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GUIDO RENI, usually called Guido, was born at Bologna, in 1574. At an early age he was placed by his father under Denis Calvert, a Flemish painter of great reputation, whom he soon quitted, to enter himself in the school of the Caracci. The style of these eminent masters, who held him in great esteem, he for a time carefully studied; but these illustrious artists, becoming jealous of his success, he was induced to adopt the manner. of Caravaggio, which, at the instigation of Annibal Caracci, he soon after relinquished, and fixed on a manner peculiar to himself. It is to this style, at once easy, graceful, and magnificent, that he owes his present celebrity, and is ranked among the first and best artists of his age.
Guido was the rival and friend of Albani, and travelled with him to Rome, where he was received by Josepin as one capable of exciting the envy of Caravaggio. To expose the defects of this master, he, in fact, took pleasure in displaying the new manner of Guido. From a spirit of resentment, Caravaggio treated him with marked indifference, which hastened, it is imagined, his return to Bologna. But his fame, which was continually increasing, having attracted the attention of Paul V. he was recalled to Rome by that pontiff, who rewarded his labours with considerable liberality. Guido, however, being incensed at the conduct of his treasurer, left Rome
a second time, and the pope was obliged to enter into a species of negociation, to regain this illustrious artist.
Opposed by circumstances to the best painters of his time, he presented himself in competition with Domenichino, to paint the Martyrdom of Saint Andrew. In this contest he was eminently successful; but he had not the suffrage of Annibal Caracci. Guido, in fact, is less profound, and less natural, than Domenichino; but he is equal to him in judgment; and it may be truly said, that in point of effect, in delicacy of idea, in elegance of design, and freedom of pencil, he has been rarely surpassed. In the graceful airs of his heads, and the beautiful turn of his female forms, he is truly admirable, while the disposition of his objects in general, and his colouring, demand peculiar praise. But it was in the delineation of pathetic, tender, and devout subjects, that he particularly excelled, and claims precedence almost over every other painter. It is observed by De Piles, that the merit of Guido consisted in that moving and persuasive beauty, which did not so much proceed from a regularity of features as from a lovely air which he gave to the mouth, with a peculiar modesty which he had the art to place in the eye.
His draperies are disposed with considerable grandeur, and are appropriated with singular judgment. Though deficient in the principles of chiaro-scuro, he sometimes practised it with success. His pencil was light, his touch free, but delicate; and although he laboured his pictures highly, he generally gave some bold strokes to his work to conceal the toil and time he had bestowed upon it."Of female beauty," says the ingenious Fuseli, "the antique, the Venus de Medici, but more the Daughter of Niobe, became his standard; and often with a monotony,
to incur the charge of manner. If he consulted nature, it was less for variety and character than fleshiness of touch. His attitudes seldom elevate themselves to the pure expression and graceful simplicity of the face; the grace of Guido is the grace of theatres; the mode, not the motive, determines the action: His Magdalens weep to be seen; his Hero throws herself over her Leander; his Lucretias stab themselves with the studied airs and ambitious postures of buckled heroines. It would, however, be unjust, not to allow that there are exceptions from this affectation in his works: Helen, departing with Paris, is one which alone might atone for every other blemish. In her divine face the sublime purity of Niobe is mixed with the charms of Venus; the wife, the mother, gave indeed way to the lover, but spread a soft melancholy which tempers her fervour with dignity. Her expression is supported by the careless and unconscious elegance of her attitude, whilst that of Paris, stately, courteous, insipid, gives him more the air of an ambassador attending her by proxy, than that of a lover carrying her off himself. His male forms, in general, are indeed little more than transcripts of models; such as are found in a genial climate, sometimes characterized by juvenile grace and vigorous manhood, but seldom elevated to ideal beauty."
Guido in private life was improvident and proud. In his painting-room he displayed considerable hauteur, and exacted from his pupils the utmost respect. He always remained covered before his visitors, however elevated they might be in rank, and was often heard to say," that he would not exchange his pencil for a cardinal's cap." In society, however, he was cautious and modest; which proves that he was only desirous of being distinguished for his excellence in his art. He passed a life of celibacy, and his manners were irreproachable; but his passion for gaming
troubled his repose. In this gratification he lost considerable sums, and reduced himself to poverty. His talents consequently became impaired, and, abandoned by his friends, this celebrated artist, who for many years would not condescend to set a price on his chef d'auvres, was compelled, in his declining years, to work for immediate subsistence. This gave him the habit of painting in a negligent manner, wholly regardless of his honour or his fame.
He died nearly in a state of indigence, in the year 1642, aged sixty-seven.