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Holy Family
ca. 1627
Black, red, and brown chalk, blue pastel, with gray wash, on paper.
14 1/16 x 10 1/2 inches (357 x 267 mm)
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) in 1909.
I, 99

The complex technique of The Holy Family, making use not only of black and red chalk but also of brown chalk and blue pastel, stumping, and gray wash, finds no parallel among Guercino's works and is probably a special case of the artist producing an autonomous drawing for a patron. Nothing is actually known regarding the circumstances in which the drawing was made. The sheet was first recorded in 1764 when in the collection of Anton Maria Zanetti, at which time it was reproduced in an etching by Francesco Bartolozzi that appeared as part of the "Raccolta di alcuni disegni di Barberi [sic] da Cento detto il Guercino" published by Giovanni Battista Piranesi in Rome. The drawing has long been recognized, however, as reflecting Guercino's style around the year 1627, when he was at work on the frescoes decorating the dome of the cathedral in Piacenza, with which it is comparable for the monumentality of the figures and the "elaborate, ornamental draperies" that "take on the elegance and idealization of Reni." The Virgin seated on the ground in the Morgan drawing compares, for example, to the Virgin in the Piacenza Rest on the Flight into Egypt. This is not to suggest that the drawing is a preparatory study for that painting, for it is unlike any other preparatory study executed during Guercino's long career, but rather that it dates to the same moment. There are, nonetheless, two additional drawings that can be connected with the Morgan sheet, partly through the somewhat unusual motif of the Virgin suckling a standing Christ Child: the often-reproduced Child seen from behind, standing between his mother's knees in the Courtauld, and the Standing child suckled by his mother in the Städel. These drawings may have been produced as part of a preparatory sequence leading to the Morgan drawing, or, as Turner and Plazzotta suggest, they might have been part of a rejected scheme for the Piacenza Rest on the Flight: a number of the preparatory studies make clear that the Virgin in the fresco is about to undo her bodice to allow the child to nurse. Perhaps, after Guercino chose not to use the nursing motif in the Rest on the Flight, he adopted it when, for whatever reason, he produced the highly finished Morgan drawing soon thereafter. -- Catalog entry: Guercino : virtuoso draftsman, Morgan Library & Museum, 2019, pp. 51-52.


Watermark: Flowering tree over mounts inside a shield.

Anton Maria Zanetti (1680-1757), Venice (no mark; see L. S. 2992f); Francesco Algarotti; Baron Dominique Vivant Denon (1747-1825), Paris (L. 779); his sale, Paris, 1-19 May 1826, lot 441 (as Cesare Gennari); Robert S. Holford (1808-1893), London and Gloucester (L. 2243); Charles Fairfax Murray (1849-1919), London and Florence; from whom purchased in 1909 by Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913), New York (no mark; see L. 1509); his son, J. P. Morgan, Jr. (1867-1943), New York.
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Associated names: 

Zanetti, Antonio Maria, 1680-1757, former owner.
Algarotti, Francesco, conte, 1712-1764, former owner.
Denon, Vivant, 1747-1825, former owner.
Holford, Robert Stayner, 1808-1892, former owner.
Murray, Charles Fairfax, 1849-1919, former owner.
Morgan, J. Pierpont (John Pierpont), 1837-1913, former owner.
Morgan, J. P. (John Pierpont), 1867-1943, former owner.


Marciari, John. Guercino : virtuoso draftsman. New York : Morgan Library & Museum, in association with Paul Holberton Publishing, 2019, no. 11, repr.
Stampfle and Bean 1967, no. 48; Mahon 1968b, no. 188; Roli 1972, no. 35; Varriano 1974, no. 17; Griswold 1991, 33-35; Stone 1991a, xv, no. 23; Turner and Plazzotta 1991, 74; Cento 2005, 19-20; Brooks 2006, 39; Turner 2017, 23.
Collection J. Pierpont Morgan : Drawings by the Old Masters Formed by C. Fairfax Murray. London : Privately printed, 1905-1912, I, 99, repr.
Denison, Cara D., and Helen B. Mules, with the assistance of Jane V. Shoaf. European Drawings, 1375-1825. New York : Pierpont Morgan Library, 1981, no 43, repr.
From Leonardo to Pollock: Master drawings from the Morgan Library. New York: Morgan Library, 2006, cat. no. 21, p. 48-49.
Federico Barocci 1535-1612: l'incanto del colore, una lezione per due secoli, Siena, Santa Maria della Scala, October 2009-January 2010, p. 236 and no. 165, repr.

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