By: Amy Fredrickson
Domenico Zampieri (1581–1641), although nicknamed Domenichino for his short stature, is remembered as a towering personality and leading proponent of Baroque classicism in Bologna and Rome. He trained in his birth city of Bologna to become an eminent member of the Carracci School. In 1602, Domenichino–alongside painters Guido Reni (1575–1642) and Francesco Albani (1578–1660)–traveled to Rome to assist Annibale Carracci (1560–1609) with his commission of the Palazzo Farnese frescoes. Together, these artists transformed seventeenth-century painting.
In an effort to stand out among his peers, Domenichino produced several copies of Annibale’s sketches and paintings, such as The Adoration of the Shepherds, The Virgin of Silence, and Susanna and the Elders. Additionally, he produced a Lamentation on copper, which now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Thus, throughout the Renaissance and Baroque periods, copying paintings and drawings within a workshop was a traditional learning practice. Furthermore, imitation was an integral part of the artists’ learning process, which can be carried out in different ways. Accordingly, artists may borrow, appropriate, simply reuse figures, or provide a new context for the original work of art. Moreover, in workshops, the apprentices’ learning process is embedded in the tradition of imitation based on repetition along with the originality or novelty of the work being based on the artist’s innovation. These paintings show Domenichino’s ability to translate Annibale Caracci’s ideas, which are also examples of the new style of Baroque classicism that the Caracci school brought to Rome.
Annibale had produced his altarpiece of the Lamentation in 1602 on the bequest of Cardinal Odoardo Farnese for the Mattei Chapel in San Francesco a Ripa. Furthermore, Domenichino was most likely an assistant on Annibale’s church commissions. In Domenichino’s 1603 cabinet size version, he set the figures before a hilly landscape: seated against the empty tomb, the distraught Virgin Mary is in her traditional bright blue robe, supporting her dead son’s head. Christ is slumped lifelessly against his mother. On either side of Christ, distraught angels are pointing to visible wounds on his hands and feet. The nails and the crown of thorns are on the foreground. Mary Magdalen leans over the Virgin, offering balance to the figural composition and, standing on the left, Joseph of Arimathea holds a large urn set on a plinth. Domenichino added the date to the lower left of the painting. Moreover, MDCII appears to be chiseled in the stone ledge. In 1982, Richard Spear pointed out that Domenichino is the only one of Annibale’s assistants who included the year in Roman numerals, which supports the conclusion that Domenichino was, in fact, the artist.
The main difference between Domenichino and Annibale’s paintings is that the former replaced Saint Francis with Joseph of Arimathea. Interestingly, Domenichino’s changes may actually be based on Annibale’s original intention for the altarpiece and not the final product. Accordingly, a drawing from the Jewish Museum in Vevey supports this claim, depicting a male figure who is not Saint Francis.
In addition, Domenichino was able to produce an emotive and dramatic scene, which reflects in the grieving figures. The smaller cabinet-sized version provides a much more intimate setting than the original lofty altarpiece. This work is an example of an apprentice-type work from a young artist who would have a successful career in Rome and beyond.
Domenichino, Lamentation, 1603, Oil on copper, 53 x 37.5 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Annibale Carracci, Lamentation, 1602-07, Oil on canvas, 277 x 186 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris.