I AM INDEBTED Ta Bro. L.
E. Chapman of Ealing for bringing to my attention a curious drawing by Gian-Francesco
Barbieri (1591-1666), nicknamed 'Guercino' because of his squint, who was both a
painter and an outstanding draughtsman. The finest collection of his drawings is
at Windsor Castle.
As his name suggests he
was an Italian artist and was associated with the Bolognese School. We need not
here pursue his career but it may be worth mentioning that his paintings are to
be seen in a number of churches in Rome and that his large picture of The
Burial of St Petronilla (now in the Pinacoteca Capitolina) was reproduced in
the form of a mosaic over the altar of St. Peter's dedicated to that saint. ***
Bro. Chapman had himself
received an enquiry from a Dutch freemason about a Guercino drawing, said to
have been in the possession of the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland,
which purported to depict the body of Hiram Abif in an open grave with
four persons above it. One appeared to be measuring the body (was he
symbolically measuring the life's work of Hiram?). Two figures - one holding a
pair of compasses - were in the background, while a third was holding his arms
upwards (expressing dismay?).
I am grateful indeed to
the Grand Scribe E of Scotland (Comp. Grahame I. Smith) of whom I sought
confirmation that the drawing was in their charge, and indeed it was. He kindly
sent a reproduction (here copied) which had been published in his Grand
Chapter's Proceedings in March 1921. The original, framed, is on display
in his office and he has kindly agreed to show it to any interested brother at a
mutually agreed time.
The Grand Scribe E has
little information about the provenance of the drawing but assured me that it
had been in the possession of Grand Chapter for many years. There does not seem
to have been a contemporary caption. That which was placed above the 1921
reproduction. 'The Raising of the Master', was no doubt a 'wishful thought' at
1981 the then Grand Secretary of the Scottish Craft (Bro. E Stuart Falconer),
took the drawing to the Department of Prints and Drawings of the National
Gallery of Scotland. The subsequent report was:
have not been able to identify the subject matter, nor has Mr Denis Mahon, the
authority on Guercino. What is clear to both of us is that - as I told you -
the drawing is certainly an original by the artist although not in prime
condition and, secondly, that the subject has nothing to do with Freemasonry.
The instruments depicted in the hands of two of the figures are those which any
architect or surveyor would have used. It seems obviously to be a burial scene,
possibly that of a giant. Guercino quite often invented such bizarre and, to
other people, unidentifiable themes and hence it may not be possible to come up
with a secure solution.
Keith K. Andrews Keeper