National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS
The Drawings of Annibale Carracci

The Inventive Genius of Annibale Carracci
Diane De Grazia   page 1 of 6

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The day after his death, on 15 July 1609, amid the tears of his followers, Annibale Carracci's body was placed on a catafalque in the Pantheon. Members of the Academy of Saint Luke (the Roman painting academy) and of the Roman nobility (among whom numbered some of his patrons) assisted at the funeral mass.1 His remains, worthy of burial in the great structure, lay near those of his spiritual mentor, Raphael. Annibale's epitaph praised his genius and the excellence of his art in all forms, indicating the importance of his contribution to the artistic life of contemporary Rome. Almost seventy years later his biographer, Giovanni Pietro Bellori, credited Annibale with revitalizing art, following the decline it had suffered after the death of Raphael.2 Thus, Annibale came to be seen as Raphael reborn and as the guardian of the principles of tradition.

Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Annibale's art was admired for its classical and Renaissance elements and the correctness of its forms. By the nineteenth century and the age of romanticism, Annibale's reputation had fallen rapidly, until, by the late nineteenth century, he was dismissed as an eclectic and a copyist, devoid of originality and invention. The reevaluation of Italian baroque art in the mid-twentieth century has shown that both the seventeenth-century view of Annibale as a new Raphael and the nineteenth-century view of him as a mere eclectic failed to fully recognize the true genius and originality of his art. From his early experiments with naturalism to his late, almost abstract, style, Annibale revolutionized our way of looking at the world around us and at the art of the past. Paintings that have come to be viewed as conventional were truly new and experimental in his time. Much of that experimentation and originality is found first in his drawings, where his primary ideas were set down.

Annibale thought rapidly and constantly on paper from his earliest youth in Bologna. Although the following story is likely apocryphal, it has the hint of truth. According to Bellori, while Annibale and his father were on a journey from Cremona, they were attacked by highway robbers. Annibale immediately sketched "the appearance of those rapacious ruffians so realistically and accurately that they were recognized by everyone with astonishment, and what had been stolen from his poor father was easily recovered."3

Although Annibale was not self-taught, having learned the rudiments of art from a goldsmith and from his cousin Ludovico (1555-1619) and his brother Agostino (1557-1602), he first looked to nature to understand the human form. We can only imagine what this sketch of the ruffians looked like. His first known drawings, certainly somewhat later than this incident, such as A Man Weighing Meat (cat. 1), are already mature, and they indicate that he had learned the fundamental basics about simple lines and hatching for shading.

A Man Weighing Meat is among the first extant sheets by Annibale, produced when he was almost twenty-five years old. We must assume that earlier drawings did not have the confidence so evident in such a sheet. This study shows, however, that Annibale (as he did with the ruffians) was looking directly at his subject to capture the essence of its shape, features, costume, and gesture. We immediately recognize that this is a butcher by his apron and his scale. We feel the concentration of the butcher as he measures the weight. And, because Annibale wanted the gesture to be correct, he repeated the movement of the arms at right. In this study and in other drawings from models in the studio, such as the Boy Taking off a Sock (cat. 6), Annibale considered his subjects from various angles and according to the light that hit them. His interest lay in making his drawings, and consequently, his paintings, as close to nature and as believable as possible. Indeed, at this time he looked to earlier artists but not to Raphael for inspiration. It was Antonio Allegri, called Correggio, who first awakened Annibale's naturalistic tendencies and his early manner of draftsmanship.

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1. Bellori 1968, 64 (1672, 77).

2. Bellori 1968, 6 (1672, 20-21).

3. Bellori 1968, 7 (1672, 21).

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