GIOVANNI FRANCESCO BARBIERI, called IL GUERCINO
(Cento 1591 – 1666 Bologna)
Reuben Showing Jacob Joseph's Bloodied Tunic, 1655
Oil on canvas; 45-1/4 by 64-15/16 inches (115 by 165 cm.)
Giacomo Zanoni, Bologna (acquired from the artist, 9 June 1655); Abbé Mey de Lyon (by 1685); Private collection, Paris; Sale, Sotheby’s, Monaco, 28 June 1984, lot 313.
MS Libro dei conti of Guercino, Bologna, Biblioteca Comunale dell'Archiginnasio (published in
J.A. Calvi, Notizie della vita e delle opere del Cavalier Giovan Francesco Barbieri detto il Guercino da Cento, Bologna, 1808, p. 139)
A. Félibien, Entretiens sur la vie et sur les ouvrages des plus excellens peintres anciens et
modernes, Paris, vol. IV, 1685, p. 231
P. Tomory, The John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art. Catalogue of the Italian Pictures before
1800, Sarasota, 1976, under no. 191
L. Salerno, I Dipinti del Guercino, Rome, 1988, no. 313
S. Loire, Le Guerchin en France, exh. cat., Paris, Louvre, 1990, pp. 70-71, under no. 14
D. Stone, Guercino: Catalogo completo, Florence, 1991, no. 300 (ill.)
In Guercino's account book, the artist records the sale of this painting to the pharmicist Giacomo Zanoni in Bologna on 9 June 1655:
Il di 9 Giugno. Dal Sig. Giacomo Zanoni Speciale si e ricevuto lir. 340. avendo scontato per la lettiera indorata lir. 210. e questo per pagamento del quadro di Giacobbe co' Figliuoli, che in tutto fanno ducatoni N. 110. sono = scudi 137. lir. 2.
(published in Calvi, op. cit.)
Four years earlier, on April 1, 1651, Zanoni had purchased Guercino's Judith with the Head of Holofernes (Brest, Musée des Beaux Arts; Salerno, op. cit., no. 277, p. 347). The nearly identical dimensions and similar format of the two pictures would suggest that they were conceived as pendants. By 1685, both pictures had passed into the collection of l'Abbé Mey in Lyon, where they were identified by Félibien as the works painted for Zanoni.
In his Instruzione di quanti puo vedersi di piu bello in Genova, 1766, C. G. Ratti mentions a pair of paintings of the same subjects in the Palazzo Carrega, Genoa, but it is not certain if these are the Zanoni pictures, or one of the two known sets of copies after them (parts of which are preserved in the Art Museum in Portland, Oregon, the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida, and the Staatsgalerie, Kassel). In the sale of the chattels of John Myttan II of Halston Hall in Shropshire, which took place on 19 April 1831, a "Jacob and his Sons showing him Joseph's Garment" attributed to Guercino (lot 760) was acquired by one Rev. N. Roberts of Cae Glas, but whether or not this was the present painting has yet to be determined [see R. Minshull's List of Halston Paintings, Purchasers and Prices (sale April 19, 1831, R.D. Minshull, Salop Road, Oswestry)].
The painting represents a dramatic moment in the story of Joseph and his brothers as recounted in Genesis 37: 31-35. After selling Joseph into slavery, his half-brothers dipped his tunic in kid's blood and brought it to their father, Jacob, saying, "We have found this. Do you know whether it is your son's tunic or not?" And he recognized it and said, "It is my son's tunic. A wild beast has devoured him. Without doubt Joseph is torn to pieces." Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days.
Guercino painted an earlier version of this subject around 1624, in which the patriarch appears as an isolated figure against a darkened background, so that his expression of grief becomes the picture's main subject (Bob Jones University Collection, Greenville). In the present work, Jacob's lament is shown within the broader narrative context of the cloak's presentation, and the scene becomes one of dramatic confrontation between Jacob and Reuben. Guercino painted similar narrative themes with half-length figures in a horizontal format throughout his career, but the present picture is closest in composition and setting to the Samson Bringing Honey to his Parents of c.1625-26, now in the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia.