The least known sphere of Guido Reni’s activity is his portraiture. Stephen Pepper, in his 1984 monograph, could list with confidence among the artist’s autograph works only five portraits, (1) but Carlo Cesare Malvasia, Reni's principal biographer, had listed thirteen, only one of which, the portrait of Cardinal Spada, is identified with certainty. (2) Reni was reported to have disdained portraiture, but Malvasia's list indicates that his activity was considerably greater than we know today (3). Pepper, therefore, believed that we are justified in considering certain new works to be candidates for inclusion in Reni's oeuvre.
To begin with the known works, three are portraits of high ecclesiastics; Pope Gregory XV, Cardinals Roberto Ubaldini and Bernardino Spada, executed in date between 1622-1630; (4) the other two are informal portraits, one said to be of Reni's mother, and the other of another elderly lady. (5) Not surprisingly, these latter two are much more uncertain as to identification than the ecclesiastical portraits, although there, too, considerable doubt existed regarding the identification of the papal portrait until Gregory's features were recognised by several scholars. (6) Pepper has dated the two portraits of ladies to around 1630, and consequently it appears that all of Reni's portrait activity currently is known falls into a brief span of his career. (7)
But in fact, if one widens the scope of inquiry to include Malvasia’s list, we know that several of the portraits must have been executed in the first decade of the seventeenth century. Among them would have been Reni’s portraits of Pope Clement VIII and Paul V, of Cardinals Borghese, Sfondrato and Sannesi, and the poet, G.B. Marino. At the other end of his career, Malvasia men¬tions a portrait of Cardinal Sacchetti, Papal Legate from 1637-40, and therefore probably painted at that time. Thus, Reni's activity as a portraitist seems to span his entire career. It is the purpose of this catalogue entry to propose and outline additions to his activity, specifically from the early Roman period.
From Malvasia we know that Reni was engaged in portrait activity during his time in Rome. Further light is shed on this by a remark concerning an otherwise totally obscure Bolognese artist and por¬trait specialist, named Antonio Scalvati. Ugugieri-Azzolini, the Sienese writer, recounts that when Francesco Vanni arrived in Rome he made friends with Scalvati, (8) under whose tutelage was to be found Guido Reni. Scalvati at this time was famous for his successful portrait of Clement VIII, who otherwise resisted having his portrait done. (9)
Vanni's arrival in Rome can be pinned down to 1603. Hence, we can reconstruct the origin of Reni's Roman portrait activity to this time, commencing in the very last years of Clement's reign, in which Reni very likely received instruction from his country-man, Scalvati, in the then accepted manner of Roman ecclesiastical portraits. (10) It was probably at this time that Reni made his own portraits of Clement VIII, Cardinals Paolo Emilio Sfondrato, his first Roman patron, and Cardinal Camillo Borghese, just prior to his elevation to the papacy as Paul V. It is this last work which we shall now consider in some detail.
The painting first came to light in 1985 and the attribution to Reni was first confirmed by Sir Denis Mahon, followed simultaneously by Dr. Stephen Pepper and Dr. Erich Schleier. (11) The sitter was then misidentified by Pepper as Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the nephew of Paul. This error, which was noted by several scholars, (12) temporarily opened the door to some unjustified doubts regarding the attribution; (13) and it of course also led to a mistake in dating.
In order to set matters straight one should first consider the portrait and then investigate the conditions which may have led to its commission.
One must begin with the observation that it is an extremely powerful work. Camillo fills the picture space impressing a powerful image upon the viewer's mind. The light falling on the sitter's face emphasizes his features in an undramatic but nevertheless effective manner. (14) He is represented in the act of ringing a small bell, (15) which involves no great exertion, but conveys the idea of command and supports the impression formed by his steady outward gaze. He stands behind a table and in front of a chair that has as a finial the Borghese dragon. The drapery falling by Camillo’s side also serves to reinforce a sense of firmness, as does the unobtrusive highlighting, the dominant, standing posture, his severe, almost haughty expression, and slightly pursed, carmine lips. His image is carefully contrived to convey, above all, monumentality through a hieratic image, which, however, does not exclude the sense of a distinct personality.
It has been remarked that the composition is somewhat old fashioned. (16) This is only partly true. To the extent that this is so, it can be explained by the fact that Reni was working within the accepted formulae of Roman high ecclesiastical portraiture. A parallel case could be that of Caravaggio's portrait of Olaf de Wignacourt, in which this very unconventional artist had to work within set formulae. (17)
Within the imposed conventions, Reni has introduced an element that is by no means conventional, and that is the colour. He has employed a spectrum of reds and suffused mauves which is beautifully tempered, but at the same time, creates an intensity through the saturation of the colours and the subtle contrast of varying reds. The highest keyed red is the beretta that Camillo wears. It is exactly the same tone of red as that of the plumed hat worn by David in Reni’s painting in the Louvre, which is of a very similar date. Also very close in tone is the red used in Saints Peter and Paul (Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera) of a comparable date with the portrait of Camillo. (18) The lowest keyed colour in the spectrum is the purple-mauve of the cardinal's garments where the drapery is cast in half tones, filling the range between the two. In Reni’s later portraits, especially the Cardinals Ubaldini and Spada, analogous effects are achieved. The handling of the drapery also betrays Reni’s typical fluttering, zig-zagging brushstrokes, while the shot colour of the curtains again adopts a colour scheme particularly favoured by the artist. (19)
Finally, there is a specific pictorial effect that helps to establish the precise date of the painting. It has been observed by Nicholas Turner that there were connec¬tions with the Carracci, and others have orally remarked in a similar vein. (20) For example, the hands display the soft modelling that one finds in Ludovico Carracci's portraits. One might describe these effects as Correggesque in the generic sense, though the delicate blondness of the flesh tones would be considered quite typical of a later period of Reni's painting. (See fig. 4). There is a very good reason for this, because in the summer of 1604 Reni returned to Bologna to paint the mural of Saint Benedict receiving the Gifts of the Peasants in the octagonal cloister of San Michele in Bosco. (21) While there, he was in close touch with Ludovico and his followers. On the one hand, it is clear that Reni had a strong impact on them, but it is also the case that Ludovico influenced him. Evidence of this can be found in the Christ at the Column, painted in Rome in the autumn of 1604. (22)
The fact that one of the three Carracci, albeit which one has not been specified, was suggested in 1985 as an alternative attribution, testifies to the very high quality of Reni’s portrait. But if one examines the possible Carracci alternatives, it quickly becomes clear that none of them could really be the author of this painting. Annibale was in Rome during the entirety of Camillo's tenure as cardinal, but there is no evi¬dence that he ever painted a portrait of a high ecclesiastic in Rome. If Annibale had painted such an important work, it surely would have been known and recorded by his great friend, the scholar writer, Msgr. G.B. Agucchi, nor would it have escaped the attention of the Roman biogra¬pher, G.P. Bellori. The hieratic character of this portrait does not fit Annibale's known portraits, in which he emphasises contact between the viewer and the sitter and displays his acute insight into the latter's psycho-logical outlook. Indeed the only portrait so far identified with Annibale in Rome is the highly expressive image of Agucchi himself, today in the City Art Gallery, York. (23) Pepper believed that Annibale must be excluded from consideration for the portrait of Camillo.
More or less the same case can be made against Ludovico. Other than for one month during 1602, he was never present in Rome, and there is no record of his executing such a portrait. There is no evidence from the rest of his activity to indicate that this work is a plausible addition to his oeu¬vre. Finally, Agostino was in Rome briefly in the late 1590s and could only have painted such a work then. Further, there are two sheets of drawings, probably by him, in which Cardinal Camillo is represented in a seated position. (24) Nevertheless, these drawings do not correspond closely to the composition of the portrait of Camillo, nor is the official character and hieratic bearing of the subject really any more in keeping with Agostino's other known portraits than it is with those of the other Carracci. Although not as inventive as his brother in expressing psychological insight into his subject, he too sought this dimension in his portraits at the expense of its hieratic character.
This balance between representing a Prince of the Church, bearing the responsibilities of high office and the strong presence of an individual per¬sonality, is exactly characteristic of Reni's portraits from life, as Sir Denis Mahon has recently noted in regard to Reni's portrait of Cardinal Roberto Ubaldini: '. . . that of Reni's own Cardinal Ubaldini where, although the presence of a Prince of the Church is powerfully insisted upon, the representation of an individual human being is not entirely excluded'. (25) It seems that the Borghese portrait was the precursor of the Ubaldini portrait.
All of these stylistic features point to a date of 1604-5 when Reni had just returned to Rome and was executing commissions for Cardinals Sfondrato and Pietro Aldobrandini, Clement's papal nephew. On 3 March 1605, Pope Clement VIII died, having reigned thirteen years, and this led to two stormy conclaves in a very short period of time. (26) The French and Spanish parties were so divided that a schism was threatened. The first conclave convened on 14 March and after a protracted battle ended in the election of Alessandro de Medici on 1 April 1605. The resultant victory of the French party was short-lived, however, for Leo XI Medici died twenty-five days after his elevation. There followed an even more fractious contest, which resulted in a compromise candidate emerging, Camillo Borghese, who became Paul V on 16 May 1605.
In fact, Borghese, a man trained in canon law, had been carefully advanced during the entire period as a potential compromise between the rival factions, a role. However, it would not do for his personal character to be underrated and it is suggested here that his portrait was commissioned and executed in the period between March and May 1605, as part of an endeavour to make him better known and to display the candidate's qualities, namely, his robust and youthful appearance and his commanding presence. At this time, Reni was executing The Crucifixion of St. Peter for Cardinal Aldobrandini, and the Christ at the Column and later the Saint Cecilia for Sfondrato. He had recently painted the portraits of Clement VIII and Cardinal Sfondrato. (27) Under these circumstances, it would appear very likely that Reni would have been the choice of Camillo Borghese (or whoever advised him, for he himself was untutored in art) to produce at short notice a formal portrait to support his own impressive claim to be 'papabile'.
Thus, Reni's activity as portraitist was a significant part of his Roman activity under both Clement VIII and Paul V It probably began in Rome as early as 1603 with his training with Scalvati, and during the remaining years of Clement's reign he painted portraits of the Pope, Sfondrato and G.B. Marino. (28) For the Borghese, it would have begun with his portrait of Camillo and continued with his portraits of Camillo, after his election as Paul V, and of his cardinal nephew, Scipione, works mentioned by Malvasia. Finally, from Reni's accountbook, we know that he painted the portrait of Cardinal Sannesi in 1609. For the present, this constitutes what can be reconstructed of Reni's rather active portrait career in these years.
1) D. S. Pepper, Guido Reni, Oxford and New York, 1984, Nos. 82, 101, 128, 128A, and 129.
2) C. C. Malvasia 1841, II, p. 47:….come quello di sua madre, di un suo fratello, e d’un altro che paiono d’Annibale Carraci; di Clemente, di Paolo V., di Scipione Cardinal Nipote, del Cardinal Sfondrato, del Cardinal Senesio ….. delli Cardinali Spada, Sacchetti, del Cavalier Marini e di- Ferrante Carli Donati Loro: di Annibale Marescotti, di Giacomo Malvezzi e simili.’ Malvasia gives the date of the Portrait of Cardinal Sannesio as 17 November 1609, which is found in Reni’s Roman account book (D. S. Pepper, ‘Guido Reni’s Roman Account Book, I’, The Burlington Magazine, 113, 1971, p. 316, n.. 5.
3) Malvasia 1841, II, p. 47, Chiamato in Francia a fare il ritratto di quell re …. Rispose, non esser egli pittore da ritratti’. This is undoubtedly an excuse offered by Reni, since Cardinal Spada, who was the go-between in negotiations with France, himself ordered a portrait from Reni, although it is certainly true that Reni did not wish to be known as a portraitist.
4) Of these three works, only that of Cardinal Spada (Pepper 1984, no 129), Papal Legate 1627-31, has always been accepted as autograph, and is dateable around 1630 since payment for this work was made on the 2 May 1631 (cf Guido Reni, exh. cat., Bologna 1988, p. 204). The portrait of Cardinal Roberto Ubaldini, Papal Legate 1623-27, now in Los Angeles (Pepper 1984,No. 101), has only recently been re-established as Reni’s autograph work, having suffered a long period of obscurity, during which time it was considered to be merely the copy of a similar composition, formerly in the Guinness Collection, which was destroyed in 1943. For the portrait of Gregory, see note 6.
5) Pepper is of the opinion that the Portrait of an Elderly Widow, in the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna (Pepper 1984, no. 128), is in fact a portrait of Reni’s mother, who died in 1630, but this identification is by no means certain. For example, the identification is questioned by Mahon (D. Mahon ‘A New Book on Reni’, review, The Burlington Magazine, 128, 1986, p. 216). Doubts exist as to the attribution of the other Portrait of an Elderly Lady, in the Pinacoteca, attributed to Reni (Pepper 1984, no. 128A, as autograph).
6) The portrait had traditionally been called Paul V (Pepper 1984, no. 82, for its history). Mahon was the first to question the identification (D. Mahon, ‘Some Afterthoughts on the Seicento at the Royal Academy’, The Burlington Magazine, 93, 1951, p. 81, ns. 9-12), where he proposed either Gregory XV or Clement VIII as the sitter. Later he accepted the identification as Gregory (D. Mahon, ‘Guercino as Portraitist and his Pope Gregory XV’, Apollo, 113, 1981, p. 234-235). J. Hess (‘Bemerkungen zum stil Guido Renis und zum katalog der ausstellung in Bologna’. Zt. Fuer Kunstgeschichte, v.20, 1956, pp. 188-190) and F. Zeri, La Galleria Pallavincini, Rome, 1959, p. 205, no. 356, independently concluded that the portrait was of Gregory.
7) G. C. Cavalli proposed a much earlier date for the Portrait of the Woman in Widow’s Dress (Mostra di Guido Reni, exh. Cat., Bologna, 1954, no. 12), which has recently been supported by Mahon (Burlington Magazine, 1986, p. 216).
8) I. Ugugeri-Azzolini, Le pompe Sanesi, Pistoia, II, 1649, XXXIII, p. 370: ‘Arrivato (Vanni) a Roma fece amicizia con Antonio Scalvati, pittor Bolognese, sotto la cui disciplina trovò Guido Reni…’. The Sienese author seems to have known Vanni, who himself was personally acquainted with Reni at this time.
9) Baglione wrote the life of Scalvati (G. Baglione, Le vite dei pittori…, Rome, 1642, facsimile ed. 1935, p. 172), in which he noted, ‘Indi si diede a far ritratti, ed in particolare quello di Papa Clemente Ottavo, che da (lui rispetto a gli altri) fu molto simile rapportato & espresso. Ed era difficilissimo il farlo cosi rassomiglante: poichè il Pontefice non volle mai in presenza esser ritratto….’
10) Vanni was called to Rome only in 1603 by Cardinal Sfondrato to execute an altarpiece for Saint Peter’s. He was created Cavaliere di Cristo on 25 June 1603 at the request of Cardinal Sfondrato (‘Avviso’, published by E. Rossi, Roma, 14, 1936, p. 61). Otherwise, he is recorded in Siena. As further evidence of the connections among Reni, Vanni and Sfondrato, it should be noted that there has recently come to light a bust length Saint Catherine by Vanni (London, formerly Trafalgar Gallery), based on Reni’s composition now in the Palazzo Pedralves, Barcelona, which was very likely commissioned from Reni by Sfondrato (who probably commissioned Vanni’s works as well).
The reconstruction of Reni’s Roman portrait activity also permits us further to clarify the chronology of his Roman years beyond what appeared in Pepper’s book (1984 p. 55 an n. 20). Reni first came to Rome in mid-1601 at the invitation of Cardinal Sfondrato to execute works in Santa Cecilia. He travelled back and forth between Rome and Bologna, as he is recorded frequently in both places over the next four years. It would appear likely, however, that he began his activity for the Aldobrandini as early as 1603, more than a year earlier than Pepper had previously supposed. It is very likely that Reni was introduced to Clement and his nephew, Pietro, by Cavaliere d'Arpino, at which time it is likely that he was commissioned to paint the pope's portrait.
During much of 1604, Reni was in Bologna executing the mural painting for the cloister of San Michele in Bosco According to Malvasia (1841 p.13), d'Arpino invited Reni to return to Rome to paint The Crucifixion of Saint Peter for the pope’s nephew whom Malvasia mistakenly identified as Scipione Borghese. In fact he was Pietro Aldobrandini. Documents confirm that indeed Reni returned in the autumn of that year to execute the work.
Hence, we can distinguish three distinct cycles of Reni's activity in Rome in these years, first for, Sfondrato, 1601-1602, but continuing until 1606; then for Aldobrandini, 1603-5, but continuing in 1614-16 at the Capella del Sacramento, Ravenna, and finally for Borghese, 1605-1614, with interruptions for his return to Bologna, 1612-13. Each patron commissioned at least one portrait.
11) London Matthiesen, 1985, no. 1.
12) For example, N. Turner, review of the exhibition around 1610: the Onset of the Baroque, in The Burlington Magazine, August, 1985, p. 548.
13) Nicholas Turner, Dott. Danieli Benati, Prof. Sydney Freedberg, Prof. Andrea Emiliani and Prof. Federico Zeri all concurred with a firm attribution to Reni by 1993.
14) See full page colour detail.
15) See full page detail plate.
16) Turner 1985, loc.cit.
17) A further instructive comparison may be made with Caravaggio’s portrait of Pope Paul V (Rome, Borghese collection) which was probably executed only a few months after Reni’s portrait – See fig.4. Caravaggio’s portrait is equally hieratic, with the fierce, pursed lip pope staring straight out of the picture with his head slightly turned to the left in a way that closely echoes Reni’s portrait. One cannot help feeling but that Caravaggio must have known Reni’s portrait of Camillo Borghese and perhaps his commission stipulated a matching pose. One cannot help thinking that Caravaggio’s natural inclination would have been to produce a more ‘modern’ image in the vein of his earlier portrait of Monsignor Maffeo Barberini (Florence, private collection).
18) Pepper 1984, no. 18. Saints Peter and Paul, and no. 19, for David.
19) See full page detail plate.
20) Turner 1985. Subsequently, after the portrait of Camillo Borghese (originally wrongly supposed to represent Scipione) had been cleaned, Mr. Turner accepted the attribution to Reni without reservation.
21) Pepper 1984, no. 15, St. Benedict Receiving the Gifts of the Peasants, engraved after Reni’s lost fresco in San Michele in Bosco, and pp. 22-23, no. 23.
22) For the Christ at the Column., Pepper 1984, no. 16.
23) City Art Gallery, York, Catalogue of Paintings, 1961, I, p. 16, no. 787, as Domenichino. This work has been convincingly attributed to Annibale Carracci by Silvia Ginzburg, ‘The Portrait of Agucchi at York reconsidered’, The Burlington Magazine, 136, 1994, pp. 4-14. The Agucchi portrait, typical of Annibale’s ‘lively’ style contrasts with the more hieratic treatment of the Camillo Borghese portrait discussed here. More recently, however, the attribution to Domenichino has been reconfirmed by C.Whitfield in The Genius of Rome: 1592-1623,B.L.Brown (ed.), exh. Cat. The Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2001, p.163.
24) The two drawings are found in the Albertina (Inv. No. 25373, B. & V.) and the British Museum (Malcolm Coll. 254, Inv. 1895-915-693). The Vienna drawing is reproduced by A. Stix and A. Spitzmuller, Beschriebender Katalog der Handzeichnungen…. Albertina, V.1., Vienna, 1941, no. 104 (131 x 139, ink and wash), where it is attributed to Annibale Carracci. The London drawing is published by J. C. Robinson (Descriptive Catalogue… of John Malcolm, London, 1876, p. 96). On the verso of the London drawing there appears a study for the so-called Caprarola Christ (D. DeGrazia-Böhlin, Prints and related Drawings by the Carracci Family, exh. Cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979, no. 18, Annibale). The drawing bears an inscription: ‘Camillus Borghesius Card.lis qui fecit Capra’.
It is not clear whether the two drawings are by Agostino or Annibale. What is clear is that Cardinal Camillo is clearly represented, although why he should be identified with the Farnese stronghold of Caprarola is not clear. The date of Annibale's print, 1597, which appears on the rock in the engraving, establishes the date of the drawings, although if by Agostino they have to be after Annibale's engraving.
As to Agostino's dates in Rome these are extremely uncertain. G.Briganti in 'Esplorazione ravvicinata della volta Farnese', in Les Carraches et les decors profanes, École Francaise de Rome, 1988, pp.68-70,limits Agostino's activity at the Galleria Farnese to 1599, Agostino may have made an earlier trip to Rome c. 1596-7 at which time he could have executed the engraving after Annibale's Caprarola Christ. For the time being this seems to be the most plausible explanation.
25) The Age of Correggio and the Carracci, exhib. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1987,p. 473.
26) For the history of these conclaves, see C. K. Pullapilly, Cesare Baronio, Notre dame, Indiana, 1975, Ch. 7, pp. 107-116.
27) Pepper, op. cit., 1984., nos. 16, 17 and 24.