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Lost Old Master Confirmed: Guercino’s Moses

September 18, 2023
A portrait of an old, bearded man looking to the sky with his hands raised.

Moses by Guercino

Last November, I wrote with some surprise that a lost Old Master painting may have been found at a Paris auction house. Those suspicions have more or less been confirmed. In November 2022, at the Paris auction house Chayette & Cheval, a seventeenth-century portrait of an old man thought to be by a student of the Bologna painter Guido Reni sold for €590K (or $610K). This was surprising since the house specialists expected it to sell for no more than €6K. Analysts predicted that whoever had purchased the work may have thought it was a lost masterpiece by the Italian baroque painter Guercino. The painting, a religious portrait entitled Moses, shares many attributes with several known Guercino works. These include Elijah Fed by Ravens at London’s National Gallery and Head of an Old Man at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. There are also copies of the work, most notably a version that appeared at auction in Venice in 2001 by Benedetto Zallone, one of Guercino’s students.

The buyer was Fabrizio Moretti, who operates Moretti Fine Art in London and Monte Carlo. After several months, the gallery has fully restored and researched the work. They have determined that it is from Guercino’s early artistic career, or his prima maniera. This period saw the painter working mainly in Cento, just outside of Bologna, creating altarpieces and accepting local commissions. This time ended in 1621 when the painter moved to Rome. The first time Moses entered the written record was in 1624, as part of the collection of Cardinal Alessandro d’Este. After the cardinal’s death, the d’Este family moved Moses to their collection in Modena before being shipped off to France during the Napoleonic era. After that, it becomes lost, only known through copies like Zallone’s.

After restoration, Moretti found that the painting was in incredible condition. Valued at €6K barely a year ago, the portrait will be on display with a €2 million price tag (or $2.15 million) at the new Moretti Fine Arts location in Paris, which opened on Thursday, September 14th.