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Guercino (1591-1666)

March 24, 2011




Guercino 1621.


Casino Ludovisi, Rome.

Guercino’s ceiling in the Casino Ludovisi marks a transition from quadro-riportato scenes to the use of illusionistic di sotto in su and quadratura.

Unlike quadro-riprotato, both di sotto in su and quadratura give the illusion that the ceiling is opening up, or that there is a continuation of the internal architecture.  In his Aurora, Guercino used extreme foreshortening in the center of the composition.  This is an example of di sotto in su, which means “seen from below.”  If the event of Dawn being brought in by chariot were happening above us, this is what we would see: the under side of the horses, the lower and foreshortened side of the chariot.  Dawn would have to lean over the chariot, as she does here, in order to be visible.  The illusion of the continuation of the interior architecture extending into the illusionistic open sky is an example of quadratura.

Although Aurora is more di sotto in su than quadro-riportato, one still must orient himself in a fixed position to read the center of this painting.  The surrounding scenes also must be read from their own fixed point of view, below.  In this sense, Guercino has yet to fully master this illusionism.  This is not a fully unified illusionistic ceiling.



Burial of St. Petronilla

Guercino 1622.

Oil on canvas.

Altarpiece of St. Peter’s, now in Musei Capitolini, Rome.

This colossal altarpiece carries an unclear message that is up for discussion.

Guercino was commissioned to paint this altarpiece in 1622.  One would assume that such a major commission would render a clear, unambiguous composition and message.  St. Petronilla is depicted twice, once in the heavenly realm above and again in the earthly realm below.  This is called The Burial, but it is unclear if she is being buried or being removed from her grave.  It was common for the bodies of deceased saints and notable people to be moved from their original gravesite to a new one for commemorative purposes.  Because there are two halves to this altarpiece, one must decided if the upper portion is a vision, perhaps divine inspiration to the digger attempting to find and move her body.  Or, one must consider if that is the saint’s resurrection to Heaven.

The two worlds are composed very Classically.  Everything is happening in the foreground.  There is little indication of background or recession, except for a piece of architecture directly behind the action on earth.  No one below seems to be aware of what is happening in the scene above, however, Petronilla’s face is pointed directly at it, implying that she is the only one aware of it, so perhaps this is her burial scene. Likewise, a man appears t be under Petronilla in the grave, it is more likely that he is pushing her up rather than helping to lower her in.

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