Bolognese Artists in Early 17th-Century Rome

Updated on April 18, 2017
Anonymous portrait of Annibale, Ludovico and Agostino Carracci
Anonymous portrait of Annibale, Ludovico and Agostino Carracci

Bologna to Rome

The Carracci family of artists comprised Ludovico (1555-1619) and his cousins Agostino (1557-1602) and Annibale (1560-1609), who were brothers. They developed a style of painting that moved away from constrained and formal “Mannerism” and incorporated sentiment and naturalism in what became known as the “Baroque,” although they were still wedded to the basic principles of Classicism. This trend was seen in a range of works in portraiture, landscape and religious painting that engaged the emotions of the viewer.

Ludovico’s studio became an academy of art, known from about 1590 as the Accademia degli Incamminati, in which the Carracci worked on a variety of commissions and also took on pupils who were instructed in the techniques and philosophy of the Baroque.

In 1595 Annibale Carracci settled in Rome at the invitation of Cardinal Odoardo Farnese. His work for the Cardinal included painting frescoes, mainly of scenes from Greek mythology, on the walls and ceiling of the Farnese Gallery. He was inspired by the example of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel to incorporate feigned architectural features in his design. His work, which also extended to history and landscape painting, was much admired for its freshness and drama.

Annibale’s success gave a number of his former pupils the idea that they could follow in his footsteps. Rome clearly offered opportunities that Bologna could not, and so there was something of a flood of Bolognese artists who tried their luck in Rome during the early years of the 17th century and who brought Baroque influences with them that they then became instrumental in developing further. Some of these artists are mentioned below:

Domenichino Zampieri (1581-1641)

Domenichino – by which name he is usually known – arrived in Rome in 1602 and began by assisting Annibale Carracci at the Farnese Gallery. His first independent work of any importance was in 1608, this being a fresco entitled “The Scourging of St Andrew” that was reminiscent of the work of Raphael with its cool coloring and lucid spatial structure.

His style developed greater richness, in terms of coloring and composition, and he displayed considerable skill in organizing works that incorporated a large number of figures. However, he had little creative imagination and there is an overall sense of dullness in much of his extensive output.

The Way to Calvary, by Domenichino
The Way to Calvary, by Domenichino

Francesco Albani (1578-1660)

Albani moved to Rome in 1601 and concentrated on frescoes at first. He worked alongside Domenichino on decorating the Giustiniani Palace at Bassano di Sutri. However, his most characteristic work was on canvas, notably small-scale works that were warm in color and evoked a poetic and dreamy mood. It would appear that his influences included Venetian painting as well as his earlier training by the Carraccis.

Venus Attended by Nymphs and Cupids. by Francesco Albani
Venus Attended by Nymphs and Cupids. by Francesco Albani

Guido Reni (1575-1642)

Reni moved to Rome alongside Francesco Albani, but was destined to become a far greater painter. He concentrated on mythological and religious scenes, and portraits, in both fresco and oils, but he never painted landscapes.

One of Reni’s most characteristic works was “The Massacre of the Innocents” painted in 1611. This painting shows both the progress made by and the limitations of the Baroque in developing Classicism. Emotion is clearly evident in the expressions on the faces of the mothers whose children are being murdered and the men doing the murdering, but Classicism demanded harmony and balance, such that if an emotion was extreme the gestures of the characters in question must be suitably dramatic, which does not accord with most human experience. This is why modern viewers tend to find Classical art difficult to come to terms with.

Massacre of the Innocents, by Guido Reni
Massacre of the Innocents, by Guido Reni

Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647)

Lanfranco came from Parma, rather than Bologna, but he was trained in Parma by Agostino Carracci, after the latter had moved there from Bologna, and then by Annibale Carracci in Rome. He worked in various places in northern Italy, but some of his best-known work was done in Rome.

Notable works by Lanfranco include frescoes at the Sala Regia in the Quirinal Palace, Rome (1616-17), and eight huge canvases (1624-5) that relate to the Eucharist and were designed to decorate the Capella del Sacramento in San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Rome. His most famous fresco was the “Assumption of the Virgin” inside the dome of San Andrea della Valle.

Lanfranco later moved to Naples, because he felt that he was being overshadowed by Pietro da Cortona and Gianlorenzo Bernini, and while there he undertook important commissions that themselves influenced the next generation of Neapolitan painters. However, he ended his days back in Rome.

The Assumption of the Virgin, by Lanfranco
The Assumption of the Virgin, by Lanfranco

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1591-1666)

He is commonly known by his nickname of Guercino, which means “squint eyed” due to a sight defect that he had from childhood. He was born in Cento, a town not far from Bologna, and he was influenced by the Carraccis although he was not directly trained by them. His family was too poor to allow him to undertake formal study and he acquired knowledge and experience wherever he could get it, which included Venice and Ferrara as well as Bologna.

Guercino’s breakthrough came courtesy of Cardinal Alessandro Ludovisi of Bologna who admired his work and offered him commissions. When the Cardinal became Pope Gregory XV in 1621, Guercino was summoned to Rome to paint an altarpiece in St Peter’s. His masterpiece is generally regarded as being a fresco of “Aurora” on the ceiling of the Casino Ludovisi.

When the Pope died in 1623 Guercino returned to Cento and worked on a string of altarpieces and mythological works for the rest of his life. However, his later work declined considerably in quality, due mainly to his acquired conviction that emotion did not, after all, have a role to play in Classicism.

Aurora, by Guercino
Aurora, by Guercino


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    • craftybegonia profile image


      3 years ago from Southwestern, United States

      Very interesting and informative article. I knew about Classic art because I went to art school, but you always have to admire the talent and the artistry they had. The perspective was always amazing, and the style was very personal and yet it reflected the period.

    • helenstuart profile image

      Helen Stuart 

      3 years ago from Deep in the Heart of Texas

      You Just can't know in how many aspects of art history this article has enlightened me, I did not know nearly the qualifications of Classical art, and I bet a lot of people don't. I am going to study what constitutes Baroque art more, I feel like you handed it to me but I want to make sure. I have always wondered why the Renaissance happened (chiefly in Florence) the way it did and when it did. Could it have been a case of millenialism, panic of the big numbered years, like we have now, or this may be silly, but could it have been that several more artists suddenly had access to real mirrors. Isn't that about the time that a few people besides royals could gain access to a mirror, and everyone else stared into shiny metals. I think that most people, definitely including artists, really learn about people's faces and movements by studying their own. Maybe that's why they drew everyone flat before the renaissance. But I seem to remember some non flat people. Kinda confused self taught (or teaching) artist.


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