Guido Reni was one of the highly successful artists who hailed from the Bolognese School f Painting. He was famous for executing a magnificent fresco called Aurora for the ceiling of Casino dell’Aurora in Rome. He began working on this masterpiece from 1613 and completed it by 1614, which was also the epitome of his career.
Reni found success in different cities, working as an Italian Baroque painter. He began his professional career in Rome, and then traveled to Naples and Bologna somewhere in between his middle years. His paintings mostly consisted of religious subjects and crafted them with his lyrical style to affect intense spirituality and transformative experience.
Some of Guido Reni’s surviving works today include the Penitent Magdalene (1635), The Suicide of Lucrezia (1640), Saint Sebastian, Judith, Crucifixion, Massacre of the Innocents (1611), among many others.
Raised in Bologna, Guido Reni was born on November 4, 1575 into a family of artists and musicians. His parents were Ginevra de’ Pozzi and Daniele Reni and together, they bore a large family with 9 children. Good thing Guido’s parents could afford to send him to the workshop of Denis Calvaert as an apprentice.
Working at Calvaert’s studio was Reni’s earliest training in painting. He then moved to the company of Domenichino and Albani while presumably attending some training sessions by Ferranti. He was at his early 20’s when he finished doing apprentice work before he found himself ready enough to pursue an independent career. It was also during this time when some students of Calvaert would have transferred to a rival studio Accademia degli Incamminati, which soon after became the Bolognese School of Painting.
With Albani as his company, Reni left Bologna to work on some commissions led by Annibale Carracci in 1601. The group was tasked to decorate the walls and ceilings of the Farnese Palace, with Paolo Emilio Sfondrati as their art patron. Sfondrati supported Reni’s independent career from 1601 to 1604, painting several frescoes for his properties.
Post Sfondrati, Reni came out as an emerging fresco painter and decorator. Short after his stint with Sfondrati he received a major commission by a religious group for which he was to make an altarpiece for St. Peter. He painted a Crucifixion and finished it by 1605. Around this year it is also believed that he went back to Bologna to take a break and be with his family.
Marked the advent of 1607 was the beginning of a new milestone for Reni as he was hired by Pope Paul V to work in Rome. His responsibilities largely involved painting frescoes for the ceiling of a garden palace called Casino dell’Aurora in Palazzo Pallavicini-Rospigliosi. This property was built through the sponsorship of the wealthy Cardinal Scipione Borghese, which the ante section offers an overlooking view of the Palazzo del Quirinale and Piazza Montecavallo.
The Aurora fresco tells a story of Apollo in his Chariot which is led by Aurora as she brings light to the earth. The style, motif and technique are very classical that it seems comparable to Carracci’s Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne. Reni colored with the characters and landscapes vibrantly and used tempera as a technique. He earned 54 baiocchi and 247 scudi upon completion of the project in 1616.
Aside from working on Casino dell’Aurora, Reni did some frescoes in Santa Maria Maggiore’s Paoline Chapel in Rome, too. He was also asked by the Vatican Palace to decorate the Aldobrandini with paintings before he left the city for Bologna.
Around 1616, Reni went to Naples to fresco the ceiling of San Gennaro and its chapel supposedly. However, unfortunately, Naples native painters like Riber and Corenzio were stern in stopping foreign artists from doing commissioned works there. Humor had it that the native painters threatened Reni with poisoning should he continue his work in Naples.
Therefore, Reni left Naples shortly after he arrived there and detoured to Bologna instead. Back home he opened his first studio. He also received a number of major commissions, one of which was for painting the cupola of Basilica of San Domenico’s chapel. He did this from 1613 to 1615 and the work is now popular for its radiant colors entitled St. Dominic’s Glory. Experts also believe that this work is comparable to another masterpiece Arca di San Domenico.
Next to San Domenico Basilica was a commission by religious organizations in Ravenna. He did some frescoes for several cathedrals and chapels in the said city. For example, he executed the Samson Victorious altarpiece for a cathedral, but what’s notable about this work is that it displayed the changes in Reni’s painting style. Although the said altarpiece had traces of Mannerist painting, it still appealed to the taste of the ecclesiastical.
In 1625, Polish Prince Wladslaw Sigismund Vasa paid a visit to Bologna as one of his destinations as he traveled throughout Europe. The young monarch took notice of Reni’s works and was impressed that he bought some paintings. This successful encounter was then followed by a commission in 1630, for which he executed the Pallion del Voto that featured St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius.
Reni’s studio had been enjoying a successful stint that it acquired some of the most promising young painters in the city. Simone Cantarini was one among these would-be great painters. He was asked to paint a quality portrait of Reni which is now at the Bolognese Gallery. Other esteemed students of Reni’s studio include Francesco Gessi, Antonio Buonfanti, Marco Bandinelli and Giacomo Semenza. These painters primarily painted saints, cardinals and biblical characters, which was also the main subject of Reni.
During the last two decades of Reni’s life, he’d been busy with managing his own studio while doing some more commissioned works. He began adapting to changes in the Italian painting style and approach as the industry then enters into Baroque.
In 1620, Reni changed his theme from intense spirituality to sentimental theatrics. Some of his most famous works of this theme are Salome, Lucrezia and Cleopatra and Judith. From then on Reni enjoyed the fruits of his labor through the strong presence of his studio and reputation throughout Bologna. He died in 1642 in his hometown and was buried beside Elisabetta Sirani. His remains were buried in Basilica of San Domenico’s Rosary Chapel.