This is the only surviving drawing for Guercino's great painting 'Erminia Finding the Wounded Tancred'. The delicate figure is only a fraction of the size of Erminia in the painting. The loose handling and vibrancy of the drawing were achieved using red chalk, which was one of Guercino's favourite drawing methods. Red chalk allowed him to work at great speed, and was easier to correct than pen and ink. Guercino concentrated solely on the figure of Erminia here: her expression, pose and billowing clothes. How she would fit into the overall composition would have been the focus of other preparatory drawings that are sadly all now lost. The survival of this sheet is invaluable, as it allows us to see how Guercino conceived this figure before rendering her in paint.
This drawing relates to the robust female figure in Guercino’s painting ‘Erminia Finding the Wounded Tancred’ (NG 2656). The painting was commissioned in 1650, and Guercino would have made a number of preparatory studies for such a vast canvas. He chose red chalk to sketch the figure, which was relatively modern, having been introduced in the late fifteenth century. This was one of his favourite media and many of his red-chalk preparatory drawings survive. The softness of the chalk allowed him to effectively convey the speed of Erminia’s flight, as her hair and draperies billow behind her. He appears to have paid more attention to how her clothing is arranged around her body than to the solid frame of her figure; her arms are suggested by a few mere strokes.
Guercino was a highly original and lyrical painter and draughtsman. He was born Giovanni Francesco Barbieri in Cento near Bologna (his nickname 'Guercino' means 'squint-eyed'). He was largely self-taught, but was strongly influenced by the bold figure painting of the Carracci family and the dramatic chiaroscuro (light and shadow) of Caravaggio. Guercino chiefly worked in Cento, briefly visited Rome (1621-3), and painted a wide range of subjects, making many exquisite drawings in red chalk and ink. He excelled in daring foreshortening. After the death of his arch rival Guido Reni in 1642 he moved his studio to Bologna.