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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Annibale Carracci

Yesterday I wrote of the artwork of a particularly notorious young Baroque artist by the name of Caravaggio, noting something to the effect that while saints were nice, sinners were more interesting. So, having given the devil his due, the saints now demand equal time. Annibale Carracci (pronouced anNIBalee caRACHee) of course was hardly a saint, except perhaps in comparison to Caravaggio. (Their names are similar enough they are often confused by art students.)  
In any case, artistically, as well as personally, they were pretty much exact opposites. Carracci was brooding and withdrawn while Caravaggio was violent and dramatic. Carracci was of the classical school of painting (ala Michelangelo and Raphael), while Caravaggio was on the cutting edge of the  new Baroque movement. Carracci painted mostly frescos while Caravaggio worked exclusively on canvas, though both their work was on a similar scale. Carracci was establishment. Caravaggio was anything but! Carracci painted in a joyous, almost frivolous style while Caravaggio was strikingly dramatic to the point of being "gritty" in his search for naturalism and visceral impact.   
Being some 13 years older than Caravaggio, Carracci considered his primary rival for artistic commissions something of a brash, young upstart. Critics, for the most part, saw him in that light as well. Caravaggio suffered in comparison to Carracci because, at the time, canvas painting was something of a poor stepchild to fresco, considered the ultimate in the painter's art. Carracci's major masterpiece, the Farese Palace Galllery was ranked by critics at the time, and up until the 19th century, alongside the Sistine Chapel Ceiling and Raphael's School of Athens.

The Assumption of the Virgin,
1601, Annibale Carracci
 In the long historical run, however, Caravaggio has come to be seen as something of a towering giant as compared to Carracci imitative efforts to outshine the Renaissance. Caravaggio ushered in a whole new era of art--the Baroque period. Carracci is considered a Mannerist painter, though in effect, he was more like the last dying breath of the Renaissance, suffering in comparison to both that which came before him and the art of Caravaggio, which came after him.  Compare his Assumption of the Virgin to Caravaggio's Death of the Virgin from yesterday.  Carracci's painting is sweet scriptural fantasy, a hybrid of Raphael (the upper portion) and Michelangelo (in the lower half).  Caravaggio's Baroque depiction, though perhaps overly melodramatic, seems much closer to the truth.

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