Annibale Carracci Style and Technique
- Full Name:
- Annibale Carracci
- Short Name:
- Date of Birth:
- 03 Nov 1560
- Date of Death:
- 15 Jul 1609
- Paintings, Drawings
- Oil, Wood
- Figure, Scenery
- Bologna, Italy
While Caravaggio has been described as the revolutionary of Italian painting, Annibale Carracci was, perhaps more importantly, its reformer. Although Caravaggio's paintings are better known today, in fact it was Carracci's style that triumphed and ultimately dominated the whole of the 17th century.
There are marked changes in the evolution of Carracci's style, but certain fundamental characteristics persist throughout: an emphasis on naturalism, rich color, an appeal to the emotions and what has been described as a heroic idealism.
Carracci's early style is marked by a revolutionary naturalism and study from nature (it may in fact have been these early works that inspired a young Caravaggio on his route to developing a confrontational realist style). Astonishingly, these two seemingly antithetical styles actually have a common root: a close study of nature and a discarding of the artificiality of Mannerism.
The obsession with life study is revealed not only in his paintings, but also in Carracci's drawings.
In the 1580s and 1590s, Annibale Carracci was painting a new subject in Italian art: genre scenes, or scenes from every day life. In order to capture the immediacy of these transient moments, Carracci discarded the smooth, imperceptible brushstroke used to depict elevated, spiritual subjects and instead developed a novel, loose, broken brushwork to better communicate his new subject, as well as to more effectively play with the effects of light.
In these early works, Carracci's palette is limited to sober, earthy tones: greens, browns, reds and grays predominate.
Two events had a decided impact on the development of Carracci's mature style. The first was his trip around Northern Italy in the 1580s, where he encountered Renaissance masters like Correggio, Titian and Tinteretto. These painters had a big influence on Carracci's color and depiction of light.
The second major event was the artist's move to Rome in 1595, where he was exposed to the masterpieces of classical antiquity, as well as Michelangelo and his artistic idol, Raphael.
In a move that would set the tone for the rest of the Italian Baroque, Carracci combined his early naturalism and study from nature with the idealism of classical and Renaissance art. The figures in Carracci's mature paintings are convincing, but idealized, as if the artist were showing reality as it should be in an effort to inspire virtue and piety in the viewer.
Under the influence of the Renaissance masters, Carracci discarded the subdued, earthy palette of his early years and adopted bold, rich colors, à la Michelangelo.
A direct appeal to the emotions was always present in Carracci's oeuvre, but it was especially in his mature works that the artist fully embraced the ideals of the Counter-Reformation, as laid out in the Council of Trent: art should be decorous, easily understood and above all, should appeal to the emotions and inspire religious sentiment.
Annibale Carracci was revolutionary for his insistence on direct observation of nature. Even in his religious and mythological works, the sacred and legendary beings that populate these paintings are endowed with utterly human, recognizable emotions, gestures, and postures.
More than almost any other artist, Carracci loved to draw. He seems to have been the type of artist who was constantly sketching, anytime and anywhere: surviving drawings range in subject from women, children and a cat warming themselves by a fire, a public hanging and an apprentice in Carracci's studio working on a painting in his nightshirt.
In addition to these spontaneous, personal sketches, Carracci executed multitudinous drawings in preparation for his paintings.
Unlike Caravaggio, Carracci was all too happy to execute frescoes and this ended up being key in the eventual domination of his style in Italy. Carracci's style was better suited for large-scale decoration programs, while Caravaggio's style was best suited for smaller, simpler canvases.
It was the style of Carracci, therefore, that had won out by 1630 and continued to dominate for the rest of the 17th century.
Although Carracci's somewhat idealized, classicizing style may seem commonplace today, in its own time it was revolutionary. Carracci made the Italian Baroque possible and with it the artworks of masters like Rubens, Poussin and Bernini.
Contemporary viewers who find Carracci's paintings disappointingly stiff and formal will be shocked to discover the exhilarating fluidity of his drawings.
Annibale's drawing talent had long been overshadowed by his brother Agostino, a talented engraver. For centuries, many of his drawings were actually attributed to his favored older brother. With modern art historical techniques, however, these wrongs have been righted, and today art historians have discovered that in fact, Carracci is one of the most talented draftsmen in the history of western art.
Early Drawings - Studies from Life:
Artists typically executed drawings to develop figures and work out compositional problems in preparation for a painting. Although today a drawing by an old master can sell at auction for thousands of dollars, during this period sketches were seen as valueless.
Unlike most artists, with the exception of Leonardo da Vinci, Annibale did not confine drawing to preparations for paintings. The artist sketched anything, anywhere, drawing constantly.
Carracci's revolutionary and unprecedented realism of the 1580s and 90s is revealed no where better than in these drawings. Perhaps because they were not intended for public viewing, here Annibale exhibits an exhilarating confidence and freedom.
Characteristics of the early drawings:
Medium: Usually red chalk or ink wash on beige paper
Models: Often young artists working in his studio
Subjects: Scenes from daily life, studies for larger compositions
Technique: A remarkable economy of line, fluidity of expression
Satire: Carracci despised pretension and loved to deflate it at any given opportunity.
Although Annibale continues to draw inspiration from his surroundings throughout his life, his mature drawings are more often studies for major paintings.
Annibale moved to Rome in 1595 to work on the frescoes for the Palazzo Farnese. These frescoes are considered by many as the ultimate in ceiling decoration, second only to Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling. The preparatory drawings constitute a uniquely interesting body of work, in themselves. Carracci worked out the figures and compositions of his painted scenes almost obsessively on paper before even picking up a brush.
Annibale fell into a deep depression and illness after completing the Farnese Gallery. After that time he hardly painted, but instead drew sketches for commissions to be carried out by his students. He also continued to sketch for personal pleasure, especially landscape and sun themes.
Characteristics of the mature drawings:
Medium: Often different colored chalk on blue or green paper
Models: Renaissance masters, Greco-roman antiquity
Subjects : Religious and mythological themes, studies for paintings, landscapes
Technique: A total mastery of the medium, fluidity of line
Satire: Parody and satire is still present in Annibale's oeuvre even at the end of his life. The Landscape with Smiling Sunrise has been interpreted as a parody of some overly eloquent description of a sunrise.