Guercino at Waddesdon: King David and the Wise Women
20 Mar – 27 Oct 2024
Over 350 years since they were painted, five paintings by renowned Bolognese painter Guercino are on display together for the first time at Waddesdon in a new exhibition.
This historic exhibition spotlights one of the great painters of 17th-century Italy, Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, known as Guercino (1591-1666). Brought together for the first time since leaving the artist’s studio in 1651, are Waddesdon’s King David alongside two associated paintings of sibyls from the National Gallery and another sibyl from the Royal Collection, painted the same year.
Born in the Italian town of Cento, Guercino was an excellent draughtsman whose compositions were known for their originality. In his lifetime, he created hundreds of altar pieces and paintings, becoming one of the most sought-after Italian Baroque painters and enjoying the patronage of popes, foreign courts, cardinals and dukes.
See close up Guercino’s brilliant use of paint to depict silk, flesh, ermine, paper, wood and stone, while conjuring up ideas about inspiration and contemplation, sight and foresight, poetry and prophecy. This is an opportunity to explore how King David relates to the sibyls.
Also on display and never before seen in public is Guercino’s recently rediscovered depiction of Moses. This is one of the most important additions to Guercino’s body of work and adds to our understanding of his early maturity, a period considered by many to be his greatest for the dynamism, vigour and spontaneity of his painting.
What is a sybil?
These female prophets or seers from classical antiquity were popular subjects in the 17th-century, appealing to Baroque artists as models of female authority.
More about Guercino
Giovanni Francesco Barbieri enjoyed a successful career spent mostly in Bologna and Rome. He acquired the nickname ‘Guercino’ (‘Little Squinter’) due to strabismus (the condition of having a squint). According to the biographer Carlo Cesare Malvasia, the infant Guercino was awoken by a loud noise with such a start that he was left with his right eye permanently fixed at an angle. Whether or not this story is to be believed, this does not appear to have impaired his vision or achievements as a painter.