Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Guercino (Cento 1591-1666 Bologna)
Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Guercino (Cento 1591-1666 Bologna)
1 More
Property from an Important Private Collection
Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Guercino (Cento 1591-1666 Bologna)


Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Guercino (Cento 1591-1666 Bologna)
oil on canvas
49 ¾ x 41 ¼ in. (126.2 x 105 cm.)
with old inventory number '430' (lower right)
Commissioned from the artist by Alessandro Argoli (1594-1654), auditor del campo of the papal militia in Ferrara, 6 March 1642, and by whom gifted on 30 July 1642 to
Cardinal Francesco Barberini (1597-1679), Palazzo della Cancelleria, Rome, and by descent to his nephew
Cardinal Carlo Barberini (1630-1704), Palazzo alle Quattro Fontane, Rome, and by descent to his nephew
Cardinal Francesco Barberini (1662-1738), Rome, and (possibly) by descent to
Giulio Cesare Colonna Barberini (1702-1784), Rome, and (possibly) by descent.
(Possibly) Corsini collection, Rome.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 10 July 2002, lot 64, where acquired by the present owner.
C.C. Malvasia, Felsina Pittrice: Vite de' Pittori Bolognesi, Bologna, 1678, p. 373, as 'Al sig. Alessandro Argoli un' Ercole'.
F. Vivian, 'Guercino seen from the Archivio Barberini', The Burlington Magazine, CXIII, January 1971, p. 26, note 74.
M. Aronberg-Lavin, Seventeenth-Century Barberini Documents and Inventories of Art, New York, 1975, p. 21, doc. 165; p. 443, doc. 412.
B. Ghelfi, ed., Il libro dei conti del Guercino, 1629-1666, Vignola, 1997, p. 112, no. 271.
M. Di Penta, 'Guercino's "Endymion," "Hercules" and "Artemisia" for Alessandro Argoli', Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, LXVII, 2004, pp. 233, 245-250.
A. Lo Bianco, 'Rubens e la nascita del Barocco. Gli artisti più Giovani e l'eredità di Rubens', in Rubens e la nascita del Barocco, exhibition catalogue, Milan, 2016-2017, p. 33, fig. 11.
N. Turner, The Paintings of Guercino: A Revised and Expanded Catalogue Raisonné, Rome, 2017, p. 571, no. 281.I.
Iglesias, Palazzina Bellavista, Le collezioni ritrovate di Guercino, 30 April-30 August 2003, pp. 9-10.
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Guercino: Poesia e sentimento nella pittura del '600, 27 September 2003-18 January 2004, no. 46.

Brought to you by

Book an appointment
Book an appointment

Lot Essay

‘a Hercules with a club on his shoulder and draped with a lion’s pelt, said to be the work of Guercino of Cento’
-Libro di Ricordi di quello che entra ed esce dalla guardarobba [sic] del Card. Francesco [Barberini] 1638-42, 30 July 1642

Upon its reemergence earlier this century, this striking image of Hercules triumphantly carrying the fur of the slain Nemean lion was recognized as the painting described in Guercino’s Libro dei conti under an entry for 6 March 1642 and in Malvasia as ‘To Mr. Alessandro Argoli a Hercules’ ('Al sig. Alessandro Argoli un' Ercole’) (loc. cit.). Argoli had been appointed auditor del campo of the papal militia in Ferrara on 18 July 1640 by Taddeo Barberini, commander of the Papal Army, in hopes of simmering tensions between the Barberini and Farnese families in the region. In an effort to further solidify his family’s relationship with their patrons, the Barberinis, in 1642 Argoli commissioned as gifts two paintings from Guercino, the present Hercules and an as-yet unidentified pendant depicting Artemesia. Miriam Di Penta has argued that the present painting, which was delivered to Cardinal Francesco Barberini on 30 July 1642, was intended to extol the military prowess of Francesco’s younger brother, Taddeo, who was then waging war against Odoardo I Farnese (loc. cit.). By flattering Taddeo, Argoli may have hoped that Francesco (fig. 1), a renowned collector and head of the Barberini family, would grant an appointment to Argoli’s younger cousin, Giovanni. Giovanni had been appointed Chair of the Humanities at Bologna in 1638 following the intercession of Cardinal Biscia and Cassiano dal Pozzo, but failed to gain the acceptance of the city’s academic community and was looking for a career in government instead. Perhaps not coincidentally, in 1642, his wish was granted – Taddeo appointed Giovanni governor of Cervia. A year later, he held the position in Lugo as well.
Argoli was evidently quite taken by Guercino’s painting, despite his brief ownership of the work. A 1651 inventory of his household possessions includes reference to ‘Copies of Hercules and Artemesia…the same as the above [made by Gennari himself and retouched by Guercino]’ (‘Copia di Ercole et Artemisa del Guercino…della suddetta del medesimo [fatta dal medesimo Gennari e ritoccata dal Guercino]). Since the present painting’s reappearance, the majority of scholars have identified the Gennari copy as the work in the Maccaferri collection, Bologna, which, as David Stone has noted (private communication, 9 March 2020), a number of authors have erroneously described as in the collection of the Banca Popolare dell’Emilia Romagna, Modena. By contrast, Nicholas Turner has maintained that the Maccaferri painting is probably the work from the Barberini collection and has proposed that the present painting is ‘a thinly painted, full-sized trial sketch’ by Guercino, noting that the earthy hues, broad handling and passages of untouched priming are consistent with his conception of trial versions (loc. cit.).
The 1651 inventory of Argoli’s possessions includes reference to a number of further works by Guercino and his associates. In addition to a number of drawings and the afore-mentioned Gennari copies, he possessed heads of Ceres and Bacchus by Guercino and a third copy after Guercino depicting a Sleeping Endymion by Gennari and likewise retouched by the master. The Libro dei conti, in turn, confirms that Argoli commissioned the original from Guercino in 1644 (fig. 2; Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome), but, much as he did with the Hercules and Artemesia, he appears to have presented it as a gift shortly thereafter. The painting was surely in the collection of Olimpia Aldobrandini and her husband Camillo Pamphilj by 1652, but was likely a gift made several years earlier to mark the couple’s marriage in February 1647.
Inventories indicate that the present painting and the Artemesia descended together in the Barberini collection until at least 1738. The 1692 inventory of Cardinal Carlo Barberini locates the two paintings hanging side-by-side in the second antechamber of the winter apartment, and an inventory taken in 1738 identifies them again, though in the latter the Artemesia was described instead as an iconographically similar Sophonisba. The whereabouts of the present painting after 1738 and prior to its reappearance at auction in 2002 are unclear, for an 1844 Barberini inventory mentions only a Sophonisba. A Sophonisba given to the 'School of Guercino', generally assumed to be the Artemesia Argoli commissioned from Guercino in 1642 and subsequently gifted to the Barberini, is again described in the 1911 inventory of Princess Anna Barberini Corsini in Florence (see Di Penta, op. cit., p. 251). Though undescribed in later inventories, the present painting may likewise share this provenance.
A life study for this painting in which Hercules is viewed less frontally and with his proper left arm straighter is at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (fig. 3), while a pen-and-ink study is today in the Minneanapolis Institute of Art. The same model also features in Guercino’s Atlas of 1646 (Museo Stefano Bardini, Florence), which was painted for Lorenzo de’ Medici.
We are grateful to Professor David Stone for endorsing the attribution following firsthand inspection of the work and for his assistance cataloguing this lot.

More from Old Masters

View All
View All