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Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Adam and Eve, 1623, Domenichino.
To say he was influenced by Michelangelo (who wasn't at the time?)
would be an understatement. Here such "influence" borders on plagiarism.
Domenichino Self-portrait, 1615
Artists eventually die. That's fortunate for their students. Also fortunate for their students is the fact that before artists die they tend to pass on to the next generation everything they know about art. That was the case with the great, very Late-Renaissance artist, Annibale Carracci. Chronologically, Carracci would fall in the Mannerist era, his students eventually becoming Baroque painters; but in looking at his work, Carracci was what one might call the "last gasp" of Renaissance greatness ala Raphael and Michelangelo who, though quite elderly, was alive and well and still chipping marble when Carracci began his career in 1582. Carracci was "old school" quite literally, running a venerable workshop in his old age (old age...he died at the old age of 49). Out of that workshop would come such Baroque mainstays as Albani, Guido Reni, Lanfranco, and Domenico Zampieri, better known by the nickname Carracci gave him--Domenichino.
A Virgin with a Unicorn, ca. 1602-1605, Domenichino
Domenichino means literally, "little Domenic." It's difficult to say which of Carracci's formidable list of students was the best or most important of the lot, but Guido Reni (also known by his Carracci-given nickname, Guercino--the squinter) and Domenichino would likely be at or near the top of the list. The group worked along side Carracci, under his direct supervision, but often assigned entire areas of wall space to paint on their own in fresco (from Carracci's drawings, of course). Domenichino's earliest work, A Virgin with a Unicorn, painted around 1603 (dates vary widely among art historians) is in the Farnese Palace. It's obviously a student's work, bearing little resemblance to either Carracci's style or Domenichino's mature work.

The Last Communion of Saint Jerome,
1615, Domenichino
Annibale Carracci died in 1609, leaving the field of fresco painting in Rome wide open to his students, who quickly went from close friends to fervid, even vicious, competitors. Caravaggio was also active in Rome around this time, but his brash, dramatic, Baroque style took some getting used to and his playboy personality even more so. (He left Rome in 1606 for greener, less-competitive pastures.) Domenichino certainly had no shortage of commissions. By 1612, he had completed Scenes of the Life of Saint Cecilia in the Polet Chapel of San Luigi dei Francesi, and was working on his most famous work, the altarpiece, The Last Communion of St. Jerome (right) for the church of San Girolamo della Carità. Notice the differences in it and his A Virgin with a Unicorn (above) painted ten years before. One might even go so far as to say he had too much work. When that happens, artists often take shortcuts, and the quality of their work tends to lag. One of Domenichino's "shortcuts" can be seen when it came to painting God. It would seem he decided no one really knew what God looked like except maybe Michelangelo so...

The Creation of Man (detail), 1512, Michelangelo
Domenichino was a "bookish" sort, a painter also interested in designing and building new types of musical instruments. Likewise, he was very much a proponent of art theory, specifically those involving beauty. Riding upon these art theories, Domenichino felt free to imitate artists of the past. An obvious example is his 1623 Adam and Eve (top), which includes a flagrant copy of Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling image of God from The Creation of Man (above). Moreover, around 1616, Lanfranco, a former colleague from Carracci's stable of artists, accused Domenichino of plagiarizing the work of Agostino Carracci (brother of their master, Annibale Carracci). Lanfranco circulated a print of Agostino Carracci's Communion of St. Jerome dating from around 1591-92, in the hope of destroying his competitor's career. Though the matter became quite controversial, causing artists in Rome to choose sides, the major voices in the art world at the time, decided Domenichino's version of the scene was a "praiseworthy imitation."

The Communion of St. Jerome, 1591-92, Agostino Carracci.
Compare this with Domenichino's version (above, right).
Plagiarism or "praiseworthy imitation?" You decide.

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