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Carracci Family Italian Painters

Carracci Family
Italian painters

The Carracci were a family of artists from the city of Bologna who played a key role in developing the style now known as Baroque*. Working in the late 1500s and early 1600s, they rejected the artistic tendency of their day toward Mannerism* with its exaggeration and distortion. They favored a naturalistic* approach to painting. The Carracci established an important academy, or art school, to train young artists in their new style.


Education and Influences. The three most famous Carracci painters were Ludovico (1555–1619) and his cousins Agostino (1557–1602) and Annibale (1560–1609). Ludovico, the son of a butcher, studied under local artists and joined the painter's guild* of Bologna in 1578. His cousins attended a Latin school before deciding, with Ludovico's encouragement, to become artists. Both received training from Ludovico and other Bolognese artists. However, their early exposure to humanist* learning influenced their ideas about art.

After joining the painter's guild, Ludovico traveled throughout northern Italy and studied the artistic traditions of cities such as Florence and Venice. He probably met painters from Florence's Accademia del Disegno, who were already turning away from Mannerism and toward the more naturalistic style of artists such as Correggio and Federico Barocci. These artists, as well as the noted Venetians Veronese and Titian, inspired Ludovico. He later sent his cousins on a similar tour to study the works of Correggio and the Venetians.


The Carracci Academy. In 1582 the Carracci founded an academy in Bologna, modeled after the Accademia del Disegno. Its program was similar to the one in Florence, with courses in such topics as anatomy, proportion, perspective*, and life drawing. These subjects reflected the teachings of noted humanists such as Leon Battista Alberti on the theory of art.

The Carracci stressed the importance of drawing from real life as well as from models. They encouraged their students to keep sketchbooks with them at all times and to record things they observed in daily life. However, they urged students not to simply copy what they saw, but to analyze it and find its essence. Annibale Carracci is said to have invented the art of caricature, in which an artist greatly exaggerates some feature of the subject's anatomy.

The Carracci accused the Mannerists of painting by routine, rather than looking deeper to discover the universal truths of nature. They particularly disliked the ideas of Mannerist artist Giorgio Vasari, who wrote a history of the lives of leading artists of the Renaissance. Vasari preferred central Italian artists such as Michelangelo to the northern Italian artists favored by the Carracci. Their copy of Vasari's book contains sharp criticisms written in the margins.


Artistic Achievements. In the early 1580s the Carracci painted a series of frescoes* on subjects from ancient mythology in the Palazzo Fava at Bologna. They expanded this work in 1586. Three years later they traveled to Rome to create another series portraying the myth of the city's founding. None took individual credit for this work, stating: "It is by the Carracci; we all made it."

In 1593 Ludovico and Agostino entered the service of the duke of Parma, Ranuccio I Farnese. The duke's younger brother, a cardinal in Rome, hired Annibale. Agostino soon joined his brother in Rome, where they achieved fame with their decoration of two rooms in the Farnese Palace. Their work on this project shows the influence of Michelangelo and Raphael. However, the Carracci adapted these artists' methods to their own more naturalistic style, creating a striking new blend of forms.

The brothers argued frequently over the work, and in 1599 Agostino left Rome to work for the duke of Parma. Annibale stayed in Rome but came down with a mysterious illness that claimed his life in 1609. Meanwhile, Ludovico remained in Bologna, running the academy. His late artistic projects included decorating the cloister* of San Michele in Bosco and creating several frescoes for the Cathedral of Piacenza.

(See alsoArt, Education and Training; Art in Italy; Baroque; Bologna; Florence; Guilds; Patronage; Venice. )

* Baroque

artistic style of the 1600s characterized by movement, drama, and grandness of scale

* Mannerism

artistic style of the 1500s characterized by vivid colors and exaggeration, such as elongated figures in complex poses

* naturalistic

realistic, showing the world as it is without idealization

* guild

association of craft and trade owners and workers that set standards for and represented the interests of its members

* humanist

referring to a Renaissance cultural movement promoting the study of the humanities (the languages, literature, and history of ancient Greece and Rome) as a guide to living

* perspective

artistic technique for creating the illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat surface

* fresco

mural painted on a plaster wall

* cloister

covered passageway around a courtyard in a convent or monastery

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