sought after by collectors of limited means, and ensured a commercial income for the artist while at the same time consolidating his reputation. Trained in Bologna at the Caracci academy, Guercino enjoyed widespread renown. He was summoned to Rome in 1621 by the recently elected Pope Gregory XV (Alessandro Ludovisi). This small painting, acquired by Fabre in Italy, is a superb example of the robust sensuality of Guercino's early style, which he later moderated in favour of a more sober, classical approach.