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 Guercino (Italian painter and draftsman, 1591-1666) , Erminia and the Shepherd

Core Record

Title Erminia and the Shepherd
Collection Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Artist Guercino (Italian painter and draftsman, 1591-1666)
Date Earliest about 1620
Date Latest about 1620
Signed yes
Description The painting was commissioned in 1619 by Cardinal Prince Ferdinando Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua who allowed the artist to choose his own subject. The picture was almost certainly intended to hang in the Villa Favorita near Mantua, used by the Duke as a retreat and showcase for his magnificent art collection and library. Barbieri, also know as Il Guercino (the Squint-Eyed), delivered the painting in person and was knighted by the Duke.

The scene is taken from Torquato Tasso's epic poem, La Gerusalemme Liberata published in 1575. Erminia, a pagan princess in love with the crusader, Tancred, disguises herself in armour to follow him. She is chased from the Christian camp and flees to Arcadia where she finds an old shepherd weaving baskets. They sit and discuss the merits of the simple, pastoral life and the virtue of poverty. The subject allowed the artist to depict a charming allegory of youth and age with the figure of the ragged old man contrasted with the pretty armoured heroine. Her disguise adds an element of farcical humour in its reversal of gender roles, a popular theme amongst the playwrights of the period.

Current Accession Number 1962P17
Former Accession Number P.1762
Inscription front ll (on the knife) 'I[...]162[...][?]'
Subject literature (Erminia and the Shepherd)
Measurements 149.0 x 178 cm.0 cm (estimate)
Material oil on canvas
Acquisition Details Purchased from P. & D. Colnaghi with the aid of the National Art-Collections Fund 1962.
Provenance Ferdinando Gonzaga, 6th Duke of Mantua; Gonzaga Inventory 1627, no. 236; Comte de Vaudreuil sale Paris, 26 November 1787, lot 2; Labord de Mereville sale 11 August 1803, lot 22, bought by Alexandre LeBorde [par] Regnault, 1820f; Miss F. Mordaunt (;); Mrs Macpherson; Phillips Son and Neal, 1961.
Principal Exhibitions Paintings by Old Masters, Colnaghi's, 1962, cat. no. 8; Gifts to the Galleries, Walker Art Gallery, 1968, cat. no. 39; Old Masters from Birmingham, Wildenstein and Company, 1970, cat. no. 12; Splendours of the Gonzaga, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1981, cat. no. 267; Il Guercino, Palazzo Archiginasio, 1968, cat. no. 37; Guercino in Britain, National Gallery, London, 1991, cat. no.6; Il Guercino. Dipinti e Disegni, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Rome, 1991, cat. no. 40; Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, Il Guercino, Schirn Kunstalle, Frankfurt, 1991 - 1992, cat. no. 24; Guercino. Master Painter of the Baroque, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992, cat. no. 20; Il Museo dei Gonzago, Palazzo del Te, Mantua, 2002, cat. no. 24; The National Art Collections Fund Centenary Exhibition, Hayward Gallery, London, 2003 - 2004.
Publications Malvasia, C., Felsina Pittrice, 1678, pl. II, p.363; Bertolotii, A., Artisti in Relazione Con il Gonzaga, 1885, pp. 59-60; Luzio, A., La Galleria dei Gonzaga, 1913, p.106; Mahon, D., Il Guercino, 1968, pp. 48-9, 75-6; Salerno, L., I Dipinti del Guercino, Ugo Bozzi Editore, 1988; Askew, P. 'Ferdinando Gonzaga's Patronage of the Pictorial Arts: The Villa Favorita', The Art Bulletin, vol. 60, 1978, p. 288; Dipinti del Guercino, 1988, p. 61; Foreign Paintings in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, A Summary Catalogue, 1983, no. 77, ill.; Eidelberg, M. and E. W. Rowlands, 'The Dispersal of the Last Duke of Mantua's Paintings',Extrait de la Gazette des Beaux-Arts, May - June, 1994, p. 262.
Notes This was not among the pictures sold from Mantua to King Charles I of Britain in 1627-8 and does not appear in Gonzaga inventories of 1665, 1706 and 1709. Possibly in the collection of M. Louvois in France in the early eighteenth century.
Rights Owner Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Author Dr Patricia Smyth



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