Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Guercino (Cento 1591-1666 Bologna)
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Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Guercino (Cento 1591-1666 Bologna)

Portrait of Fra Bonaventura Bisi (1601-1659), called Il Pittorino, half-length, holding a drawing of Alfonso IV, Duke of Modena

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Guercino (Cento 1591-1666 Bologna)
Portrait of Fra Bonaventura Bisi (1601-1659), called Il Pittorino, half-length, holding a drawing of Alfonso IV, Duke of Modena
oil on canvas
37 ¼ x 30 1/8 in. (94.4 x 76.4 cm.)
Probably a gift from the artist to Fra' Bonaventura Bisi.
Aldrovandi collection, Bologna, by 1827 (though possibly by 1764).
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 9 December 1992, lot 44, when acquired by the present owner.
Anonymous, Nota dei quadri componenti la galleria del conte Ulisse Aldrovandi in Bologna, 1827, p. 89, as ‘Ritratto di frate Bigio detto il Pitturino del Guercino da Cento...(Luigi) 6’.
G. Atti, Intorno Alla Vita e Alle Opere di Gianfrancesco Barbieri detto il Guercino Da Cento. . . [Luigi] 60, 1861, p. 132, ‘Frate Bigio detto il Pittorino è in casa Aldrovandi a Bologna (1843)’.
Anonymous, Notizie De’ Quadri Della Collezione Aldrovandi in Bologna, 1869, p. 6, no. 9, under Guercino, as ‘Il ritratto di Fr. Bigio detto il Pittorino, mezza fgura al vero in abito claustrale, ed in atto di guardare o invitare lo spettatore a vedere un disegno a matita rossa sopra carta, che tiene spiegata nella destra mano, nel quale è delineato il ritratto di un gentiluomo la cui testa vedesi di proflo; accenna poi colla sinistra ad altri disegni tracciati su carte e posti in un tavolino, e ad una scanzia di libri veduta più indietro. é dipinto nella seconda maniera del centese maestro, con accuratezza d’esecuzione ed osservanza del vero, sicchè appare non solo d’esser somigliante, ma vivo e parlante’.
N. Roio, La Scuola del Guercino, E. Negro, M. Pirondini and N. Roio (ed.), Modena 2004, pp. 136-137 and 163; fig. 252, as ‘Ritratto di
frate collezionista’, location unknown, and as by ‘Benedetto Gennari’.
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Lot Essay

This engaging portrait of Fra Bonaventura Bisi, which has been the subject of much recent scholarly debate, is an important addition to the corpus of portraits by Guercino. At the time of the Sotheby’s sale in 1992, Sir Denis Mahon confirmed the attribution and proposed a date of no earlier than 1658. While Nicosetta Roio later published the picture in 2004 as by Benedetto Gennari (op. cit.), more recently David Stone and Daniele Benati have supported the attribution to Guercino.

The identity of the sitter in this late portrait has been established through an engraving by Domenico Maria Muratori (see A. de Vesme, Le Peintre-Graveur Italien, Milan, 1906, p. 344; not illustrated). Interestingly, although the engraving shows Bisi with a drawing of the Madonna and Child, in the present work he is depicted holding up a profile portrait in red chalk of Alfonso IV, Duke of Modena (1634-1662), for whom Guercino acted as a picture-buying agent.

Bonaventura Bisi, a Franciscan Friar from the convent of San Francesco in Bologna, was a practising miniature painter and engraver. A caricature drawing of the sitter by Guercino, preserved in the Ashmolean, Oxford, attests to Bisi’s friendship with the artist. As Professor Stone observes, the sitter’s appearance in the two portraits is conspicuously different; Bisi appears to be more robust and energetic in the pen and ink drawing, whereas here he appears older and more fragile.

Stone considers the Ashmolean sheet to have been executed around 1635-45, rather than the traditional dating to the mid-1650s, but supports Mahon’s dating of the present portrait to no earlier than 1658, the year Alfonso became fourth Duke of Modena, and before December of 1659 when Bisi died. He notes that while this composition recalls in its basic format an earlier portrait of the lawyer Francesco Righetti (1626-28; see L. Salerno, I Dipinti del Guercino, Rome, 1988, pp. 212-3), in which the sitter is shown before a bookcase full of volumes also bearing their titles on the bottom page edges, the present picture can be compared stylistically with the Self Portrait before a Painting of ‘Amor Fedele’, dated to 1655, which was recently acquired by the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

We are grateful to David Stone for his kind assistance in cataloguing the present lot.

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