Semiramis Receiving Word of the Revolt of Babylon
Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) (Italian (Bolognese), 1591–1666)
112.4 x 154.6 cm (44 1/4 x 60 7/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Oil on canvas
William I. Koch Gallery (Gallery 250)
Interrupted at her toilette by news of a revolt, Semiramis, the legendary queen of Assyria, demonstrated her determination as a ruler by refusing to finish combing her hair until she had led her army to crush the rebels. This depiction of the story is made lively and dramatic by the emphatic gestures and by such bold compositional devices as the off-center placement of Semiramis and the radically cropped figure of her maid at right. The painting, which once belonged to King Charles II of England, was made early in the artist’s long and prolific career. Guercino (whose nickname refers to his squint) was admired as one of the most dynamic painters of his generation.
1624, Daniele Ricci, Bologna (original commission) [see note 1]. By 1658, Gerrit Reynst (b. 1599 - d. 1658), Amsterdam [see note 2]; by inheritance to his widow, Anna Reynst, Amsterdam; 1660, probably sold by Reynst to the States of Holland for presentation to Charles II (b. 1630 - d. 1685), King of England [see note 3]; given by Charles II to Barbara Villiers (b. 1641 - d. 1709), Duchess of Cleveland, or to their son, Henry Fitzroy (b. 1663 - d. 1690), 1st Duke of Grafton [see note 4] and his wife, Isabella Bennett (b. about 1668 - d. 1722/23), Countess of Arlington, Euston Hall, Thetford, Norfolk, England; by inheritance to Isabella and her second husband, Sir Thomas Hammer (b. about 1674 - d. 1746), 4th Bt., Euston Hall [see note 5]; probably by inheritance to the son of Henry Fitzroy and Isabella Bennett, Charles Fitzroy (b. 1683 - d. 1757), 2nd Duke of Grafton; until 1948, by descent within the Fitzroy family. 1948, Colnaghi, London; 1948, sold by Colnaghi to the MFA for $1130. (Accession Date: December 9, 1948) NOTES:  According to Carlo Cesare Malvasia, "Felsina Pittrice: Vite de' Pittori Bolognesi" (Bologna, 1678), vol. 2, p. 366, in 1624 Guercino painted a Semiramis for Daniele Ricci, which later belonged to the king of England. On the basis of its style and provenance, Denis Mahon suggested that the MFA painting is this picture; see his article, "Guercino's Paintings of Semiramis," Art Bulletin 31 (1949): 217-223.  A series of engravings of pictures from Gerrit Reynst's collection was made sometime before the owner's death in 1658. Jeremias Falk executed the engraving of Guercino's Semiramis; it is reproduced by Mahon (as above, n. 1), fig. 5. For further on the Reynst collection, see Anne-Marie S. Logan, "The 'Cabinet' of the Brothers Gerard and Jan Reynst" (Amsterdam, 1979).  On the gift of works of art to Charles II, see Denis Mahon, "Notes on the 'Dutch Gift' to Charles II," Burlington Magazine no. 560, vol. xci (November, 1949): 303-305 and, on the Semiramis, ibid., no. 562, vol. xcii (January, 1950): 16, no. 19. Also see Logan (as above, n. 2), pp. 75-86.  Mahon, "Guercino's Paintings of Semiramis" (as above, n. 1), p. 221.  As noted by Mahon, "Guercino's Paintings of Semiramis" (as above, n. 1), p. 220, a copy of Falk's engraving (now at the library of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London) was inscribed "Guercino att. Sr. Thomas Hammers" by Thomas Coke, vice-chamberlain of the English Royal Household from 1706 until 1727. The painting must have come into Hammer's possession through his wife, Isabella, between 1698 (the year of their marriage) and 1727 (the year of Coke's death).
Francis Welch Fund