Born in Bologna in 1581, Domenico Zampieri nicknamed Il Domenichino had started out with humanistic studies. Later he spent a short time at Calvaert’s studio. Then, around 1595 he transferred to the Accademia degli Incamminati where Ludovico and Agostino Carracci became his main teachers. He left Bologna for Rome in 1602 where he entered Annibale Carracci’s atelier. After his early paintings, datable between 1603 and 1604, he dedicated himself primarily to frescoes. Thanks to Cardinal Girolamo Agucchi he received his first public commission in Rome: three frescoes in the church of Sant’ Onofrio (1604-1605). For the Farnese family he worked on completing the decorations in the Gallery in Palazzo Farnese (1604-1604) and in 1608 he began working on the fresco of the Flagellation of St. Andrew in the church of San Gregorio al Celio. The year 1609 found him at Grottaferrata where he decorated the chapel of the Santi Fondatori in the abbey of San Nilo, which he completed the following year. Together with Annibale Carracci, in 1609, he worked on the frescoes in Palazzo Giustiniani at Bassano di Sutri (Viterbo). His first independent commissions came early in the second decade of the century: the decorations of the Polet chapel in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi (1612) and in 1604 The Last Communion of Saint Jerome (Vatican Museums). Via Giovanni Battista Agucchi Domenichino received the assignment to do a series of landscape frescoes in the Aldobrandini Villa at Frascati (1616-1618). In 1617, after having signed the contract for the decorations in the Nolfi chapel in the Fano cathedral, the artist left Rome and stayed in Bologna for several months before he moved to Fano in 1618. He returned to Bologna the following year and once again departed for Rome in 1621 when Alessandro Ludovisi became Pope Gregory XV. Domenichino was appointed architect general of the Apostolic Camera. There are records starting from the end of 1622 of the first payments the artist received for the frescoes in the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle. In the meantime he painted altarpieces for several Roman churches including The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian (1625-1630) that is now in Santa Maria degli Angeli, and the frescoes in San Carlo ai Catinari (1628-1630). In 1630 the artist went to Naples to decorate the most important chapel in the entire city, the chapel of the Treasure in the cathedral. He abruptly left Naples in 1634 and took refuge at Frascati with the Aldobrandini family, but after much urging he went back to Naples and the frescoes that he worked on until he died in April 1641.
The Death of Adonis
Until about 1820 this wall painting was in the Loggia of the Farnese Gardens, a small country house on the banks of the Tiber, surrounded by a secret garden that Cardinal Odoardo Farnese (1572-1626) had built for his grand Rome palazzo. Connected with the oratory and the church of Santa Maria dell’Orazione e della Morte, on the other side of Villa Giulia, the building that was erected between 1602 and 1603 was known as “Casino della Morte.” One of the first works that Domenichino did in Rome, on a commission from Annibale Carracci, the project included panels with Apollo and Hyacinth and with Narcissus. Conceived as an “insert” for the ceiling of the Loggia, like the other two scenes, the Death of Adonis was inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Fasti. It portrays the legend of how the anemone sprouted from the mortal wound suffered by Adonis. The goddess Venus, who was in love with him, is in the middle of the painting, with arms raised. The other two scenes also allude to the creation of flowers, the narcissus and the iris, respectively. Perhaps because they could be considered references to the three lilies of the Farnese crest, the Ovidian themes were well suited to the place where many varieties of flowers were grown.
The Maiden and the Unicorn
According to Bellori, Annibale Carracci was quick to recognize Domenichino’s talents. He had called on him to decorate the “Casino della Morte” in the Palazzo Farnese gardens, and also to help with the decorations of the Gallery in the palazzo itself. The work on the wall decorations, to cartoons by Annibale, only began in 1603 and was probably completed in 1607-1608. Even though it is not easy to recognize the hands of the master’s several helpers, the Maiden with the Unicorn is traditionally attributed to Domenichino (the unicorn was the symbol of the Farnese family). The masterly composition of the scene that is set in a landscape has none of the uncertainties that are still visible in the Casino della Morte and this is the factor that has led critics to believe that there was, indeed, a cartoon by Annibale.Iconography
Portrait of Cardinal Girolamo Agucchi
Unknown to early sources, this portrait of Cardinal Girolamo Agucchi dates from first period that the artist lived with the Agucchi family, roughly from 1604 to 1608. Domenichino did several landscapes, religious paintings and the frescoes in the Roman church of Sant'Onofrio between 1604 and 1605 for the cardinal and his brother, Giovan Battista who both – at different times – served as Maggiordomo for the Aldobrandini family. In this painting, done between June 1604 when Girolamo was made cardinal and 27 April 1605, the day he died, Domenichino tested his ability with portraits based on the Raphaelesque tradition.
Landscape with Saint Jerome
This painting is distinguished by the support – a panel – instead of the copper the artist customarily used for small paintings. This is one of Domenichino’s finest landscapes portraying Saint Jerome on the left according to the iconography that became consolidated between the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth centuries. The life of the saint is proposed as a Christian exemplum: devoted to the monastic life, to chastity and to saints, specifically the Virgin Mary and the Immaculate Conception; Jerome was the author of the “Vulgate”, the Latin translation of the New Testament. In the painting we see Jerome writing under the impetus of divine inspiration. The lion which, according to an apocryphal legend was healed by Jerome and remained loyal to him, is based on a woodcut by Titian, confirming the influence of Venetian art on Carracci and Domenichino landscapes.Iconography
St. Nilus Meets the Emperor Otto III
This is one of a large cycle that the young Domenichino painted for Cardinal Odoardo Farnese who selected him on the advice of Annibale Carracci. The artist conceived the entire room, not just the painted parts. In this scene we can see the strong influence of Raphael, especially the fresco in the Stanze Vaticane portraying the meeting of Attila and Leo I, even though the structure here is simplified. According to the story of the life of St. Nilus, the Emperor Otto paid him a visit in the monastery of Serperi and Domenichino portrayed the historic encounter in the main scene on the east wall of the room adjoining the church, with the door to the chapel. The procession in the background winds its way along a hilly landscape, the saint is on the left with a small group of religious. According to Bellori the figure in green on the right dismounting from his horse could be a portray of Agucchi. The embrace between Nilus and Otto is on the extreme left to adapt the composition to the lateral view as seen by those entering the chapel from the church.Iconography
The Last Communion of Saint Jerome
This painting was inspired by an early fourteenth century letter believed to have been written by the saint’s successor, Eusebius of Cremona. Meant to glorify the life of Jerome, the letter narrates the legendary details of his death that was believed to have occurred at the age of ninety-six, in a state of chastity with his body consumed by many privations. Actually, none of these details have anything to do with the truth and the “unreliability” of the letter was proven by Erasmus and Baronius among others. The theme, however, did enjoy a certain amount of fame in the seventeenth century. Painted for the main altar of the church of San Girolamo della Carità where Philip Neri had established his oratory, the picture is based on another of the same subject that Agostino Carracci had done for the church of San Girolamo alla Certosa in Bologna. It was begun in 1612 after lengthy preparations borne out by a large number of drawings. When compared with Agostino’s painting, Domenichino inverted the composition and reduced the number of figures. The symbolic center of the canvas is the Host to emphasize the real presence of Christ in the sacrament of Communion, in accordance with the dictates of the Council of Trent.Iconography
The Hunt of Diana
Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini commissioned this painting for his gallery, where it was supposed to be placed next to the Bacchanals by Bellini, Titian and Dosso that he had brought from Ferrara. However, Scipione Borghese wanted it for himself and had it forcibly removed from the artist’s studio and the painter was even imprisoned for a few days. The unusual scene is drawn from a passage in the Aeneid (V, 485-518) in which Virgil describes the contest among Aeneas’ men to shoot a fluttering dove suspended from the mast of the ship and here it is transposed into a female context. In fact, it is the goddess Diana and her nymphs who are testing their skill. The rhomboidal arrangement of the figures, that begins with the nude nymph in the foreground looking outwards, is immersed in a lake landscape that recalls the works of Titian and Veronese.
The Cumaean Sibyl
This painting was done for the Borghese family between 1616 and 1617 and, in all likelihood, depicts the Cumaean Sibyl, one of the women who, in emulation of the Sibylline mythology of Apollo, were famous for the gift of prophecy. Starting in the High Middle Ages, the Sibyls began to be associated with the Old Testament prophets and were considered messengers of Christ. Domenichino’s Sibyl, that recalls Raphael’s Saint Cecilia (Bologna Pinacoteca Nazionale) and Guido Reni’s female figures, has a viola da gamba next to her, while in the background we can see a laurel – sacred to Apollo, and a vine associated with both Bacchus and Christ. The musical passage on the score she holds in her hand, though not identified, is similar to Domenichino’s other paintings from this period emphasizing his profound interest in music that is documented by sources.Iconography
This is one of Domenichino’s most famous and widely reproduced paintings. Saint Cecilia is documented in the Aldobrandini collection as of 1623 and was probably done in 1617-1618 after the artist left Rome. It is a tribute to Raphael’s Saint Cecilia, that Domenichino saw upon his return to Bologna in the summer of 1617. The cult of Cecilia spread markedly during the first half of the seventeenth century following the discovery of the martyr’s body during excavations in the Rome basilica of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere. The event was celebrated with the placement of Stefano Maderno’s statue of the saint on the high altar in the church in 1600. According to tradition, when the body was discovered, Cecilia was wearing a turban that has become one of the most common attributes in her portrayals. Domenichino’s painting reflects his well known love of music: the saint is shown playing a seven-string viola bastarda, while the putto holds a sheet of contemporary music.Iconography
Adam and Eve
The famous architect André le Nôtre gave this painting to Louis XIV in 1693. It is one of the few that Domenichino did while he was working on the decorations for the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle in Rome. Painted on copper with strong emphasis on color contrasts, it recalls the works of Elsheimer and mainly Paul Brill. The theme is based on a specific Medieval interpretation of the Bible story in which God blamed Adam for having eaten the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge which is depicted as a fig and not an apple. Adam blamed Even who, in turn, accursed the serpent. The figure of God, supported by cherubs is a reference to Michelangelo’s depiction on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, while the animals in the foreground symbolize peaceful coexistence (the lion and the lamb from Isaiah) and lust (the horse from Jeremiah).Iconography
The Virgin Intercedes with Christ on behalf of the city of Naples
Domenichino was called to Naples to decorate the dome of the monumental chapel of the Treasure in the cathedral. It was actually the end of an intricate story: starting in 1616 many artists, including the Cavalier d’Arpino, Guido Reni and Battistello had attempted the task. Domenichino was contacted in 1630 and the following year he moved to Naples. The iconographic program focuses on the life of Saint Januarius while the pendentives are decorated with allegorical scenes celebrating the city. The pendentive to the left of the entrance, completed in 1633 depicts the Virgin Interceding with Christ on Behalf of the City of Naples. A visualization of the city’s marked Marian cult, the fresco shows the personification of Penitence in the foreground trampling on the tiger, symbol of sin while in the middle, Prayer extends the office of the Virgin , the Dominican scapular and the rosary and has her feet on a map of Southern Italy. On the other side we see the Ardor of the Catholic faith trampling Heresy and Saint Januarius with the ampoule of blood. For the painter from Bologna this Neapolitan cycle was a something of an endpoint in which formal and iconographic motifs are rendered without innovation and the palette is reduced.Iconography
Landscape with Fortifications
This painting was inspired by Annibale Carracci’s Flight into Egypt, one of the famous Aldobrandini lunettes. It was probably done between 1634 and 1635 when Domenichino who had fled from Naples was a guest of the family, first in Frascati and then in Rome. Domenichino replaces Annibale’s sacred theme with genre scenes that are reminiscent of his early works. The perfect balance between the two groups of figures in the foreground pointing to the middle of the compositions, the paths that penetrate the country setting, the flock of sheep and the fortified structure in the middle are all carefully measured and harmonized making this one of Domenichino’s most highly praised landscapes.