Happy Birthday to the early-Baroque painter, etcher, and print-maker Ludovico Carracci! Born in Bologna on April 21, 1555, Carracci was the cousin of the famous Roman-based painter Annibale Carracci, who famously frescoed the ceiling of Palazzo Farnese in Rome, among other works. Together with his cousin, Carracci ushered in the Baroque style by rejecting the dominant, contrived Mannerist approachand championing a return to the study of nature, emotional expression, and the effects of light on forms.
Carracci quickly established himself in Bologna and received many prominent commissions. He painted both religious and secular subjects with a directness and lack of idealization that sixteenth-century critics found shocking. For example, the figure of Christ in the Lamentation was based on a posed model, which gives the scene a clear sense of immediacy.
Carracci reinvented old subjects in new ways. St. Sebastian is usually represented bound to a tree pieced by arrows, but Carracci chose to depict the saint at a subsequent moment in his biography: when Roman soldiers dumped the saint’s body into a sewer. Dramatic and charged with emotion, Carracci contrasted the strength of the brutish solder’s straining bodies with the weakness of the saint’s limbs and head as he falls into the depths of the cesspool.
Carracci was a generous teacher and he singularly helped encourage the late 16thcentury so-called School of Bologna. Renowned artists such as Francesco Albani, Guercino, Andrea Sacchi, Guido Reni, Giovanni Lanfranco, and Domenichino all had their start in Carracci’s studio.
Lamentation, ca. 1582, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Dream of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, ca. 1593, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington.
St. Sebastian Thrown into the Cloaca Maxima, 1612, Oil on canvas, Getty