Annibale Carracci

"I like this straightforwardness and this purity that is not reality and yet is lifelike and natural, not artificial or forced."

- 1580

Annibale Carracci was a very influential classical artist of the sixteenth century in Rome. His decorative frescoes in the Farnese Gallery, Rome, an unparalleled masterpiece of spatial illusionism, was his most important work. Annibale was generally credited with the invention of caricature, instrumental in evolving the ideal, classical landscape, and was esteemed as one of the greatest draughtsman in Western art, working shape and structure together with an extraordinary sensitivity to light and atmosphere in his drawings.

The son of a tailor, Annibale Carracci was the most talented of the three painters of the Carracci family. He received his first training in fresco decoration with his brother Agostino and his cousin Ludovico in several Bolognese palaces. His early genre works, A Lute Player and Other Studies probably done as studio exercises, are remarkable for their bold naturalism, handling of light and colour and use of quick brush strokes to capture his first impressions. In the 1580s, Annibale's youthful trips to Parma and Venice did much to develop his talents. In Bologna, Annibale joined Agostino and Lodovico in founding a school for artists called the Accademia degli Incamminati which was based on the principles of the High Renaissance art and grounded in drawing directly from the model. From 1583-1595, he worked on a series of large altarpieces and made several orderly and airy landscapes. Landscape, studies survive from all phases of his career, which helped to initiate that genre as a principal subject in Italian fresco painting.

In 1595, Carracci was invited to Rome by Cardinal Odoardo Farnese to paint fresco decorations in his palace. The arcade in the background of the National Gallery painting the Vision of St. Francis c. 1597-1598, makes reference to the Farnese Palace courtyard. In Rome, Annibale turned eagerly to the study of the antique and to the work of Raphael. For the next ten years he concentrated on the execution of decorative frescoes in the Farnese Palace producing a work that became a forerunner of the great Baroque ceilings of the 17th century. In 1605, Annibale suffered physical exhaustion and quit work on the Palazzo Farnese. Illness and depression compelled him to hand over most of his outstanding commissions to his pupils. He did recover to produce in the same spirit, some of his finest religious paintings: focusing on powerful figures in dramatically simple compositions, renouncing altogether the sensuous appeal of colour to concentrate on gesture and facial expression. After 1606, Annibale gave up painting almost entirely.