Despite being a meek and modest man, Annibale Carracci became one of the most significant and well-known painters of late sixteenth-century Italy. He is likely the essential player in the transition between the Mannerist and Baroque movements. Carracci advocated for a return to the subtle simplicity used in the past by artists like Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, and Correggio while denying the aesthetic allures of the former's artificial and overly complex style. Carracci worked closely with his brother Agostino and his cousin Ludovico before becoming well-known as an individual artist. The Carracci completed significant public commissions simultaneously. Young socialist ideologues, encouraged by the three men's refusal to claim personal credit for their work, Annibale declared after the conclusion of their most famous contract for the Palazzo Fava, "It is by the Carracci: all of us did it." The Carracci helped set up Bologna as a center for 17th-century Baroque painting by creating a style that blended aspects of naturalism and classicism with actual people and vibrant Venetian color.
The Carracci brothers were raised in Bologna in a district known as Via Augusto Righi. Bologna, a papal territory since 1506, was going through a period of great theologians and scientific change, much like Caravaggio's Milan. The city had undergone a major renovation by the turn of the century, becoming a hub for scholastic and professional learning. However, the Bologna region was also suffering an economic crisis brought on by poverty and the plague, and peasants overran the sidewalks of the city where Annibale was raised.
Annibale didn't have any artistic training. His uncle Vincenzo was employed as a butcher, while his father Antonio was a small tailor. Annibale was only able to go to school until the age of eleven because of budget pressures. However, despite (or perhaps because of) his low education, several historians have claimed that Annibale was a natural draughtsman, with several tales authenticating his natural aptitude. The best-known of these was related by Bellori, Carracci's biographer, who related a story from the artist's young age. According to the legend, one day Annibale escorted his father to Cremona so that he might sell a tiny piece of land. On the way back to Bologna, Antonio was approached and robbed by a bunch of peasants. Little Annibale sketched a picture of the robbers with such rapidity and precision that the police captured the culprits immediately and refunded Antonio's money when they came to the police station to report the incident.
Early Work and Training
Annibale began his professional career as a goldsmith apprentice. According to Bellori, he learned drawing with his cousin Ludovico Carracci as part of his education. As a result of Annibale's official declaration of his potential, Bartolomeo Passerotti, a renowned Mannerist and successful local artist, offered to (re)apprentice him. A Classical style accentuates figural portrayals' proportions to generate attractive imagery from the painters' minds dominated Italian painting in the 1570s. Annibale was undoubtedly exposed to various influences throughout his early years, including those from his environs. It is clear that Carracci adopted Passarotti's style, but noting that it is implausible (not to mention undocumented) that he could have learned under a second Master, his personal approach implies that he was self-taught.
Like Agostino, Annibale began his professional career as an engraver, beginning to work on big prints at around the age of 21. The Crucifixion (1583), believed to be his first altarpiece work, was probably created two years later. Carracci may have already exhibited his rebellious attitude by rejecting the Mannerist movement based on the size of his figures, which were constructed using natural rather than exaggerated human dimensions. Crucifixion was, in fact, not that warmly received. Crucifixion was considered naive, making it difficult for Carracci to establish himself as a professional artist.
Annibale, Agostino, and Ludovico founded their Academy in 1582 after going to Bologna, a city that was at the time enduring a theological upheaval. The Academy's early performances are unknown, but by the late 1580s, it had grown into a school known as the Accademia dei Desiderosi ("desirous of fame"). The three men exploited the Academy to advance the idea that art should take its cues immediately from nature since they all resisted what they regarded as the cryptic and illusory fancies of Mannerism. Young Bolognaise painters flocked to the Carracci, which taught life study, proportion, anatomy, perspective, and architecture.
However, the city's art elite was enraged at the arrogance of three young rebels who thought it was right to start an institution before they had made themselves known personally. However, the Carracci had been afforded their first chance to collaborate together as a team in 1583 on a commission for the Palazzo Fava. Agostino is supposed to have supervised the frescoes, which told the story of Jason and Ludovico. Agostino was, at the time, the most prominent member of the family. Indeed, Annibale was hard to obtain religious assignments apart from the family because his brother and cousin overshadowed him.
Annibale finally got ecclesiastical patronage outside of Bologna, executing projects in Parma and Reggio Nell Emilia and altarpieces for the church of San Prospero. Indeed, Carracci's "anti-mannerist" aesthetics complemented the Catholic Counter-Reformation Act offensive, and his religious mandates probably increased the need for his religious services.
Cardinal Farnese employed Carracci under an agreement that included food, housing, and a monthly stipend of 10 scudi. The six years the artist spent on the Farnese frescoes culminated in compositions that would stand as the height of his career and an important moment in Italian art history.
The frescoes in the Palazzo Farnese were a real major achievement for Carracci, particularly considering how isolated he was outside the world of art for about six years. Given that the Cardinal treated him poorly and publically made fun of him for his dirty clothes and humble attitude, it was a very trying period for Carracci. Carracci also had to design dishes and silverware and make stunning panels to be sewn onto the Cardinal's clothing, which were petty tasks for an artist of his undoubted genius.
When the completed frescoes were unveiled in Rome in 1601, they were praised widely. But when the Cardinal assessed the cost of the artist's total food intake and removed it from his salary, leaving him with the pathetic sum of 500 scudi, he dealt Carracci a devastating disgrace. Strong work ethic accepting the cash, a saddened Carracci somehow fell into a severe melancholy and vowed never to paint again. Carracci experienced a stroke shortly after the Farnese fiasco, briefly robbing him of his speaking ability.
The dying words of Carracci, who passed away in 1609, were: "This time, my dear doctor, the workings of the clock are shattered; you need not bother yourselves with them. Further, they are beyond repair." Carracci was buried with a lot of pomp and circumstance, ultimately receiving the respect he never really did throughout his lifetime. According to the artist's desires, his body was cremated next to his hero Raphael after being placed on a catafalque and mourned by the Academy of Saint Luke, a group of painters in Rome.
Famous work by Annibale Carracci
The Butcher's Shop 1583
The Beaneater 1585
Venus, Adonis, and Cupid 1595
River Landscape 1590
The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne 1595-1608