The Italian Almanac

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The Death of Dido by Guercino

Guercino in New York

A remarkable selection of masterpieces by Guercino has gone on show in New York, offering visitors a rare chance to see the Baroque artist`s youthful work. The Italian Cultural Institute is hosting 28 richly illuminated paintings by Guercino which are in the United States for the first time ever.

One of the exhibit`s curators, Fausto Gozzi, explained that the choice of paintings had been partly accidental, as several of the works originally selected were too big to pass through the institute`s front door. ``As our original exhibit turned out to be impossible, we decided to bring to New York Guercino lesser-known masterpieces but which already clearly showed his talent,`` he said. ``These are all works that have never before been outside Europe and it is also the first time they have all been displayed together``.

Guercino achieved widespread fame during his lifetime, attracting top-level patrons such as King Charles I of England and Marie de` Medici of France. He also spent time working in Rome for the popes Gregory XV and Urban VIII. However, he was among several Baroque artists to sink from glory in the 19th century and his reputation was dealt a near fatal blow by art historian John Ruskin. In Volume IV of his Modern Artists, Ruskin famously remarked: ``There is no entirely sincere or great art in the 17th century``. Guercino`s work had almost sunk into oblivion by the time British expert 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 Cento, a mall town in central Italy.

The New York exhibition, entitled simply Guercino, is on show at the Italian Cultural Institute until March 2, after which it transfers to Bologna.