Annibale Carracci

1 - 2 - 3
Annibale Carracci

Self-Portrait in Profile
Oil on canvas
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Annibale Carracci, (born Nov. 3, 1560, Bologna, Papal States [Italy]—died July 15, 1609, Rome), Italian painter who was influential in recovering the classicizing tradition of the High Renaissance from the affectations of Mannerism. He was the most talented of the three painters of the Carracci family.

The sons of a tailor, Annibale and his older brother Agostino were at first guided by their older cousin Lodovico, a painter who persuaded them to follow him in his profession. Annibale’s precocious talents developed in a tour of northern Italy in the 1580s, his visit to Venice being of special significance. He is said to have lodged in that city with the painter Jacopo Bassano, whose style of painting influenced him for a time. Annibale may be credited with the rediscovery of the early 16th-century painter Correggio, who had been effectively forgotten outside Parma for a generation; Annibale’s Baptism of Christ (1585) for the Church of San Gregorio in Bologna is a brilliant tribute to this Parmese master.

Back in Bologna, Annibale joined Agostino and Lodovico in founding a school for artists called the Accademia degli Incamminati. The Enthroned Madonna with St. Matthew (1588) Annibale painted for the Church of San Prospero, Reggio, displays two of the most persistent characteristics of his art: a noble classicizing strain combined with a genial and bucolic tone. By the time Annibale collaborated with the other two Carracci on frescoes in the Palazzo Magnani (now the Palazzo Salem; 1588–90) and two other noble houses in Bologna, he had become the leading master among them. His orderly and airy landscapes in these palaces helped initiate that genre as a principal subject in Italian fresco painting.

In 1595 Annibale went to Rome to work for the rich young cardinal Odoardo Farnese, who wanted to decorate with frescoes the principal floor of his palace, which was one of the most splendid in Rome. In that city Annibale turned eagerly to the study of Michelangelo, Raphael, and ancient Greek and Roman art in order to adapt the style he had formed in the artistic centres of northern Italy to his new surroundings. Having decorated the Camerino (study) in the Palazzo Farnese, he was joined (1597) by Agostino in the chief enterprise of his career—painting the frescoes of the coved ceiling of the Galleria (1597–1603/04) with love fables from Ovid. These decorations, which interweave various illusions of reality in a way that was more complex even than Raphael’s famous paintings in the Vatican loggia, were a triumph of classicism tempered with humanity. The powerfully modeled figures in these frescoes are set in a highly complex composition whose illusionistic devices represent an imaginative response to Michelangelo’s frescoes on the Sistine ceiling. Despite their elaborate organization, the frescoes are capable of direct appeal owing to their rich colours and the vigour and dynamism of their entire approach. The Galleria Farnese soon became and remained a virtually indispensable study for young painters until well into the 18th century and was an especially rich feeding ground for the Baroque imaginations of Peter Paul Rubens and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, among others.

Annibale’s long and intense labours in the Palazzo Farnese had been dismally underpaid by Cardinal Farnese, and the painter never fully recovered from the ingratitude of his patron. He quit work altogether on the Palazzo Farnese in 1605 but subsequently produced some of his finest religious paintings, notably Domine, Quo Vadis? (1601–02) and the Pietà (c. 1607). These works feature weighty, powerful figures in dramatically simple compositions. The lunette-shaped landscapes that Annibale painted for the Palazzo Aldobrandini, especially the Flight into Egypt and the Entombment (both c. 1604), proved important in the subsequent evolution of the heroic landscape as painted in Rome by Domenichino and Nicolas Poussin. Annibale died in Rome after several years of melancholic sickness and intermittent production.

An early biography is Giovanni P. Bellori, The Lives of Annibale & Agostino Carracci (1968), a modern translation of a 1672 Italian study. Denis Mahon, Studies in Seicento Art and Theory (1947, reprinted 1971), contains a brilliant critical rehabilitation of the Carracci. John R. Martin, The Farnese Gallery (1965), is a richly illustrated book devoted to Annibale’s principal enterprise, especially to its iconography. Donald Posner, Annibale Carracci: A Study in the Reform of Italian Painting Around 1590, 2 vol. (1971), is a full-scale treatment. Charles Dempsey, Annibale Carracci and the Beginnings of Baroque Style (1977), argues for a new interpretation. Diane DeGrazia Bohlin, Prints and Related Drawings by the Carracci Family: A Catalogue Raisonné (1979), provides full information on approximately 240 prints of all three Carracci. A.W.A. Boschloo, Annibale Carracci in Bologna: Visible Reality in Art After the Council of Trent, 2 vol. (1974), analyzes the series of paintings produced between 1582 and 1595. S.J. Freedburg, Circa 1600: A Revolution of Style in Italian Painting (1983), is a short but scholarly treatment of Caravaggio and Annibale and Lodovico Carracci. Carl Goldstein, Visual Fact over Verbal Fiction: A Study of the Carracci and the Criticism, Theory, and Practice of Art in Renaissance and Baroque Italy (1988), explores the historiography of the painters in the context of the Renaissance tradition of writing artists’ lives.


Oil on canvas, 305 x 210 cm
Santa Maria della Carita, Bologna

Assumption of the Virgin
c. 1590
Oil on canvas, 130 x 97 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

The Baptism of Christ
Oil on canvas
S. Gregorio, Bologna

The Beaneater
Oil on canvas, 57 x 68 cm
Galleria Colonna, Rome

Butcher's Shop
Oil on canvas, 185 x 266 cm
Christ Church Picture Gallery, Oxford

before 1595
Oil on canvas, 136 x 253 cm
Musee du Louvre, Paris

before 1595
Oil on canvas, 136 x 253 cm
Musee du Louvre, Paris

The Laughing Youth
Oil on paper
Galleria Borghese, Rome



The Virgin Appears to Sts Luke and Catherine
Oil on canvas, 401 x 226 cm
Musee du Louvre, Paris

The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine
Oil on canvas
Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples

Madonna Enthroned with St Matthew
Oil on canvas, 384 x 255 cm
Gemaldegalerie, Dresden

Assumption of the Virgin Mary
Oil on canvas, 245 x 155 cm
Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome

Lamentation of Christ
Oil on canvas, 92,8 x 103,2 cm
National Gallery, London

The Choice of Heracles
c. 1596
Oil on canvas, 167 x 273 cm
Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples


Domine quo vadis?
Oil on panel, 77,4 x 56,3 cm
National Gallery, London


Flight into Egyot
c. 1604
Doria Pamphili Gallery, Home.
Carraccl's work foreshadows the landscapes of Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain.