Guido Reni (4 November 1575 – 18 August 1642) was a Baroque painter whose main body of work consisted of religious figures. Reni also painted mythological and allegorical works. While living in Rome some time ago, I would often walk past the Palazzo Spada on my way to some extraordinary restaurant or other and wonder in awe at it. Cardinal Spada bought this building in 1632 and commissioned Fransesco Borromini to create the masterful forced perspective optical illusion in the arcaded courtyard. Borromini used a rising floor and diminishing rows of columns to create an illusion of a 37 metre gallery, when in fact the gallery itself is only 8 metres long. See it below.

For this post I should like to focus on Reni’s wonderful portrait of Cardinal Bernadino Spada, the owner and commissioner of this wonderful gallery in the heart of Rome. This painting is the iconic depiction of Cardinal Spada and a key piece in Reni’s body of work. The cardinal is depicted looking stern and occupied, mid letter. Though I do not understand why the nib of the quill is so near the middle of the page when the last sentence seems to have been written at the top. Another sacred mystery I suppose.

Observe the perfect crease in the centre of his Hat and the way the shade from the light source to the right is depicted. Similarly, look at the way the shadow from his nose falls across his face. The folds in the fabric from his odd seated position are also very fine indeed. Look at the astounding way in which the felt on the chair is rendered. It looks so real. The folds in the white cotton, the way the silk appears almost as though it is moving, the simplicity of the background as contrasted with the complexity of the subject – everything about this portrait is exceptionally fine.

I thought it might be interesting to include another portrait of Cardinal Spada, painted the same year (1631), by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, known as Guercino. This portrait was commissioned directly by Pope Urban VIII. I won’t go into too much detail, but observe the stern look. This translates to me as almost scornful, or as though the audience are being rebuked for disturbing the cardinal at work with blue prints in hand. This looks to be the blue print for the central quad of St Peter’s Basilica, but this was completed in 1626, five years prior to this painting. Observe the richness of the colour used and the beauty of the light hitting the folds in the cloth. The casting of shadow is quite similar to Reni’s work above. This is likely because both artists were from Bologna and will have been influenced by the Bolognese School of painting, which rivalled Rome and Florence between the 16th and 17th century. Important representatives of this school include the Carracci family, who were instrumental in the progression of the Baroque style.

I hope this post has been as enlightening for you as it has been for me. A lot of research goes into this blog in an effort to be factual and accurate in a world which seems to have disconnected from reality. Until next we meet…