Guido Reni, Self portrait, 1601, oil on canvas, 64,5 x 52 cm. London, Private collection

Guido Reni was born in Bologna in 1575, by Daniele Reni musician and master of the Chapel of San Petronio, and Ginevra Pozzi. In 1584 he abandoned his studies of music and entered as an apprentice in the workshop of the Flemish painter Denijs Calvaert, where he met other artists destined for great success, the young Francesco Albani and Domenichino. In 1594 he left the workshop to enter the Accademia degli Incamminati, the school of painting founded by the Carracci in 1582, where he deepened the study of oil painting and engraving with a burin. 

1601 is indicated as his first stay in Rome, called by Cardinal Sfondrato to realize in Santa Cecilia in Trastevere the Martyrdom of St. Cecilia, the Coronation of Saints Cecilia and Valerian and the copy of the painting of the Ecstasy of St. Cecilia with four saints by Raphael, now in San Luigi dei Francesi. In 1602 he returned to Bologna for the funeral of Agostino Carracci, for which he engraved the decorations. 

To 1605 dates another important Roman work, the Crucifixion of St. Peter, made on behalf of Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini for the church of San Paolo alle Tre Fontane and now at the Vatican Pinacoteca: according to Malvasia, would be the result of a suggestion of Cavalier d’Arpino to damage Caravaggio, author of the same subject in Santa Maria del Popolo. 

The fame of Guido Reni is now consolidated to the point that in 1608 he returned to Rome and Pope Paul V Borghese entrusted him with the decoration of the Room of the Aldobrandini Wedding and the Hall of the Ladies in the Vatican Palaces. Between 1609 and 1610 is another important papal commission in Rome, the decoration of the chapel of the Annunciation in the Quirinal Palace, completed, among others, with Francesco Albani, Antonio Carracci and Giovanni Lanfranco. Another commission by the Borghese in that period was the Pauline Chapel in Santa Maria Maggiore, where the artist’s limited intervention took place between 1610 and 1612.

Directly for Cardinal Scipione he painted the fresco of Aurora in the Casino al Quirinale – today Palazzo Pallavicini Rospigliosi – completed in 1614.

From this date the artist leaves Rome and returns to Bologna, the city where he had already executed two of the most important paintings, The Massacre of the Innocents (1610, today Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna) and Victorious Samson. 

In the second decade of the century Reni realizes in the Emilian city, other fundamental paintings that become the prototype for many seventeenth-century works such as the altarpiece the Four Patron Saints of the City in the church of the Mendicanti in Bologna, commissioned by the Senate of Bologna, the Crucifixion, now at the Pinacoteca Nazionale, and the Assumption of the Virgin in Genoa, and in 1615 the Glory of San Domenico in the church of the same name, begun in 1613 and interrupted because of frequent trips to Rome. The work in progress immediately needed the collaboration of colleagues, assistants and young practitioners: Malvasia comes to speak of two hundred students, although the number only confirms the great fame and recognition achieved.

After brief stays in Mantua and Naples, he was back in Rome in 1625 where he created the marvellous altarpiece of the Trinity for the Church of the Pilgrims and received numerous commissions, including the never completed frescoes of the Stories of Attila in St. Peter’s, commissioned by Cardinal Barberini, nephew of the new pontiff; the Portrait of Cardinal Bernardino Spada preserved in the homonymous Roman Gallery, a gift of the painter to his friend cardinal and papal legate in Bologna and the iconic Archangel Michael on silk, for Cardinal Antonio Barberini, brother of Pope Urban VIII, considered an example of ideal beauty for the church of the order in Rome. 

He died “by fever” in 1642, at 67 years old and is buried in the chapel of the Rosary of the Basilica of San Domenico in Bologna.


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