1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Guido Reni
GUIDO RENI (1575–1642), a prime master in the Bolognese school of painting, and one of the most admired artists of the period of incipient decadence in Italy, was born at Calvenzano near Bologna on the 4th of November 1575. His father was a musician of repute, a player on the flageolet; he wished to bring the lad up to perform on the harpsichord. At a very childish age, however, Guido displayed a determined bent towards the art of form, scribbling some attempt at a drawing here, there and everywhere. He was only nine years of age when Denis Calvart took notice of him, received him into his academy of design by the father’s permission, and rapidly brought him forward, so that by the age of thirteen Guido had already attained marked proficiency. Albani and Domenichino became soon afterwards pupils in the same academy. With Albani Guido was very intimate up to the earlier period of manhood, but they afterwards became rivals, both as painters and as heads of ateliers, with a good deal of asperity on Albani’s part; Domenichino was also pitted against Reni by the policy of Annibale Caracci. Guido was still in the academy of Calvart when he began frequenting the opposition school kept by Lodovico Caracci, whose style, far in advance of that of the Flemish painter, he dallied with. This exasperated Calvart. Him Guido, not yet twenty years of age, cheerfully quitted, transferring himself openly to the Caracci academy, in which he soon became prominent, being equally skilful and ambitious. He had not been a year with the Caracci when a work of his excited the wonder of Agostino and the jealousy of Annibale. Lodovico cherished him, and frequently painted him as an angel, for the youthful Reni was extremely handsome. After a while, however, Lodovico also felt himself nettled, and he patronized the competing talents of Giovanni Barbiere. On one occasion Guido had made a copy of Annibale’s “Descent from the Cross”; Annibale was asked to retouch it, and, finding nothing to do, exclaimed pettishly, “He knows more than enough” (“Costui ne sa troppo”). On another occasion Lodovico, consulted as umpire, lowered a price which Reni asked for an early picture. This slight determined the young man to be a pupil no more. He left the Caracci, and started on his own account as a competitor in the race for patronage and fame. A renowned work, the story of “Callisto and Diana,” had been completed before he left.
Guido was faithful to the eclectic principle of the Bolognese school of painting. He had appropriated something from Calvart, much more from Lodovico Caracci; he studied with much zest after Albert Dürer; he adopted the massive, sombre and partly uncouth manner of Caravaggio. One day Annibale Caracci made the remark that a style might be formed reversing that of Caravaggio in such matters as the ponderous shadows and the gross common forms; this observation germinated in Guido’s mind, and he endeavoured after some such style, aiming constantly at suavity. Towards 1602 he went to Rome with Albani, and Rome remained his headquarters for twenty years. Here, in the pontificate of Paul V. (Borghese), he was greatly noted and distinguished. In the garden-house of the Rospigliosi Palace he painted the vast fresco which is justly regarded as his masterpiece—“Phoebus and the Hours preceded by Aurora.” This exhibits his second manner, in which he had deviated far indeed from the promptings of Caravaggio. He founded now chiefly upon the antique, more especially the Niobe group and the “Venus de’ Medici,” modified by suggestions from Raphael, Correggio, Parmigiano and Paul Veronese. Of this last painter, although on the whole he did not get much from him, Guido was a particular admirer; he used to say that he would rather have been Paul Veronese than any other master—Paul was more nature than art. The “Aurora” is beyond doubt a work of pre-eminent beauty and attainment; it is stamped with pleasurable dignity, and, without being effeminate, has a more uniform aim after graceful selectness than can readily be traced in previous painters, greatly superior though some of them had been in impulse and personal fervour of genius. The pontifical chapel of Montecavallo was assigned to Reni to paint; but, being straitened in payments by the ministers, the artist made off to Bologna. He was fetched back by Paul V. with ceremonious éclat, and lodging, living and equipage were supplied to him. At another time he migrated from Rome to Naples, having received a commission to paint the chapel of S. Gennaro. The notorious cabal of three painters resident in Naples—Corenzio, Caracciolo and Ribera—offered, however, as stiff an opposition to Guido as to some other interlopers who preceded and succeeded him. They gave his servant a beating by the hands of two unknown bullies, and sent by him a message to his master to depart or prepare for death; Guido waited for no second warning, and departed. He now returned to Rome; but he finally left that city abruptly, in the pontificate of Urban VIII., in consequence of an offensive reprimand administered to him by Cardinal Spinola. He had received an advance of 400 scudi on account of an altarpiece for St Peter’s, but after some lapse of years had made no beginning with the work. A broad reminder from the cardinal put Reni on his mettle; he returned the 400 scudi, quitted Rome within a few days, and steadily resisted all attempts at recall. He now resettled in Bologna. He had taught as well as painted in Rome, and he left pupils behind him; but on the whole he did not stamp any great mark upon the Roman school of painting, apart from his own numerous works in the papal city.
In Bologna Guido lived in great splendour, and established a celebrated school, numbering more than two hundred scholars. He himself drew in it, even down to his latest years. On first returning to this city, he charged about £21 for a full-length figure (mere portraits are not here in question), half this sum for a half-length, and £5 for a head. These prices must be regarded as handsome, when we consider that Domenichino about the same time received only £10, 10s. for his very large and celebrated picture, the “Last Communion of St Jerome.” But Guido’s reputation was still on the increase, and in process of time he quintupled his prices. He now left Bologna hardly at all; in one instance, however, he went off to Ravenna, and, along with three pupils, he painted the chapel in the cathedral with his admired picture of the “Israelites gathering Manna.” His shining prosperity was not to last till the end. Guido was dissipated, generously but indiscriminately profuse, and an inveterate gambler. The gambling propensity had been his from youth, but until he became elderly it did not noticeably damage his fortunes. It grew upon him, and in a couple of evenings he lost the enormous sum of 14,400 scudi. The vice told still more ruinously on his art than on his character. In his decline he sold his time at so much per hour to certain picture dealers; one of them, the Shylock of his craft, would stand by, watch in hand, and see him work. Half-heartedness, half-performance, blighted his product: self-repetition and mere mannerism, with affectation for sentiment and vapidity for beauty, became the art of Guido. Some of these trade-works, heads or half-figures, were turned out in three hours or even less. It is said that, tardily wise, Reni left off gambling for nearly two years; at last he relapsed, and his relapse was followed not long afterwards by his death, caused by malignant fever. This event took place in Bologna on the 18th of August 1642; he died in debt, but was buried with great pomp in the church of S. Domenico.
(W. M. R.)