The Guardian Angel
(Taurini Riccardo)


This painting, undoubtedly an altarpiece, was previously given to the Cremonese painter, Gian Giacomo Barbelli (1604 – 1656), an attribution which was strongly indicated by the facial types of the angel and child, and the rosily acidic palette, traits which point towards the influence of artists such as Tanzio da Varallo, Cerano and Morrazone. This attribution found favour with several experts in northern Italian baroque mannerism, however, recently experts now largely agree that this picture by Riccardo Taurini, a Milanese painter, whose name is now often confused with his ancestor, the French-born sculptor Taurini (Richard Taurigny).  It was Federico Cavalieri who first proposed Taurini as the author of this work, and the picture has subsequently been published with this attribution (albeit tentatively) by Mario Marubbi (loc. cit.).


Largely unknown, Taurini is cited obliquely by Orlandi (1703) and is believed to have frequented the Accademia Ambrosiana during the early 1620s. To date, only three autograph works are known, one of which is documented. As Cavalieri has published, one of these works was formerly on the Italian art market, another is an altarpiece which was formerly in the church of S. Maria Segreta, Milan, which was demolished in 1908.[1] Cavalieri believes that the present work could be this Milanese altarpiece, but stresses that this must remain a hypothesis until further research can be undertaken. In any case, it would be difficult to date the work as we have little or no chronology for the artist’s career, except for a single engraving dated 1635-1636, and the intelligence that he spent some period of time at the imperial court in Vienna, but when, for how long, and to what end, remains a mystery.


An altarpiece in the Blanton Museum depicting the Assumption of the Magdalene, which was also formerly attributed to Barbelli, has now after much discussion and examination, been re-attributed to Taurini. After close comparison with photographs of several works found by Cavalieri, all of which are close to but not by Barbelli, both curator Jonathan Bober and Giulio Bora backed this attribution, though Dr Bober asserts that the Blanton picture must still date to the late 1620’s, since, stylistically, it is still firmly faithful to the styles of Pier Francesco Morazzone, Giovanni Battista Crespi, called Cerano, and Giulio Cesare Procaccini.


The subject enacts a tradition dating back to Menander and Plutarch and reinforced by Saint Jerome that each soul has a guardian angel designated to protect it (Comm. in Matt., xviii, lib. II). As a Tridentine subject, it acquired greater prominence and iconographic development. [2]

Probably painted as an altarpiece for a chapel dedicated to the Angele Custode, which were popular in Lombard, largely through the influence of Saint Carlo Borromeo, the painting depicts a youthful, if warrior-like angel leading a terrified child by the hand to safety. A demoniacal creature, half monkey, half dragon, attempts to possess the child’s soul by tempting it with luscious fruits, but the Angel calmly and firmly distracts the child from perdition, pointing towards his heavenly salvation. In the extensive landscape, a shepherd, possibly the child’s father, lies dead, perhaps from the plague, while his soul is carried to heaven by another Angel.  The high colour is somewhat reminiscent of Tanzio da Varallo, whereas the exaggerated mannerism and contortion, prominent eyes and grimacing expression of the terrified child are perhaps more reminiscent of Cerano. Similar traits may be seen in the slightly more Morazzonesque Blanton altarpiece. Equally, the similarities of both works to the style of Barbelli, indicates that both pictures were probably painted between 1626 and 1630, a period of intense artistic activity in the Valtelline and Alto Lario regions, where numerous altarpieces and other works survive in various churches.

[1] F. Cavalieri, ‘A proposito di Riccardo Taurini pittore (ca. 1608-1678)’, included in Milano borromaica atelier culturale della Controriforma, Atti delle giornate di studio , 24-25 November 2006, edited by Danilo Zardin and  Maria Luisa Frosio, Milan and Rome, Biblioteca Ambrosiana-Bulzoni, 2007 («Studia Borromaica. Saggi e documenti di storia religiosa e civile della prima età moderna», XXI, 2007).

[2] Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566 AD) Pt. IV, Ch. IX: ‘By God’s providence Angels have been entrusted with the office of guarding the human race and of accompanying every human being in order to preserve him from serious dangers’. The Feast of Guardian Angels, is celebrated on October 2, but did not figure in the Roman calendar before 1608, however, it was observed locally in individual parishes for some time before that.


197 x 144 cm (77 ½ x 56 ¾ in)
Oil on canvas

M. Marubbi, ‘Barbelli, Arduino, Feria : qulache riflessione su recenti scambi d’autore’, in Arte Lombarda, vol. 152, 2008, p. 51, fig. 13, as ‘Pittore lombardo 1630 ca. (Riccardo Taurino?)’.

Historical Period
Baroque - 1600-1720
Italian - Other Regions
Price band
$150,000 - $250,000