The Annunciation
    by Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri)
Italian, 1591-1666
SN 122, Oil on Canvases 1628/29

by Robert Anderson.

Guercino was one of the leading painters of the 17th century and one of the most accomplished draughtsmen of the Italian Baroque.

His paintings show a command of the subtle effects of light and dark, with his figures revealing a wide variety of gesture and expression, the result of the artist's grasp of human psychology.

Largely self-taught, Guercino was influenced early on by Ludovico Carracci and his cousin Annibale. What seemed to attract patrons to Guercino paintings was their bold naturalism, broad brushwork, powerful chiaroscuro and daring compositional inventiveness.

Guercino's style changed dramatically during his long career. His early works are robust in handling, rich in muted colors and dramatic in lighting and composition. He developed a dark, painterly manner which can be seen in the Ringling Annunciation, however, after a stay in Rome (1621-23) his paintings began to alter as he came under a more classical style. There was a lightening of his palette and a tendency to make the spatial setting of his figures more lucid. The Annunciation is a harmonious expression of all the forces that shaped Guercino's mature art.

After the death of Guido Reni in 1642 Guercino moved from Cento to Bologna where he took over the studio of Reni and became the city's principal painter for the next quarter century. Guercino was also one of the most brilliant draughtsmen of his age.

The Annunciation is described in the Gospel of St. Luke - Chapter I Verses 26-38. The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a virgin named Mary in the town of Nazareth in Gallilee. He announced to Mary that she would bare a son whose name would be Jesus. He would be the son of God. Mary asked how this could be as she was a virgin and was told that it would be done through the power of the Highest the Holy Ghost. She was also told that her older cousin Elizabeth who had been childless was now in her sixth month of pregnancy through the power of God. Elizabeth's son was to be John the Baptist, the prophet who announced the coming of Jesus as the Son of God.

The painting consists of two monumental canvases which were commissioned to be hung over a sanctuary arch in the church of Santa Croce in Reggio Emilio near Bologna.

Mary is seen kneeling on the steps of an abstract architectural setting against an expanse of sky rather than in the scene's customary interior. The oversized angel fills the whole left side of the picture. Guercino made effective use of interval between the two figures. The gap serves to carry the message from the angel to the Virgin, whose gesture reflects her reception of its importance. The Holy Ghost in the form of a dove hovers above.

This painting reflects the baroque classicism of Annibale Carracci, whose style of rugged naturalism influenced Guercino early on. We see in the picture a classicism, however, which tames the baroque dynamism usually seen in a rendering of the subject. The angel in profile is classical as is the Virgin's subdued humility. The figures have a rounded fleshiness and the idealized features that are typical of Guercino's work of around the 1620's. These figures also remind one of the realism of Caravaggio in their physical solidity and dramatic presence.

Historical Context:
This painting was purchased in 1804 by a British collector, Sir Richard Worsley, when he was a resident in Venice. It was taken to Britain and remained there as Guercino's paintings were greatly admired in Britain during the 18th century. John Ringling purchased the painting in 1929 and had reproductions of the original frames made by local craftsmen.