Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) (Italian, Ferrarese, 1591–1666)
Oil on canvas
140 x 106 in. (355.6 x 269.2 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1973 (1973.311.3)
Luigi Gonzaga (born 1568) was the eldest son of Ferdinando Gonzaga, marquis of Castiglione. Determined to enter the Church, he resigned the marquisate in favor of his younger brother, and in 1585 entered the Jesuit novitiate in Rome, where he devoted himself to the care of the poor until he died of the plague in 1591. He was beatified in 1621 and canonized in 1726. Guercino's altarpiece was commissioned for the Church of the Theatines at Guastalla in 1650 by Don Ferrante III Gonzaga, duke of Guastalla. An angel holds a heavenly wreath over the saint's head, while at his feet is a sheaf of lilies, representing chastity, and a crown, symbolizing the marquisate he had renounced. Guercino's late style, with its clear colors, even lighting, and restrained gestures, contrasts with the dramatic staging and naturalistic slant of his early work (for example, Samson Captured by the Philistines, 1984.459.2). The change was remarked upon by contemporaries and is linked to a desire for narrative clarity and devotional affect.