Guido Reni in Rome. The Sacred and Nature

More than thirty years after the last Italian exhibition dedicated to the 17th-century master, over 30 works celebrate the genius of Guido Reni and his mastery of landscape painting.
The exhibition revolves around the painting Danza campestre (Country Dance), which became part of the Borghese collection a year ago thanks to its acquisition, a fundamental element in reconstructing the early years of the artist’s stay in Rome.

Rome –  With Guido Reni in Rome. Il Sacro e la Natura – curated by Francesca Cappelletti – from 1 March to 22 May 2022 the Galleria Borghese will be inaugurating the first of a series of international exhibitions devoted to the Italian seventeenth-century master, more than thirty years after his last major exhibition in Italy.
The exhibition revolves around Reni’s rediscovered painting Danza campestre (1605 circa), which has been part of the museum’s collection for the past year. Belonging to the collection of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, mentioned in ancient inventories since the early seventeenth century, sold in the nineteenth century, first dispersed, and then reappeared in 2008 on the London antiques market as an anonymous Bolognese, the painting, after appropriate attribution checks, was bought back by the Gallery in 2020. As well as representing an important historical addition to the museum’s holdings, its presence in the rooms of the Pinacoteca alongside the other paintings in the collection underlines the fundamental importance of the Borghese commission for Guido Reni and offers the opportunity to reflect on the painter’s relationship with rural subjects and landscape painting, which until now were considered “extraneous” to his production.
Guido Reni in Rome. Il Sacro e la Natura (The Sacred and Nature), through the exhibition of over 30 works, attempts to reconstruct – starting from Reni’s interest in landscape painting in relation to other painters working in Rome in the early 17th century – the early years of the artist’s stay in Rome, his passionate study of antiquity and the Renaissance, his astonishment at the painting of Caravaggio, whom he knew and frequented, and his relations with his patrons.
The exhibition opens on the ground floor in the large entrance hall with four monumental altarpieces – the Crucifixion of St. Peter (1604-5), the Trinity with the Madonna of Loreto and the commissioner Cardinal Antonio Maria Gallo (c. 1603-4), the Martyrdom of St. Catherine of Alexandria (c. 1606) and the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist (c. 1606). a) and the Martyrdom of St Cecilia (1601) – which show the artist’s ability, already developed in the years before his arrival in Rome, to deal with this type, to touch the soul through the solemnity and power of his perfect figures, and also reveal much about Reni’s relationship with his patrons: Paolo Emilio Sfondrato, Antonio Maria Gallo, Ottavio Costa and Pietro Aldobrandini.
In the adjoining rooms, works such as the Slaughter of the Innocents (1611) and St. Paul Reprimands Penitent St. Peter (c. 1609) confirm how the basis of Reni’s painting was in the past. ) confirm that at the basis of Guido Reni’s Roman painting, but also of that which goes a little further in the years, such as Lot and his daughters and Atalanta and Ippomene (1615-20), there is a strong attraction to the sculptor’s craft, demonstrated by the position of the bodies in space, the three-dimensional concreteness of the gestures, the expressions on the faces which, masterfully, fix a specific emotion forever. On the first floor, in the second part of the exhibition, generous loans and the Gallery’s exceptional collections allow for paths and digressions around the theme of landscape and the collection’s latest acquisition, the Danza Campestre: in the Sala del Lanfranco, to highlight the practice of landscape painting in Rome in the first decade of the 17th century, some of the necessary Emilian premises are exhibited, from Niccolò dell’Abate’s Landscape with Deer Hunt to Agostino Carracci’s Country Feast (1584), some paintings by Paul Bril part of the Gallery’s collection, and Landscape with Abandoned Ariadne and Landscape with Salmace and Hermaphrodite (1606- 8 c. a), two of the six landscapes with mythological stories by Carlo Saraceni, formerly part of the Farnese collection, from the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte.
There are also some late and literary experiments by Bolognese painters, from the four tondi by Francesco Albani – landscapes painted in 1621 for Scipione Borghese and inhabited by goddesses and nymphs – to Domenichino’s Landscape with Silvia and the Satyr (1615) from the Pinacoteca di Bologna, evidence of an interest that continued in the decades following those first intense moments of the century.
The journey between Guido Reni and his contemporaries, between landscape and figure, ends in Rome with the fresco painted between 1613 and 1614 in the casino of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, now Pallavicini Rospigliosi. Between the frescoes by Paul Brill and Antonio Tempesta, Reni imagines the rising of the Sun, surrounded by the Hours and preceded by Aurora, leaving a glimpse of a seascape in the background that takes us back to the Danza campestre (Country Dance), now back in Scipione Borghese’s home, which concludes the exhibition.
The fresco, one of the artist’s greatest masterpieces, ideally represents the end of the painter’s fruitful but tormented relationship with the Borghese family, and of his first, fundamental stay in Rome.

At the beginning of the 17th century, the young Guido Reni arrived in Rome, a city of comparison and challenge for artists, probably invited by Cardinal Paolo Emilio Sfondrato, whom he had met in Bologna in 1598. The latter, nephew of Pope Gregory XIV, visited Bologna in the retinue of Clement VIII, and came into contact with Reni, who asked him for a copy of Raphael’s Ecstasy of Saint Cecilia. This version, which arrived in the city, anticipated the arrival of its author, who remained there, with frequent interruptions, until 1614. His stay was initially marked by a series of works with religious subjects, some of which were executed on behalf of Cardinal Sfondrato who, in 1608, sold part of his collection to Scipione Borghese. The Crucifixion of St. Peter dates back to 1604, which marks a moment of close comparison with Caravaggio and of ardent experimentation in his youth. The canvas – commissioned by Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini for the Abbey of San Paolo alle Tre Fontane – together with other works such as David with the Head of Goliath (1605), reveals Reni’s attention not only to Caravaggio but also to the modes of other contemporary artists, which, reworked, would lead to his unique and admired way of painting, in which Caravaggio’s dramatic chiaroscuro is grafted onto the lesson of Ludovico Carracci.
Another crucial moment in his Roman sojourn, highlighted by the exhibition, is his relationship with the Genoese banker Ottavio Costa, a collector and patron who played a fundamental role in Rome, not least because of his unscrupulous use of copies of his paintings, such as Caravaggio’s Saint Francis in Ecstasy and Saint John the Baptist. The names of Reni and Caravaggio are found side by side, together with that of Annibale Carracci, in Costa’s papers, and they return to be so in the considerations of other important figures in the cultural history of this extraordinary period, such as Marquis Vincenzo Giustiniani.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue published by Marsilio with texts by, among others, Daniele Benati, Raffaella Morselli and Maria Cristina Terzaghi; an innovative reinterpretation of the Maestro’s work through a scientific study of Guido Reni as a landscape painter. In order to allow the widest possible access to the exhibition and to support cultural consumption, the Galleria Borghese management has chosen not to apply a surcharge to the cost of the ticket, which will therefore remain unchanged and will allow access to the exhibition and the permanent collection.

Exhibition info

Guido Reni in Rome. The Sacred and Nature

1 March – 22 May 2022

Borghese Gallery

Piazzale Scipione Borghese 5


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