The painting, created to surmount a door, can be dated to the period in which the painter worked in the Palazzo Borghese in Campo Marzio, commissioned in 1617 by Marcantonio Borghese.
The work bears witness to the painter's taste for observing real life, seen in the suggestions borrowed from Flemish painting and Caravaggio. The small still life in the foreground, where the meticulous rendering of details is exalted, such as the weaving in the wicker flask, is a good example of this.
Salvator Rosa, 130 x 193 x 10 cm
Rome, Marcantonio Borghese Collection, 1617 (Della Pergola 1959, pp. 95-96, no. 135); Inv. 1790, room V, no. 29; Inventario Fidecommissario, 1833, p. 21; purchased by Italian state, 1902.
This painting was made as an overdoor for Marcantonio Borghese, who in 1617 asked Giovan Francesco Guerrieri to execute it and its pendant – a ‘St Christopher’ – to decorate one of the rooms of Palazzo Borghese in Ripetta (Della Pergola 1956; Fumagalli 1997). The work remained here until at least the mid-17th century, given that Iacomo Manilli did not mention it in his description of the villa. By contrast, from a comment of Domenico Montelatici (1700, p. 211) we know it had been moved to the Casino di Porta Pinciana by the beginning of the following century: ‘[…] a reclined St Roch dressed as a pilgrim, leaning on his elbow, his face turned toward Heaven. With the index finger of his left hand he touches the sore on his thigh. A well-executed work’.
Listed as a work of the Bolognese school in the 1790 inventory, the painting was attributed to the Carracci circle in the Inventario Fidecommissario of 1833, an opinion accepted by both Giovanni Piancastelli (1891, p. 211) and Adolfo Venturi (1893, p. 70), who, however, also timidly proposed Giovanni Lanfranco as the artist. Giulio Cantalamessa (1912, p. 69), meanwhile, described it as ‘a poor imitation of Guercino’. In 1928, Roberto Longhi pointed to the style of Dirck van Baburen, rightly identifying elements that ‘recall Flemish art in a transitional period that mixed Mannerist and proto-Rubensian influences’. These characteristics were also noted by Aldo De Rinaldis (1937, p. 326), who attributed this St Roch to a Dutch painter. As in the case of Lot and His Daughters (inv. no. 45), Paola della Pergola (1959, pp. 95-96) put a definitive end to the debate when she affirmed that the painting in question was the work of the artist from Fossombrone, basing her conclusion on a document found in the Borghese Archive (Della Pergola 1956, pp. 225-228). Indeed, the contrasting opinions that had until then been expressed about the work’s origin stemmed from Guerrieri’s extraordinary artistic culture, which combined the experiences of various schools – Roman, Tuscan and Flemish.
The painting represents the saint from Montpellier, dressed in pilgrim’s garb, in accordance with what is written in hagiographic works. Reclining like an ordinary commoner, the healer is depicted in a moment of rest while he points to a sore, a sign of the terrible plague that forced Roch to take shelter in an isolated place along the River Trebbia. It was here that a dog took care of him, bringing him a piece of bread every day. The artist represented this subject – much beloved by the faithful – in a markedly naturalistic vein, imbuing the scene with a rustic tone. This effect was achieved, for example. by employing murky brushstrokes (see Emiliani 1997) and by using a warm light that underscores the signs that the passage of time left on the saint’s body, while also lending a certain materiality to the fabrics and still lifes in the foreground.
A payment made to the framer and gilder Annibale Durante, dated 1618 (Della Pergola 1959; Fumagalli 1997), proves that the painting had been completed by that year.