The owners of a rare painting had no idea of the author until Cheffins auctioneers from Cambridge started their expertize.
Great-grandfather of the owner brought the picture back in 1850 from Rome, and it has been kept in a Suffolk country house for the past 167 years. Unknown to scholars, the painting was a sensational discovery for Cheffins auctioneers. They called in their Old Master paintings consultant, John Somerville, a former specialist at Sotheby’s, and he recognized the painting as ‘Bolognese School’ Baroque. Dr. Nicholas Turner, the leading authority on the artist’s work, endorsed the authorship to Il Guercino and the same opinion shared the Italian Art Historian, Dr. Francesco Petrucci, who has already requested the painting for his forthcoming exhibition “Cani in Posa” in Turin in 2018.
Though Guercino was known to include dogs in portraits and other compositions, portrait of this dog is an exceptionally rare example of the artist's portraiture of an individual animal. It depicts an Italian Mastiff, or, more correctly, a Cane Corso in all its grace with a mountainous landscape at the background.
To identify the breed, experts from both the Kennel Club of Great Britain and its Italian counterpart, the Ente Nazionale della Cinofilia Italiana, were gathered. They all agree that the robust physique and head of the dog define the animal as a Cane Corso, which was the progenitor of today’s Italian Mastiff. As an ancient breed these dogs were praised by the Romans for their courage, nobility and strength and are still used for hunting or as guard dogs today.
The attribution of the painting was not an easy process for art historians as they knew the only one other surviving dog portrait by the artist. It is the famous ‘Portrait of the Aldrovandi Dog’ which hangs in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, USA.
That painting depicts a brindle mastiff with the Aldrovandi family coat of arms on its collar and perhaps immortalizes the prized or favorite possession of Count Filippo Aldrovandi. The canvas was bought by the museum in 1972 for the then princely sum of £110,000.
Newly discovered work attributed to Il Guercino is anticipated to hit auction block with Cheffins in Cambridge, having an estimate of no less than £80,000-120,000.
Giovanni Francesco Barbieri was one of the Italy’s most celebrated 17th century artists – an Italian Baroque painter and draftsman from the region of Emilia, active in Rome and Bologna. He became known as Il Guercino (Italian for ‘squinter’) because he was cross-eyed and acquired his nickname at an early age. Born in 1591, in poverty in Cento, a village between Bologna and Ferrara, he was largely self-taught. At the age of 16, he worked as apprentice in the shop of Benedetto Gennari, a painter of the Bolognese School. By 1615, he moved to Bologna, where his work was praised by Lodovico Carracci. Later on, Il Guercino often claimed that his early style was influenced by a canvas by Lodovico Carracci that he saw in the Capuchin church in Cento.
Aged 30, Il Guercino was summoned to Rome by Pope Gregory XV and commissioned for painting altarpieces and frescoes. The years he spent in Rome, 1621–23, were very productive. After the death of Gregory XV, the artist returned to his hometown. 21 years later he eventually moved to Bologna where he became the city's leading painter and, amassing a notable fortune, died in 1666. As he never married, his estate passed to his nephews and pupils.
Guercino was remarkable for the extreme rapidity of his working process. He completed no fewer than 106 large altarpieces for churches, and 144 other paintings. He was also a prolific draftsman. His oeuvre includes many drawings, usually in ink, washed ink, or red chalk.
Major works by Il Guercino do not become available very often at auctions. The artist's record stands at £5.19m for his painting 'King David' sold at Christie’s sale in London in July 2010.
Cheffins auction house will sell 'The Study of an Italian Cane Corso' by Il Guercino at Cheffins' Fine Art Sale on 7th and 8th of March after prior viewing time from 4th to 6th of March, 2018.
Dr. Nicholas Turner comments: “The personality of the Cheffins dog is so beautifully observed and conveyed, it is tempting to suggest that it was the artist’s own animal, but even if not, then one which he admired, bonded with and indeed very evidently loved. With this in mind, this animal is even more of a ‘portrait’ than the Aldrovandi hunting dog.”
Written on materials of Cheffins Auction House, Norton Simon Museum, worthingtongalleries.com, The Telegraph. Title illustration: photo Cheffins.