Martyrdom of Saint Maurilius

Giovan Francesco Barbieri, detto il Guercino

Cento, 1591 – Bologna, 1666


Oil on canvas, 300 x 200cm

This altarpiece came from Saint Maurilius’ Chapel in the Duomo di Ferrara, completed by the artist in 1635 a year after it was commissioned. Guercino’s canvas substituted an earlier work by Cosmè  Tura. By now a renowned artist, in the 1630s Guercino developed a sober style far from the buoyancy and ardour of his earlier years. Nonetheless, his newfound solemnity maintained the vitality of form for which he was famous. In this painting, Maruilius, one of the two patron saints of Ferrara, is depicted in the moment just before his decapitation. The atmosphere ranges from the naturalism of the three figures in the foreground to the fantastical stillness surrounding the angelic apparition bathed in golden light at the top. This altarpiece had a great and long-lasting impact on the local school of painting. After being moved into the sacristy of the cathedral (its place on the altar substituted with a copy by Benedetto Gennari) the painting joined the Pinacoteca when it was established in 1836.