Art e Dossier

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Art History

Annibale Carracci: biography

Born in Bologna in 1560, to a family of Lombard origin, brother of Agostino and cousin of Ludovico, Annibale Carracci was the most outstanding and innovative of the group. Painting from life and studying the great sixteenth century masters they founded an academy in the early ‘eighties known as “Dei Desiderosi”. After 1590 it was called the “Accademia degli Incamminati.” The Carracci’s “reform” consisted of a stylistic and ideological reaction to late Mannerism in the name of a return to nature and a recovery of classicality in form. However, between the devotional Ludovico and the theoretical Agostino, it was mainly Annibale who revealed a true innovative talent that would influence all seventeenth century painting. From his early paintings in Bologna – such as the Crucifixion (1583) or the genre scenes from 1583 – 1585 like The Butcher’s Shop or The Bean-Eater, Annibale quickly proved his talents as a colorist and draftsman and demonstrated his experimental curiosity about the various artistic genres that were developing in that period. The first, large collective project of the Carracci Academy was the frescoing (around 1584) of some rooms in the Bologna palazzo of Count Filippo Fava with the Story of Jason. After several prestigious commissions such as the Baptism of Christ (1585) for the friars of the church of San Gregorio in Bologna, or Pietà and Saints (1585) for the Capuchin church in Parma that is reminiscent of Correggio and sixteenth century Emilian painting, Annibale made a trip to Venice around 1587. There he was awestruck by the works of Titian and Veronese and a direct result of this encounter was the splendid Virgin Enthroned with St. Matthew (1588) for the church of San Prospero in Reggio Emilia. The altarpiece with St Roch Giving Alms for the church of San Rocco in the same city (now in Dresden) also dates from the that period. In this early phase the most important work undertaken by the Carracci school was the decoration of the great salon in Palazzo Magnani, in Bologna (1590 circa) where for the first time, in these frescoes depicting the Story of Romulus, Annibale took control of the group from the elder Ludovico. Annibale reached full maturity of expression with his move to Rome where, together with Agostino and Ludovico he had been summoned by Cardinal Odoardo Farnese in 1595 to decorate the Camerino (study) (with frescoes dedicated to Stories of Hercules) in the Palazzo Farnese. On the ceiling was Hercules at the Crossroads (now in Naples, Museo di Capodimonte) that was emblematic in Annibale’s individual development as he began to separate from his brother, Agostino with whom the misunderstandings would become irreconcilable when they were decorating the Galleria in Palazzo Farnese. In these magnificent frescoes (1598-1601) with the outstanding ceiling scene of the Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne Annibale reached the apex of his creative imagination. Turning to classical and Renaissance culture he succeeded in surpassing the limits of the real, of nature and of history, laying the foundations for the great Baroque decorations. In Rome Annibale received other prized commissions, such as the altarpiece with the Assumption of the Virgin (1601) for the Cerasi chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo (the lateral parts were done by Caravaggio), the frescoes in the Herrera chapel (1602-1607) in San Giacomo degli Spagnoli and the lunettes in the chapel of the Aldobrandini Palazzo (painted in together with his pupils around 1603). In 1605 disappointed by the way he was dismally underpaid by Cardinal Farnese for his work in the Galleria, he began to notice the first symptoms of the mental illness that would kill him within a few years – upon his return from a brief trip to Naples – on 15 July 1609 in the Eternal City where, more than anyplace else, he received glory and honors.

The works