Guercino, Charity with an Old Man, a pen and ink sketch

Italy, around AD 1622-26

One of the Seven Virtues

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, better known as Guercino, was born in Cento, Emilia, northern Italy in 1591. He was nicknamed Guercino (Italian for 'squinter') at an early age because of the squint he suddenly developed from a shock he received while in the care of his nurse. Working mostly in Bologna and Cento, he was a major exponent of religious paintings and a very fine draughtsman in all media. He died in Bologna in 1666.

The female figure of Charity is seated on the ground in the centre surrounded by three small children who clamber over her. On the right an old man in a turban leans towards the figures. No related composition by Guercino exists for this sketch.

This is a superb example of Guercino's mastery of pen and ink with brown wash. With rapid pen strokes he outlined the forms but it is his use of colour wash which gives the sketch its substance. Truly master of the medium, Guercino uses different shades of brown wash to suggest the degrees of light and shade. From the dark shadows cast on the belly of the child behind the urn, to the dazzling white of the man's billowing shirt as it catches the sunlight.

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More information


N. Turner and C. Plazzotta, Drawings by Guercino from Brit (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)


Height: 269.000 mm
Width: 417.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1895-9-15-706



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