Guercino’s “Aurora” Rediscovered and Reunited
Left: Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called il Guercino, “Aurora,” 1662, oil on canvas, 99.7 x 80 cm. Christopher Bishop Fine Art. Right: Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called il Guercino, “Allegory of Vigilance,” ca. 1662, red chalk on cream laid paper, 197 x 139 mm. Christopher Bishop Fine Art.

A 1662 painting of the Roman goddess Aurora by Guercino has been rediscovered — and reunited with its preparatory drawing. They are on public view in New York for the first time in hundreds of years, having been previously unknown to scholars. The works can be seen through February 15, 2020, at the new Manhattan location of Christopher Bishop Fine Art.

The painting, titled “Aurora,” by the eminent Italian Baroque painter Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1591–1666), also known as il Guercino, was previously untraced although it appears in the account books of Guercino. The pairing of the painting with its preparatory red chalk drawing, “Allegory of Vigilance,” represents a rare opportunity to study the dynamics of Guercino’s late working method.

The goddess of dawn, Aurora, is portrayed in both works with a full-throated crowing rooster proclaiming the start of the day behind her as the light of the rising sun catches the glint of her spear and the folds of her dress. Aurora’s stance projects an air of strength as her eyes look directly at the viewer. Guercino’s skillful, economic use of color belies the complexity of the work, with its brilliant capture of the mood of dawn. The artist’s use of yellows, purples, and oranges along with multiple shades of blue captures the potential power and opportunity of a new day.

Famous for his large-scale altarpieces in Italian churches, Guercino’s paintings and drawings can be found in museums around the world, and are known for their dramatic compositions, unique sensitivity, dynamic colors, and vivid use of light and shadow. Guercino is one of the most beloved painters of the Italian Baroque and has been the subject of a number of recent exhibitions, including at the Morgan Library and Museum, New York, and in his native Cento, Italy.

Christopher Bishop rediscovered the painting, but had to wait until the reemergence of the drawing at auction this past year to complete the picture of the commission. “The story of the work is a fascinating one, having been ordered by a Bolognese soldier as a personal emblem. The painting ‘Aurora’ is in fact noted in Guercino’s account book as a commission by the Capitano Raffaello Gabrielli, who owned several paintings by Guercino,” said Bishop. “The subject matter combines elements of natural history with allegory in a manner which should appeal to a large and diverse audience. The story it has to tell about feminine power and resolve is one which has a great deal of contemporary relevance.”

The rediscovery of “Aurora” represents an opportunity for both study and research that should lead to a better understanding of Guercino’s late period. “I would love to see both works go to an institution where they could live together and be exhibited together for future generations. She has such presence,” said Bishop.

The painting and drawing of Aurora have both been authenticated by the independent art historian Nicholas Turner, author of the Guercino catalogue raisonné and formerly the curator of drawings at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

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