The Italian Almanac

Diana by Guercino

Diana the Huntress

A painting by Italian Baroque master Guercino is to go on sale in Milan and is expected to fetch at least 500,000 euros, Christie's said. The painting, one of a pair meant to be hung together, shows the ancient Greek goddess of the hunt Diana. The other painting, now missing, depicted her lover, the shepherd Endymion.

Guercino mentioned the two oil paintings in his record book, saying they had been sold to the Roman Count Fabio Carandini in 1658. An inventory of the art works collected by Carandini still stored in the national archives refers to the paintings and confirms that they were indeed owned by the nobleman. A copy of the missing Endymion now hangs at Florence's Palazzo Pitti while the Diana passed hands several times throughout the centuries until it surfaced in an auction in 1966. It was purchased by a private collector who is now putting up for sale.

Guercino (1591-1666), was born Giovanni Francesco Barbieri in a small town not far from Bologna. He got his name, Italian for 'squinter', because he was cross-eyed. Guercino achieved widespread fame during his lifetime, attracting patrons such as King Charles I of England and Marie de' Medici of France. He also spent time working in Rome for Pope Urban XIII (1623-1644) and his short-lived precedessor Gregory XV (1621-23). However, he was among several Baroque artists to fall from glory in the 19th century.

His work had almost sunk into oblivion by the time British art critic and Guercino champion Sir Denis Mahon began championing his cause in the 1930s. When he bought his first Guercino piece in 1934, Jacob Blessing The Sons Of Joseph, the artist had fallen so far from grace that Mahon paid the equivalent of just under 170 euros. The piece is now worth more than 4.1 million euros and Mahon's dedication to Guercino has won him honorary citizenship of the artist's native town Cento.