The Life of Guido Reni
The main source of what we know about Guido Reni is The Life of Guido Reni by Malvasia. It lets us see a major artist of the Italian Baroque through the eyes of his own age. The text contains considerable detail on what Guido painted, as well as his commissions and patrons. As Reni's close friend, Malvasia took much of his material from first-hand knowledge; documentary evidence from the artist's recently discovered account book attests to the reliability of his biographer's text.
But Malvasia's biography is far more than a chronicle of facts about Reni's art. Through a wealth of illustrative incidents based on eyewitness accounts we come to know Reni as an individual, driven by compulsions, beset by phobias, and isolated by pride. He appears as a man alone in a crowd, desperately anxious to defend his position as a major artist, enormously vulnerable to what were often imagined insults. We see him as an individual obsessed with sorcery and witchcraft and having an overwhelming compulsion for gambling that eventually brought about his ruin and hastened his death. No earlier biography provides so much material about an artist's inner life.
The editors have added a substantial introductory essay to their translation of Reni's biography along with an analysis of the text and a section on Malvasia and his writings. Malvasia wrote the best early guidebook to the paintings of Bologna, and his vast compendium on the Bolognese School of painters is the most important regional "Lives of the Artists" that appeared in Italy during the 17th century. As this is the first book on Reni in English, the editors have added a section intended as an introduction to his rather complex stylistic development. Eight illustrations are included to show some of Reni's most important works.