- Museum number
A winged figure carrying torches (Canens); slightly to right, looking round to left
Red chalk, on light blue paper
- Production date
Height: 277 millimetres
Width: 217 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- This cannot be related to any known commission; Turner and Plazzotta date it on stylistic grounds to the mid-1630s.
Lit.: J.C. Robinson, 'Descriptive Catalogue of Drawings by the Old Masters, forming the Collection of John Malcolm of Poltalloch, Esq', London, 1876, no. 263; N. Turner and C. Plazzotta , in exhib. cat., BM, ‘Drawings by Guercino from British Collections’, 1991, Appendix (Drawings by Guercino, his School and Followers, in the British Museum ), no. 25
Turner and Plazzotta 1991
The figure is Canens, who melted and then vanished into thin air grieving for her husband, Picus, King of the Ausonians, after he was transformed into a bird by the sorceress Circe. The story is related in Ovid's 'Metamorphoses' (XIV, 416-34). As Bagni has pointed out to us, Antonio Tempesta (1555-1630), in his illustrated edition of the 'Metamorphoses' (title-page dated 1606), used the same iconography to depict Canens (Bartsch, 1808-21, XVII, p. 151, no. 774; Bartsch, 1983a, p. 78, no. 774 ).
At one time Guercino intended the composition to be oval, as is apparent from the curved lines in the lower and upper right-hand corners of the sheet. The allusion to flames might imply that the design was made for the decoration of a chimney-breast, though no such commission is known. From its style, the drawing may date from the mid-1630s.
Another drawing in red chalk, but on white paper, recently on the London art market (Sotheby's, London, 18 November 1982, lot 8, repr.), shows the figure without wings, and in a different pose. In the British Museum drawing, Guercino rejected a more dynamic pose for the figure, with the right arm raised (see the pentiment beneath her right wing), in favour of a symmetrical solution which more satisfactorily fills the pictorial field.
It is not possible to specify the lot number of the Christie's sale of 20 July 1859 of the 'Bouverie collection' under which this drawing was sold. The large group of Guercino drawings was divided up into forty-eight lots, each containing several items, with often only one drawing singled out in the description of the lot. However, it is likely that all the drawings by Guercino with the Bouverie stamp were included in that sale. As Mahon has argued (Mahon, 'Disegni', 1969, p. 174), the stamp was probably applied shortly before the 1859 sale, since many other drawings by Guercino with a Bouverie, Hervey and 1st Earl of Gainsborough provenance which were not put up for sale at that time do not have the same stamp (examples in the British Museum are 1989,0617.278, 1987,0725.47 and 1986,0621.1). It should be noted, however, that one drawing in the Museum, which was certainly among those in the 1859 sale, does not bear the Bouverie stamp (1859,0806.68). This is surely an exception. The drawing is little more than a scrap, and was evidently deemed of such insignificance as not to warrant stamping.
Literature: Robinson, Descriptive Catalogue of Drawings by the Old Masters, forming the Collection of John Malcolm of Poltalloch, Esq., London, 1869, no. 251; Robinson, Descriptive Catalogue of Drawings by the Old Masters, forming the Collection of John Malcolm of Poltalloch, Esq., 2nd Edition, London, 1876, no. 263; Mahon, Il Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, 1591-1666): Catalogo critico dei disegni, exh. cat., Bologno, Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio, 11 September -18 November 1968; second corrected edn, October 1969, under no. 25.
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number