In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Annibale Carracci

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Early Biographies and Documents
  • Bologna in the Late 16th Century
  • Art Theory
  • The Carracci Academy
  • Drawing
  • Early Works
  • Palazzo Fava
  • Palazzo Magnani and Palazzo Sampieri
  • Other North Italian Works
  • The Camerino Farnese
  • The Farnese Gallery
  • The Palazzetto Farnese
  • The Cerasi Chapel
  • Landscape
  • Late Work
  • Annibale’s Patrons
  • Agostino
  • Ludovico
  • Antonio

Art History Annibale Carracci
Clare Robertson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 January 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0032


Annibale Carracci (b. 1560–d. 1609) was one of the key figures in the foundation of the baroque style. Together with Agostino (b. 1557–d. 1602), his brother, and Ludovico (b. 1555–d. 1619), his cousin, he developed a new style rooted in the study of nature and the practice of life drawing, which constituted a reaction against the prevailing mannerist style of the older painters working in his native Bologna and that has sometimes been described as the “reform” of Italian art. The three Carracci also founded a highly influential academy of art, and they worked together on several projects, including the decoration of rooms in Palazzo Fava and the Salone of Palazzo Magnani. Around 1580, Annibale undertook a studioso corso (study trip) around northern Italy. Greatly influenced by the work of Correggio in Parma and that of Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, and Jacopo Bassano in Venice, he was able to grasp the artistic possibilities offered by these artists and absorb them into his new style, an approach that has often, unhelpfully, been labeled eclecticism. After achieving considerable success in Bologna and nearby towns, Annibale was invited to Rome in 1594 to work for Cardinal Odoardo Farnese. He was initially engaged to decorate the Salone of Palazzo Farnese with a cycle of family history, but, for unknown reasons, this was never done. Instead, Annibale was commissioned to decorate a small room, the Camerino Farnese, with mythological subjects, and then, in 1597, to paint his great masterpiece, the Farnese Gallery. In these works he demonstrated a new classical style that he developed in response to what he had seen in Rome, namely, the works of Raphael, Michelangelo, and the Antique, which, in combination with his earlier naturalism, sowed the seeds of the baroque style. He was joined in the work at the Farnese Gallery by Agostino, but the brothers soon quarreled and Agostino left Rome. While he was completing the last stages of the Gallery in decorating the walls, he was assisted by several alumni of the Carracci Academy, who would go on to distinguished careers. They included Domenichino, Albani, and Lanfranco. Agostino also had a son, Antonio (b. c. 1583–d. 1618), who became a painter and assisted Annibale in his last years. The unveiling of the Farnese Gallery ceiling in 1601 brought great acclaim and demand for Annibale’s work. His patrons included the papal nephew, Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini, who commissioned a series of lunettes for his chapel, which were highly influential in the development of ideal Landscape painting. He also painted a number of altarpieces, including that for the Cerasi Chapel, where his work hung alongside that of Caravaggio. Around 1604, Annibale developed a depressive illness, which meant that he was unable to paint much in the years up to his death, although his creative powers showed no signs of weakening. Annibale was acclaimed by seicento writers as the new Raphael, a fact aptly exemplified by his interment beside Raphael’s tomb in the Pantheon. The art of the Carracci fell out of fashion in the mid-19th century, and it was rehabilitated only beginning in the early 20th century. Modern studies have been much concerned with issues of attribution, in which disagreements remain ongoing, and questions of interpretation, especially with respect to the Farnese Gallery.

General Overviews

In comparison with his contemporary, Caravaggio, Annibale has until recently received relatively little scholarly attention. The first major 20th-century exhibition of the work of all three Carracci was held in Bologna in 1956, together with an exhibition of their drawings (Cavalli, et al. 1956; Mahon 1956). The first monograph was Posner 1971, followed by Cooney and Malafarina 1976, which is highly dependent upon Posner 1971. Dempsey 2000 offers a stimulating challenge to Posner’s view. Posner coined the term reform to describe the new style of the Carracci, a term that is further discussed in Keazor 2007. Freedberg 1983 also sought to explore the nature of the stylistic changes brought about by the Carracci. The exhibition The Age of Correggio and the Carracci (Smyth 1986) was important in introducing the Carracci to a US audience. The first monographic exhibition of Annibale’s work was held as late as 2006 (Benati and Riccòmini 2006). The most recent monograph is Robertson 2008.

  • Benati, Daniele, and Eugenio Riccòmini, eds. Annibale Carracci. Milan: Electa, 2006.

    Exhibition catalogue of Annibale’s paintings and drawings, with some doubtful attributions. Includes essays on most aspects of Annibale’s career by Daniele Benati, Alessandro Brogi, Silvia Ginzburg, and Carel van Tuyll van Serooskerken.

  • Cavalli, Gian Carlo, Francesco Arcangeli, Andrea Emiliani, and Maurizio Calvesi, eds. Mostra dei Carracci: Dipinti. Bologna, Italy: Edizioni Alfa, 1956.

    The first major exhibition of the paintings of all three Carracci. Includes a note by Denis Mahon and introductory study by Cesare Gnudi.

  • Cooney, Patrick J., and Gianfranco Malafarina. L’opera completa di Annibale Carracci. Milan: Rizzoli, 1976.

    Includes useful color illustrations of a number of works, with a brief catalogue accompanied by tiny black-and-white photos.

  • Dempsey, Charles. Annibale Carracci and the Beginnings of Baroque Style. Fiesole, Italy: Edizioni Cadmo, 2000.

    Short essay on Annibale’s use of color and light, challenging theoretical assumptions of authors such as Mahon 1947 (cited under Art Theory) and Posner 1971. First edition published in 1977 (Glückstadt, Germany: J. J. Augustin).

  • Freedberg, S. J. Circa 1600: A Revolution of Style in Italian Painting. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983.

    Based on a series of lectures, this short book explores the dramatic changes in art around 1600 brought about by Annibale and Ludovico Carracci and Caravaggio in largely stylistic terms. See pp. 1–50.

  • Keazor, Henry. “Il vero modo”: Die Malereireform der Carracci. Berlin: Gebr. Mann Verlag, 2007.

    Highly theoretical discussion of the nature of the Carracci “reform,” examining its interpretation from the early seicento to the 20th century.

  • Mahon, Denis, ed. Mostra dei Carracci: Disegni. Bologna, Italy: Edizioni Alfa, 1956.

    Companion exhibition catalogue to Cavalli, et al. 1956, showing more than 250 of the drawings of the Carracci.

  • Posner, Donald. Annibale Carracci: A Study in the Reform of Italian Painting around 1590. London: Phaidon, 1971.

    Pioneering monograph, primarily concerned with style. Invaluable as the only full catalogue raisonné of Annibale’s paintings.

  • Robertson, Clare. The Invention of Annibale Carracci. Milan: Silvana Editoriale, 2008.

    The most recent study of Annibale’s career, examining drawing as a means to invenzione (invention), iconography and patronage, as well as stylistic development.

  • Smyth, Francis P., ed. The Age of Correggio and the Carracci: Emilian Painting of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1986.

    Major exhibition, which set the art of the Carracci in the context of earlier Emilian art, notably that of Correggio, and explores their influence on later 17th-century painters of the region.

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