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Guercino found at the auction

Last august, a painting, possibly a Guercino, was sold for 590,000 euros, surpassing the previous listing of 5-6,000 euros at Chayette and Cheval in Paris. It's a Moses, depicted in a dramatic pose with his hands and eyes turned to the sky.

Previously, the painting was linked to an anonymous painter of the 17th-century from the school of Bologna and estimated to be the work of a follower of Guido Reni or Benedetto Zalone, a student of Francesco Barbieri known as Guercino. Almost a year later, the artwork featured in Moretti Fine Art's collection at its new location in Paris was offered for sale at a very different value: 2 million euros.

Some similarities with a Head of an Old Man by Guercino, preserved at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, prompted a mysterious buyer (later found to be Fabrizio Moretti) to invest in its potential. The subject's similarities to the male figure in Elijah Fed by Crows (1620), another masterpiece by Guercino, prompted the well-known art dealer to submit the painting to restoration and promote research on it. These studies lead to a confirmation of the painting's authorship.

Moretti bet on the artwork in the full conviction that the previous auction house had underestimated the lot and misattributed it. After all, the so-called "Old Masters" are rare on the art market, especially those of high quality.

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, detto il Guercino, Mosè (1618–19 ca.). Foto © Moretti Fine Art.
Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, known as Guercino, Moses (c. 1618-19). Photo © Moretti Fine Art.

It could be a very profitable bet considering the record for another painting by Guercino, The King David, which was sold for $7.86 million and recorded by Christie's in its London office in the 2010. Paintings by masters of the Accademia degli Incamminati seem to be having good luck at the auction; another painting by Ludovico Carracci's favorite student, at the time owned by the actor Federico Castelluccio, was valued $10 million.

"We took a risk, because when you buy a dirty painting you always take a risk. But we never questioned the attribution. From 100 meters you can see that it's a youthful Guercino, representing the finest moment of the artist's career. Our eyes are our knowledge", stated Fabrizio Moretti.

About the quality of the painting there is no longer any doubt, the reference to Guercino has been supported by Keith Christiansen (former director of the European paintings section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York) and Letizia Treves (former curator of the Spanish and Italian paintings section of the National Gallery). The opinions of these experts are supported by new studies that suggest a date of creation which lies between 1618 and 1619, during the early production of the master, who at the time was still in Cento, far away from Bologna. Many hypotheses have emerged regarding the commissioner of the canvas, possibly part of the collection of Cardinal Alessandro d'Este, Guercino's famous patron. It is likely that the painting, after the death of the prelate, became part of the ducal possessions in Modena and later arrived in France as a result of Napoleonic spoliation. The complex history behind this canvas could increase its value, thanks to a fortuitous and unexpected rediscovery.

Today, the Moses is exhibited at Moretti Fine Art in Paris as the main piece of the catalogue of the solo exhibition that opened on Sept. 14 in the new space at 1 Place du Louvre.


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