Giovanni Francesco Gessi
17th century, Oil on canvas
The Bolognese artist Gessi, following in the footsteps of his master Guido Reni, started studying drawing with the Flemish late-mannerist painter Denijs Calvaert. Thanks to his talent, he entered Reni's workshop and became one of his loyal followers. Active in his native city as an altar and fresco painter, he also worked under Reni’s supervision in Ravenna and autonomously in Mantua, on one of Reni’s commissions, indicating the high degree of trust his master had for him. Dated just before this period, the Holy Family, recalls one of Reni's works Madonna and Child with Saints Francis and Christine, of which only a fragment of Saint Francis has survived, made in 1613 for the Capuchins of Faenza. From that painting, Gessi takes the Mother and the Child raising its arm in a sign of benediction: he adheres to Reni’s way of working in terms of the composition but adds his own very personal research, in the more contrasting colours and the less fluid and spacious rendering of forms. The paths of the two artists diverged to the point of breaking over alleged professional jealousy, but Reni's teaching could still be seen in Gessi’s style, and he was capable of constant innovation, a generous painter with great character.