Bologna 1575 - Bologna 1642
A Bishop Saint
Oil on panel
71 x 62 cm
Guido Reni's first teacher was the Flemish born painter Denis Calvaert to whom he was apprenticed for ten years in Bologna when he was aged only nine years old. He did so with the grudging permission of his father Daniele Reni, an established singer and instrumentalist, who would have preferred him to become a musician instead. Calvaert had moved to Italy around 1560, studied under Prospero Fontana and Lorenzo Sabatini in Bologna and in 1575 opened a successful school for young artists. However, towards the end, the relationship between the two artists was turbulent and when they fell out in 1594/5 Reni joined the Carracci Academy(the Accademia degli Incamminati) .
He was to leave the academy by 1598, his reputation being established by then with several public works. After leaving Bologna Reni arrived in Rome by 1601 at the request of Cardinal Sfondrato, who commissioned a number of works, providing the early Christian influence on Reni, which continued until his full time employment by Cardinal Borghese.
When Clement V111 died Reni, along with a number of other artists, found the Aldobrandi patronage interrupted and as such limited employment in Rome. Consequently he returned to Bologna for a short period before he was once more summoned to Rome, culminating in Borghese commissions running more or less undisturbed from 1607 to 1612 and again from 1613-14 for the completion of the Aurora. Apart from occasional visits he worked little in Rome after this. At this time he was responsible for increasing the scale of fees paid to the leading artists and without doubt influenced the attitude towards decoration in Rome. He established the principles of coherence and integration in decoration which led onto the Roman Baroque style.
After his apprenticeship during the turbulent first decade of the century Reni started to develop his own idea of perfection with the Hellenic period of his work. This was much influenced by his intense study of the heads of ancient statues and this Hellenic grace was developed further whilst working on the famous Aurora.
Reni's work was now universally admired and on conquering Rome he determined to leave the city in triumph accepting commissions elsewhere. From 1614 onwards he worked mainly in Bologna, where apart from the occasional trip, he was to stay till his death. His life and state of mind were however occasionally turbulent as the politics of the period were extremely complex and his contemporaries were ruthless in their pursuit of commissions and often plotted against him.
In 1621 Reni was contracted to paint the frescoes and design the mosaics for the Cappella del Tesoro di S. Gennaro. However such was the animosity from local artists to him and his assistants that he fled the city when one of them was attacked and he was threatened with the same fate.
A Bishop Saint
Although the traditional attribution of this painting was always to Guido Reni as proven by the old label on the back of the panel it is only since its recent emergence from the convent of Loreto in Ireland that it has been possible for scholars to start to re-examine the painting again. We are grateful to Professor Andrea Emiliani for confirming the attribution. He suggests a date of circa 1595 due to its close comparison with the Guidizio di Salomone in a private collection in Bologna (exhibited in the exhibition, Guido Reni 1575 – 1642, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna, 1988, Nuova Alfa Editoriale, tablet 7, p. 22).
The picture depicts a Bishop Saint holding a staff and bible and looking down to his left. The traditional identification of Saint Zenobius of Florence seems unlikely. The unusually good state of preservation means the rich colours are luminous and the contours are crisp. The modeling of the face is very sure and shows the prodigious talent of Guido apparent even at this early stage of his career.