Italian Painter and Engraver
Summary of Annibale Carracci
Though a rather humble and unassuming fellow, Annibale Carracci emerged as one of the most dynamic and respected painters of late sixteenth century Italy. He is acknowledged almost universally as the most important figure in the transition between the Mannerist and Baroque movements. Resisting the aesthetic enticements of the artificial and over-elaborate style of the former, Carracci promoted a return to the subtle naturalism as practiced previously by the likes of Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and Correggio. Before making his name as an artist in his own right, Carracci collaborated closely with his brother Agostino and his cousin Ludovico. As a collective - known as "The Carracci" - the three men established an Academy in their hometown of Bologna through which they promoted drawing from live models and discussions on theoretical issues effecting art practice and history. As a collective, the Carracci undertook important public commissions together. Emboldened by a youthful socialist idealism, the three men refused to take individual credit for their work: "It is by the Carracci: all of us did it" proclaimed Annibale on completion of their best known commission for the Palazzo Fava. In pioneering a style that bled elements of naturalism and classicism with real figures and vivid Venetian coloring, the Carracci helped launch Bologna as a centre for 17th century Baroque painting.
- Though justly considered a founding father of the refined Baroque style, Carracci's oeuvre includes more rugged, humanist, works that reflect his own humble Bolognese beginnings. In paintings such as The Butcher's Shop and The Beaneater, he used broken brushwork to bring an artisanal authenticity to paintings celebrating the ordinary lives of local workers and shopkeepers.
- Carracci has been credited with allowing painting to rank alongside sculpture in its ability to represent an intense, full-bodied, figurativism. In works such as his Pietà (c.1600), he blended the understated realism, for which he was already well known, with dynamic chiaroscuro tones that infused his corporeal religious figures with a spiritual three-dimensional presence.
- Carracci synchronized all his influences on his most famous frescoes, including those for the Palazzo Farnese in Rome. Here we see him bring subtle chiaroscuro shading to naturalistic flesh tones in order to distinguish individual characters within his expansive narratives. His characters are then placed in settings that are of equal measure in the finery of their detail. It was his ability to create such complete compositions that finally brought him deserved universal recognition.
Biography of Annibale Carracci
Brothers Annibale and Agostino Carracci was raised in Bologna in an area now known as Via Augusto Righi. Like Caravaggio's Milan, Carracci's Bologna, a papal state since 1506, was in the midst of an intense religious and scientific upheaval. By the end of the century, the city had undergone significant reconstruction; emerging as a center of academic and scientific learning. However, the Bologna region was also in the grips of an economic crisis brought on by plague and famine and the city streets in which Annibale grew up became home to hordes of peasants.
Important Art by Annibale Carracci
Classified as a genre painting, The Butcher's Shop, in which Carracci depicts butchers preparing their wares for sale, holds up a window to everyday Italian life during the late 1500s. The butcher in the center foreground is shown preparing a lamb for slaughter, while his assistants are seen hooking up carcasses for display. Bringing a dash of humor to the scenario, a customer wearing an oversized feather hat in the left corner is seen fumbling for money to make his purchase. Based on the known fact that Carracci's uncle worked as a butcher, historians have speculated that Carracci may have represented his own family members in this painting.
In late-sixteenth century Bologna, artisans and shopkeepers occupied the bottom rungs of the social ladder. This group lived under the constant threat of job loss due to economic instability and a weakened guild system. Since the milieu in which he was painting reflected his own humble beginnings, one finds in this image clear evidence of Carracci's commitment to "painting from real life". This is apparent too in his preference for broken brushwork which brings added authenticity to the humanistic element of the work (shown thematically in the way the butchers are represented as humble masters of their trade). At the same time, Carracci shows a light-hearted touch through the inclusion of the humorous caricature of the paying customer.
Like the Butcher's Shop, The Beaneater is a naturalistic genre painting representing a scene of everyday Italian life. It shows a man eating a simple meal of beans, onions, bread and wine. In order to infuses the painting with an authentic rustic feel, Carracci used broken brush work; a technique that went against the flat polished finish that fine artists strived for during the late 16th century.
Carracci's composition combines portraiture and still life and offers thus a clear example of his ability to bring together different components in a single painting. Depicted in a manner that appears candid, this approach would have been seen as markedly different during a time when painting was drawn towards monumental depictions of biblical figures and posed portraits of prominent society members. The lack of composure and level perspective creates a similar compositional result that is akin to a photograph taken from the opposite side of the table. The beaneater is captured in a spontaneous moment evident in his direct engagement, blushed cheeks, and gaping mouth. Despite this somewhat unflattering portrayal, the level perspective does not belittle the subject but, rather, places the spectator at social plateau with the sitter. Carracci captures a simple daily routine of the working class with sympathy, representing the man in a manner that is ultimately human; a strategy which would have been deemed innovative during the 16th century when wealthy commissions dominated portraiture.
Venus, Adonis and Cupid focusses on a story associated most famously with the Roman poet Ovid. In this painting, Carracci depicts the moment before Venus is about to be struck by Cupid's arrow allowing her to fall in love with Adonis (who is shown with hounds that will accompany him when he proceeds to embark on an ill-fated hunt with a wild boar). In the foreground we see a pair of doves that represent love. The figures are backed by an intricate landscape comprising of ancient ruins and chaotic skies, infusing a sense of drama into the narrative.
Venus, Adonis, and Cupid is demonstrable of the wide range of influences that Carracci undertook, exhibiting aspects of Veronese, Titian and Greco-Roman sculptures. Both Veronese and Titian painted this fable, and similarities can be drawn between the compositional approach of all three artists in which the interaction between Venus and Adonis is played out in front of a naturalistic landscape. Carracci's special skill as a naturalist painter is in evidence here while his sculptural formation of the figure's bodies, and the use of light to illuminate the smooth texture of their skin produces a subtle realism that would have placed it in stark contrast to the preferences of the Mannerists. Carracci's ability to play with light in this way is further evidenced in the cloth materials, most notably in the wonderful iridescent sheen of Adonis's robe.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Annibale Carracci
- The invention of Annibale CarracciOur PickBy Clare Robertson
- Annibale Carracci and the beginnings of the baroque styleBy Charles Dempsey
- Annibale Carracci: The Farnese Gallery, RomeBy Charles Dempsey
- Annibale Carracci's Venus, Adonis and CupidBy Andres Ubeda de los Cobos , Ana Gonzalez Mozo, Maria Alvarez Garcillan
- Annibale Carracci: Study in the Reform of Italian Painting Around 1590Our PickBy Donald Posner
- Malvasia's Life of the Carracci: Commentary and TranslationBy Anne Summerscale