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Michelangelo may have looked down on landscape painting as suitable only for "young women, monks and nuns, or such noblemen as lack an ear for true harmony," but many of his colleagues were less dismissive. Landscape drawing was assiduously practiced by several Renaissance artists, from Fra Bartolommeo to Girolamo Muziano and Federico Zuccaro; if few specialized in the genre, many clearly took pleasure in drawing landscapes as a form of training or relaxation. For the Carracci, too, landscape drawing was part of their routine.1 In his funeral oration for Agostino (1603), Luca Faberio recalled the fondness of the Carracci academy members for excursions into the Bolognese countryside, where they drew "hills, fields, lakes, rivers and everything else that was beautiful, and notable and striking."2 Their enjoyment is reflected by the vast number of landscape drawings from the Carracci circle, most of them carrying old attributions to Annibale or Agostino.
It is only in recent decades that scholars have begun to take a more critical look at these old attributions. Distinguishing Annibale's landscape drawings from those of his brother Agostino, the presumed specialist in the field,3 or from those of their followers and later imitators is proving no easy task. Few are signed or otherwise reliably documented, and even on those rare occasions when a link can be established with a known painting, scholars cannot agree on the attribution.4
Hence the need to take a fresh, unbiased look at the evidence.5 The most reliable basis for a reconstruction of Annibale's landscape style is the landscape elements incorporated in undisputed studies related to other projects. Examples in the exhibition are The Dying Hercules and Other Studies and Two Satyr Children Picking Grapes, both from the last years of the sixteenth century. The present drawing compares especially well with the landscape segment in the Frankfurt study, and indeed its attribution to Annibale has not been contested. In both, the landscape is constructed along a simple diagonal recession, from the clump of grass in the left foreground across open fields to the main motif -- a thicket of trees in the middle ground -- and then on toward a mountain rising on the horizon at the right. As in the Frankfurt sheet, the gently rolling fields are indicated simply but suggestively by freely drawn, slightly curved lines and parallel hatching. The graphic shorthand for bushes and trees is the same, as is the ascending contour of the mountain. The two drawings employ the white of the paper to suggest light-filled space with similar mastery. The Frankfurt drawing is generally dated c. 1599, and the same could be said of this sheet.
Whether Annibale had a specific purpose in mind when he drew this
landscape, or whether it records a particular spot or is the fruit of the
artist's invention cannot be determined. The apparent spontaneity is belied
by the construction lines the artist drew in laying out the landscape, a
horizontal line marking the horizon and a perpendicular one at the right,
intended perhaps as the edge of the composition. Although the sheet was
evidently trimmed on all sides at a later date, traces of old framing lines
in brown ink at the top and the bottom indicate that the image did not
extend much beyond the present confines.
Carel van Tuyll
1. Posner 1971, 1: 113, aptly characterized landscape painting as "something of a peripheral activity for Annibale Carracci." Sutherland Harris in Poughkeepsie and tour 1995-1996, 82, extends this to cover landscape drawing as well, though her statement that "surviving landscape drawings by Annibale himself are rare" is perhaps overly pessimistic.
2. Malvasia 1678 (1841), 1: 308.
3. See Whitfield 1988, 73-95.
4. For instance, Louvre inv. 7126 (see Paris 1994, no. 46), connected with the Marseilles Fête champêtre. That painting is now usually given to Agostino, whereas the drawing is traditionally, and probably correctly, attributed to Annibale.
5. An invaluable starting point for such a reassessment is provided by Ann Sutherland Harris in various recent publications, including the review of the catalogue of Italian drawings at Chatsworth (1996, 195-205) and her discussion of cat. 71 in Poughkeepsie and tour 1995-1996, no. 34.
[possibly Queen Christina of Sweden; Cardinal Decio Azzolini; Marchese Pompeo Azzolini]; Don Livio Odescalchi; acquired as part of the Odescalchi collection in 1790 by the Teyler Foundation, inv. k vii 15
Florence and Rome 1983-1984, no. 48
Meijer 1984, pl. 49; Pignatti and Pedrocco 1991, pl. 113; Loisel Legrand in Sassuolo 1998, 144, under no. 55