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Virtuoso Guercino

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More than 350 authentic paintings that include the depiction of a great variety subjects, from mythological to historical to religious, have been identified to date as his. Powerful religious and political figures were impressed with his masterful artistic skills. But even more so, these luminaries were attracted to his innovative ability to express religious ideas and implant political meanings into his work that accorded with their ideals. His virtuosity allowed him to paint for the likes of high-ranking men such as popes, bishops and papal legates (cardinals), who actively advanced his career and status and allowed him great success. Praised by Ludovico Carracci as “a prodigy of nature” was Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, who is better known as (Il) Guercino. Guercino’s Samson Captured by the Philistines, 1619, exemplifies the nature of art during the Baroque period because of its ability to engage the viewer both physically and emotionally. One of Italian art's great draftsmen, a largely self-taught artist, Giovanni Francesco Barbieri was born in the town of Cento in Emilia-Romagna (Italy) in 1591. He was known by his nickname, Il Guercino (the Squinter), because of a childhood accident that made him cross-eyed. As a painter Guercino worked in different styles during his long and successful career. Earlier in his career, he combined several disparate influences of Carravaggio, the Carracci who so expertly accomplished the use of chiaroscuro and great 16th-century Venetian masters like Titian, who mastered the use of foreshortening and Tintoretto, whose dramatic use of perspective space and special lighting effects, to create works that are among some of the masterpieces of the Baroque period. Cento is a town located directly in between Bologna and Ferrara, both of which at the time were becoming flourishing local hubs for the humanities. Local artists in Cento helped lay a basic groundwork for Guercino to build his skills upon. It was the work of Ludovico Carracci that was crucial to the formation of Guercino’s early artistic ideas and he greatly admired Carracci’s work. In the year of his birth Carracci sent his altarpiece the “Virgin and Child with Saints Joseph and Francis to a church in Cento. Guercino later referred to this work as his “artistic mother” and then sought out Ludovico in Bologna in 1615. Although, there was no formal record of Guercino’s apprenticeship, he was clearly familiar with the master’s paintings and drawings. Ludovico praised Guercino in a letter to an agent in 1617 as “a great draughtsman and a felicitous colorist: he’s a freak of nature and a miracle who astonishes all who see his work. I’ll say nothing more: he’ll make the finest painters look like fools; you’ll see when you return.” It is believed that somewhere between 1617 and 1618, while in Bologna, the papal legate of Ferrara, Cardinal Jacopo Serra, caught wind about Guercino, invited him to Ferrara, and began to commission him for several different works of art. Guercino most likely knew that Cardinal Serra had been Peter Paul Rubens’ most eloquent advocate in Rome, and helped Rubens to obtain the commission to paint the high altar of the Chiesa Nuova (a church in Rome that is rather important to this time period). Cardinal Serra was extremely enthused and pleased with several of Guercino’s commissioned works and in 1620 made him a Knight of the Papal Order of the Golden Spur – a very high honor. Also known as the Order of the Golden Militia,” it is a papal order of chivalry conferred upon those who have rendered distinguished service in propagating the Catholic faith, or who have contributed to the glory of the Church, either by feat of arms, by writings, or by other illustrious acts. With that Knight-ship, he joined an elite status that at the time included notable recipients such as Raphael, Titian, and Julius Casesar. Under Cardinal Serra’s patronage Guercino produced the works of art that made him a famous painter (even though at the time he was still very young) one of which was Samson Captured by the Philistines. Guercino lived all his life under papal rule. He began his artistic career during the reign of Pope Paul V (Camillo Borghese, 1605–21), who advocated a vigorous anti-Protestant policy. Like his predecessors, Paul V longed for a quick Catholic victory that would dismiss the Protestants once and for all and restore Catholic hegemony in Western Europe. In Daniel M. Unger’s book Guercino’s Paintings and His Patrons’ Politics in Early Modern Italy, it is stated: “In modern scholarship it is always the patron who is regarded as the dominant factor in the production of a work of art, guiding the artist and his work. The artist is perceived as having played the relatively minor role of executing what has been commissioned; the reasons for the work, the ideas behind it, and its goal—all stem from the desires and aspirations of the patron. Even the stylistic component is seen as part of the broad political manipulation.” However, in the instance of Samson Captured by the Philistines, Guercino was able to explore disparate styles that helped him express his independence and declare his own originality while still implanting the religious and political ideas of Cardinal Jacopo Serra into the art. The historical context for this piece arose during the Catholic Counter Reformation. In this time Catholic Church attempted to bring back followers lost during the Protestant Reformation. Furthermore, as Papal governor, Serra was responsible for dealing with the Hebrews that lived in Ferrara. The Hebrews enjoyed relative freedom under the previous dukes, but the Papal Legation was much more strict. “According to the Constitution of Clement VIII of 1598, the Hebrews, compelled to register with the Vice Legate and Inquisitor of the city, had to wear yellow badges, so they could be identifiably distinguished from Christians. The Papal Legation also initiated the confiscation and sale of land and goods acquired by Jews under the Estense dukes, prohibited usury, censored Hebrew books such as the Talmud, and closed many synagogues.” Despite this repression, the only mission of the Catholic Church was to convert and baptize the Jews. My belief is that the idea behind the painting was to express the power of the Catholic Church over the Hebrews (and/or Protestants). The Philistines represent the Catholic Church and Samson represents the Hebrews (and/or Protestants), where the Philistines greatly outnumber Samson. In 1619, Guercino painted Samson Captured by the Philistines, a majestic oil painting done on canvas (specifically 75 1/4 x 93 1/4 in. or 191.1 x 236.9 cm). Here is a story of real gore, violence and deceit; love used for the purpose of deceit. After being monetarily bribed by Philistine leaders she used her powers of seduction and deception, and persistently wore down Samson with her repeated requests, until he finally divulged the crucial information about his strength. When Samson told Delilah that his strength would leave him if a razor were to be used on his head, she cunningly crafted her plan with the Philistine rulers to betray Samson. After making Samson fall asleep in her lap, Delilah called in her co-conspirators to shave off seven braids of his hair. Subdued and weak, Samson was captured and his eyes were gouged out. This entire scene is unbelievable because Guercino brings it to life physically and emotionally. First, Guercino brings the scene to life physically through his mastery of figure and of dramatic movement. The entire scene is chaotic and the struggle takes up almost the entire painting, all of which is full of movement. Samson’s torso, the focus of the painting is gyrating, his entire form stretched out trying to escape. He manages to have one arm outstretched and grabs at the face of a Philistine in attempt to push him away, which creates a sense of fast and frantic movement instead of posing. Samson’s figure is majestic, with an extraordinary, immensely powerful upper body – almost classical in style and nature, except not quite ideal or god-like. His lower body, while still muscular, is covered in dirt and he is therefore still human. This idea of painting the characters as the eye sees them, instead of as idealized, god-like creations, was Guercino’s exploration of naturalism in this piece. Similar to Samson, the men attacking him are expressed in a naturalistic manner as well. In the Biblical version of the story, the men are described as ‘Philistine leaders and rulers.’ Instead of being depicted as young, vigorous, powerful and ideal men, they are different ages, some older, some with gray seeping through their full beards and all have wrinkles spreading over their hands and necks – much more like a common man. Their clothes also have a look of being worn and tattered. Guercino is also able to emotionally and psychologically challenge the viewer in so many ways. The scene is very dramatic and unfolds right in front of your eyes. It’s as if Guercino captured one specific moment of the attack that would have been missed with the blink of an eye. Guercino first psychologically challenges us with the unique way he decided to portray the picture; with Samson’s back facing towards us. This leaves seemingly the most important moment of the story, the gouging of Samson’s eyes, up to the viewer’s imagination. This psychological aspect of the work directly intensifies the viewer’s emotions. The way in which Guercino uses chiaroscuro is spectacular as he brilliantly contrasts between light and dark. For example, Delilah’s character gives off a “good vs. evil” vibe as one side of her face is lit up while the other side is unable to be seen because of the sharp contrast of darkness. Without even knowing the story behind the painting, she can be construed as playing a negative role in this story. The light is seemingly coming from the left side of the painting and focuses the viewer's attention on Samson's back as there seems to be a heavy, bright beam, shining down on it. Like Caravaggio’s extreme contrasts of light and dark, Guercino’s lighting is almost impossible to explain, as it resembles neither daylight nor the available sources of artificial light. Its quite interesting because in the upper right hand corner, a ominously morose, dark set of clouds can be seen, which would make one think the scene should be completely dark. However, transitions from light to dark are blurred, with patches of a smoke-like haziness (also known in the textbook as sfumato) – so that the transient lighting suggests that it’s a partly cloudy day and small clouds are passing overhead. Guercino’s great talents are made obvious through Samson's panic and the determination of the Philistines. His efforts truly brought to life this moment and made it possible to experience its excitement, pain, and despair. Guercino adds to the drama and tension we are already feeling through the high dramatization and exaggerated expressions on the Philistine faces. His abilities to engage the viewer both physically and emotionally, to express figures in realistic and naturalistic ways, to extensively use foreshadowing and foreshortening techniques, to brilliantly contrast between light and dark values and to allow us to feel the exhilaration and thrill of this tale truly prove that he was a master of the Baroque period.

Works Cited

Griswold, William M. "Guercino - New Series, Volume 48 No.4." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 1991: 1+. JSTOR. Web. 8 Apr. 2011. <>.

"Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri): Samson Captured by the Philistines (1984.459.2) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Web. 4 Apr. 2011. <>.

Harris, Ann Sutherland. Seventeenth-century art & architecture. London, UK: Laurence King Publishing Ltd, 2005. 72. Print.

“The Order of the Golden Spur.” The Knights of Christ’s Mercy, The Spanish Orthodox Church and EACS. 2010. Web. 11 Apr. 2011.

Perlove, Shelley Karen. "Power and Religious Authority in Papal Ferrara: Cardinal Serra and Guercino." Konsthistorisk Tidskrift 1999: 19-30. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Prasad, Shilpa. Guercino: Stylistic Evolution in Focus. San Diego, CA: Timken Museum of Art, 2006. 14-22. Print.

Roth, Cecil. The History of the Jews of Italy. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1969. Print.

"Samson Captured by the Philistines | The Philippe De Montebello Years | Special Exhibitions | The Metropolitan Museum of Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: 2000-2011. Web. 4 Apr. 2011.

Unger, Daniel M. “Introduction.” Guercino's Paintings and His Patrons: Politics in Early Modern Italy. Surrey, UK, England: Ashgate, 2009. 1-22. Print.

[ 1 ]. Unger, Daniel M. “Introduction.” Guercino's Paintings and His Patrons: Politics in Early Modern Italy.
[ 2 ]. Roth, Cecil. The History of the Jews of Italy.
[ 3 ]. "Samson Captured by the Philistines | The Philippe De Montebello Years | Special Exhibitions | The Metropolitan Museum of Art."
[ 4 ]. Prasad, Shilpa. Guercino: Stylistic Evolution in Focus.…...

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Arturo Sadoval

...improvising in a ballad. However, that is not the entire scope of his talents. One of his most overlooked talents is his composing. Sandoval, for more than two decades has composed and enjoyed the beautiful world of creation. His written composition that range from a lush ballad, to straight-ahead jazz piece, as son montuno (typically Cuban music), Samba, Latin Jazz and a classical concert (recorded with the London Symphony). Arturo Sandoval reaches beyond the scope of mere effort. His struggles while in Cuba and since his defection have given him more energy and strength, urging him to accomplish and surpass his childhood dreams. Filled with virtuoso capability, he desires nothing more than to share his gift with other who feels the same intense adoration for music as he does. One frequently speaks of Arturo Sandoval’s virtuoso technical ability and his specialty in his notes, but he who has seen him on the piano, lyrically improvising a ballad, or has had the opportunity to enjoy the diversity of his music, through his compositions from the most straight ahead jazz, Latin jazz or classical, knows Arturo Sandoval is a prominent musician, and one recognizes the Arturo is one of the most brilliant and proliferous musicians of our time. Listened to Arturo Sandoval’s 2003 album “Trumpet Evolutions, The Essential Trumpet Collection” song “Manteca” composed by Chano Pozo. Although this is a remake from Dizzy Gillespie’s original “Manteca”, it still had the upbeat Latin......

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