A fragment of Henrietta Maria's lost Guido Reni?
May 29 2012
There's an intriguing lot coming up at Sotheby's New York next month, catalogued as 'Attributed to Guido Reni'. The picture purports to be a fragment from Guido Reni's long-lost 1637-40 painting Bacchus and Ariadne on the Island of Naxos, which was commissioned by Queen Henrietta Maria. It never arrived in London because of the Civil War, and not long after Henrietta Maria's death was cut up due to its salacious nature. The composition is known from an engraving (below). From the Sotheby's catalogue:
The present composition would appear to be the right hand extremity of Reni's original Bacchus and Ariadne, showing two faun followers of Bacchus with Silenus beyond, on his donkey, supported by two putti. Upon firsthand inspection of the work both Keith Christiansen and David Stone recognized the hand of Guido Reni in the faces of the fauns and in the hands holding the tambourine though suggested, as with the majority of Guido's large scale compositions, the likely involvement of his studio in the execution of certain passages. Camillo Manzitti, meanwhile is in favor of a full attribution to Guido Reni, believing this work to indeed be a fragment of the original. He furthermore suggested that the addition to the right edge of the painting was executed in order to centralize the figures within the composition andto avoid any concealment of Silenus by an eventual framing of the work.
Although there are indeed variances in detail between Bolognini's engraving and the present composition, these would appear incidental. The drapery over the hip of the right hand figure may have been added later and so too the still life of flask and glass of wine, perhaps subsequent to the painting's division in order to bestow the fragment with the more cohesive and traditional composition of a Bacchanal. Yet the presence of a tambourine, under the feet of the larger faun and still visible to the naked eye below the paint surface, provides a compelling argument in favor ofthe fragment's origin. This corresponds with the engraving closely and may have been covered over at the time the other changes were made. This Two Fauns in a Bacchic Dance is not the first fragment from the composition tosurvive; in 2002, Denis Mahon and Andrea Emiliani discovered a fragment portraying the beautiful and vulnerable figure of Ariadne, now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna.The addition to the left hand edge of the Ariadnecanvas shows that, far from being obliterated, the canvas had been carefully cut to preserve the figures, presumablyto facilitate their sale as individual fragments. It too is painted on a heavy weave canvas that appears to correspond to that used in the present picture.
The estimate is $100,000-150,000. The picture has been given several cleaning tests, presumably to tempt the trade. It's hard to be conclusive from the photo, but the drapery over the larger faun's groin appears to be a later addition. In which case, the painting is closer to the engraving. I find the case quite convincing.