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Guido Reni (1575-1642)

March 17, 2011


Massacre of the Innocents

Guido Reni 1611.

Oil on canvas.

For the Berò Chapel in S Domenico, now in Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna.

This piece shows Guido Reni’s Classical influence in its composition and his Carracci influence in terms of energy and colors.  It can be thought of as a reaction against Caravaggism.

The brutal reality of the violence associated with this scene is not present here.  Yet the viewer still knows what is happening.  Reni has successfully depicted a scene of infant slaughters without any blood shed.  The figures appear to be in chaos, yet are classically arranged and balanced, creating a static effect.  The action is happening in the foreground, with landscape and architecture in the background – reminiscent of Raphael’s tapestry scenes and other Classical compositions.

During a time when Caravaggism was fresh, Reni deviated from the extreme naturalism and dramatic tenebrism.  He even rotated the typical horizontal orientation of this scene to a vertical composition.  Every figure looks strategically placed as if rehearsed on this set.  Postures as well as facial expression convey each figure’s emotion.

Richard E. Spear. “Reni, Guido.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 17 Mar. 2011 <;.



Guido Reni 1614.


Casino dell’Aurora, Palazzo Rospigliosi-Pallavicini, Rome.

The ceiling piece for the Casino Rospigliosi is a quadro riportati-like fresco that, like Anibale Carracci’s Bacchus, can only be read from a fixed point of view.  Although painted directly on the ceiling in wet plaster, this fresco is like a quadro riportato in that it appears to be a painting placed into the ceiling.

Besides its similarities in composition and color to Carracci’s pieces in the Farnese Gallery, Guido Reni’s fresco shows his interest in Classical frieze-like compositions.  All the figures are in the foreground.  Except for naturalistic overlapping and the sense of depth in the background, the composition of figures is relief-like in its horizontal movement.  Reni combined Baroque dynamism with Classical structure in this fresco.

Not only is the entire composition intended to look like a Graeco-Roman frieze or relief, but the figures within the scene are based on antique sculptures, according to Richard E. Spear and Reni’s biographers.  Aurora comprises Guido Reni’s interest in past masters such as Raphael, contemporaries such as Anibale Carracci, and Greek and Roman antiques.

Richard E. Spear. “Reni, Guido.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 17 Mar. 2011 <;.


David with the Head of Goliath

Guido Reni 1605.

Oil on canvas.

Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Guido Reni’s depiction of the gruesome scene of David holding the head of the decapitated Goliath has some similarities and differences with Caravaggio’s painting from around the same time.

Although Reni presents a somewhat Classical, yet convincingly natural David in a shallow setting against a dark background, there is a lack of the tenebrism that most of Caravaggio’s contemporaries and followers often emulated.  The recession of the head of Goliath is less confrontational than Caravaggio’s.  One can almost breathe a sign of relief that Goliath has been killed and is no longer a burden to the people.  This is, in fact, a contemplative piece.  David’s subtle emotion makes this less a tragedy than a work of mercy.

Likewise, the column serves less as a place maker than as a symbol of David’s Christ-likeness.  The column could be the column that Christ was flagellated against.  There is a reason that Reni (and perhaps also Caravaggio) represented David as a cool, calm, and collective murder.  In fact, the suppressed violence of the scene makes David out to be less a murderer, more a savior to the people threatened by the giant Goliath.  This likens David to Christ.  Showing him as vicious with excessive bloodshed would tarnish his Christ-like image.

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