The Classical Revival

in Seventeenth-Century Italy

The Carracci

Although Mannerism may have begun as an extension of elements of the High Renaissance style, it atrophied during the later sixteenth century into a repetition of formulae. Complex in composition, colour and meaning, strange in lighting and extreme in bodily contortion, in expression and psychological tenor, Mannerism was a style for courtiers and sophisticates, blatantly clever, and far removed from the naturalistic simplicity and clearheaded idealism of the Stanza della Segnatura. At the end of the sixteenth century Annibale Carracci of Bologna, aided by his brother Agos-tino and their cousin Lodovico, began to develop a style based on the High Renaissance achievement, and not on contemporary trends. From his own lifetime, Annibale was considered to be the man who placed painting back on the true path of the classical tradition. His works, and those of his followers, particularly Domenichino, Guido Reni and Guer-cino, were avidly collected.

The Carracci spread their net wider than the Roman High Renaissance, and their style was consequently a new one. Annibale visited Parma and Venice in about 1585/6, and in Parma discovered in Correggio a master of forceful yet graceful compositions, of poses and expressions touched not by maniera but by a sweetness which made their idealism more human and hence approachable. Above all, Correggio's forms were simple and natural, executed with an attractive sfumato derived from Leonardo, and his subject-matter was clear and inviting. Annibale had in fact been experimenting with and extracting from Correggio's work as early as c. 1583, at a time when other Bolognese artists were still looking to Roman Mannerism. Annibale's visit to


Venice introduced him to nobler counterparts of Correggio, for there he studied Titian and Veronese, and saw in them a coloristic and more naturalistic alternative to the art of Raphael, all the more impressive because it was 'alive, vigorous and varied', His brother Agos-tino had already visited Venice in 1582, and made prints after Tintoretto and Veronese; indeed, he championed Venetian art against the attacks of Vasari, who gave it slighting treatment.561'568-572 During these years, Annibale was studying under his cousin Lodovico, from whom he probably took his interest in Correggio—an interest which Lodovice's Madonna dei Bargellini (Bologna, 1588) or his Virgin and Child with St Joseph and St Francis (Cento, 1591) show. But Annibale's own visit to Venice taught him how to paint textures with a shimmering brilliance derived from the technique of Veronese and Titian of dragging a loaded brush across canvas. He learned how to adapt Veronese's compositions and figure types, as in his Madonna of St Matthew in Dresden (1588) which is inspired by Veronese's Marriage of St Catherine in the Accademia in Venice (late 1570s). He could also paint mythologies in the manner of Titian, for example his Venus and a Satyr in the Uffizi (c. 1588).

After the manner of the age, the Carracci founded a school of art in Bologna in about 1582. This, the Accademia degli Incamminati (that is, of those who had set out on the road, i.e. to good art), largely avoided theory and the usual academic programme of instruction. Its students drew from the living model in a variety of formal and informal poses, not from casts. Teachers and students therefore never lost sight of how a body really looks and



Lodovico Carracci: Virgin and Child with St Francis, 1591. Cento.

moves, and such knowledge was to be of great importance in tempering their encounters with High Renaissance examples.

In 1595, Annibale Carracci was called to Rome to work for Cardinal Odoardo Farnese, who had recently inherited the collection of antiquities formed by his uncle, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, who had died in 1589. He desired painted decorations for the Palazzo Farnese which would harmonize with its population of antique statues. The first room Annibale frescoed, the Camerino Farnese,566 was given an oil painting in the centre of the vault, The Choice of Hercules (now in Naples; copy substituted), with frescoes of Ulysses, Perseus, Hercules and the Catanian Brothers, all of which illustrated the theme of virtue. These were arranged in the jigsaw-like gold and white coffering, the interstices of which were filled with grisailles in imitation of stucco. The source for these is Mantegna's Camera degli Sposi, and Correggio's Camera di S. Paolo in Parma. The canvas of Hercules at the Crossroads shows the hero, his pose derived from an antique coin, choosing between Virtue and Voluptas, the one facing out of, the other into



Correggio: Virgin and Child with Saints, 1525-6 Dresden.

the composition. Their poses echo each other, but whereas Virtue, dressed in deep red over blue, the garments falling in solemn folds aided by the figure's noble contrapposto, stands firmly on the ground, Voluptas is as unsteady as her nature. Her imbalance is accentuated by the insubstantial fluttering veils which partly cover her body. The concepts which these allegories embody are clearly stated in attributes to left and right of the foreground, and echoed in the stony path against the luscious vinous grove of the background.

A similar clarity of presentation is to be seen in earlier works by Annibale, but the noble monumentality and easy geometry of the oil painting in the Camerino are the result of his first-hand knowledge of Raphael. The same qualities are particularly noticeable in altar-pieces painted between 1595 and 1605, when illness forced him to stop painting. Thus his Christ in Glory with Saints (c. 1595/7, Florence, Pitti) takes up the arrangement of Raphael's Madonna di Foligno, which is also an ex-voto. However, it is a later Raphael, the maker of the Tapestry Cartoons, who provides him with a model for those eagerly gesticulating figures, their heavy drapes given greater weight by the strong lighting. Later works by Annibale develop this tendency, as a comparison between earlier works and the Domine Quo Vadis? of 1602 (London, National Gallery), or the Assumption of the Virgin (1600-1, Cerasi Chapel, S. Maria del Popolo), clearly demonstrates. The forms, reduced in number compared with earlier productions, bulk large in the picture space, and press toward the front plane for added effect. They are noticeably more sculptural and more rhetorical.

Annibale's most important works are the frescoes in the Gallery562'565 of the Palazzo Farnese (c. 1597-1604). This room, which is about 66 ft by 22 ft by 32 ft in height, had antique statues in the niches on the entrance and window walls. Annibale painted figures on the same scale in the main frescoed decoration above the heavy cornice. Here are flesh-coloured youths, kneeling on the cornice itself, or so it appears, and holding garlands of flowers. Behind them are bronze-coloured medallions guarded by friendly-looking 'stone' herms. Interspersed between the medallions are scenes carefully treated to look like actual canvases in gilded frames, as are the scenes on the crown of the vault. The impression of being in a picture-gallery is strengthened by the large 'paintings' at either end of the room, of which the lower edge rests, it seems, on the cornice, the upper part being tipped forward to afford the spectator a better view. We are convinced by the almost breathing nudes, so lifelike against the bronze and stone figures; and we now realize that we are apparently not in an enclosed room but in a loggia which is open to the blue sky, glimpsed behind the balustrade against which the pictures are lodged. The logicality of the whole illusion is enhanced by the strong lighting, shining from below and casting shadows.

The ancestry of the design of the Gallery is complex, but there are three main sources, corresponding to the three main features: architectonic frame, quadri riportati ('framed pictures'), and simple friezes. The structural idea of painted architecture is borrowed from the Sistine Ceiling, together with the population of ignudi, herms and medallions. In his


Annibale Carracci: Assumption of the Virgin, 1600-1. Rome, S. Maria del Popolo.

native Bologna, in the Palazzo Magnani, Annibale had already dealt with a highly coved vault by employing a continuous frieze, and he repeats the device here. The framed pictures in a 'loggia' come from Raphael's Logge in the Vatican (c. 1517-19). The clean lines and restrained illusionism of the decoration can be called a correction of earlier Mannerist work, such as Jacopo Zucchi's in the Palazzo di Firenze, Rome, of 1574/5, and Annibale's figures are also quite distinct in style from those of Michelangelo; they are more yielding and human, and the theme of the decoration is not the long story of Man's redemption, but rather the loves of the gods. The mood of the Farnese Gallery is correspondingly more humorous.

The main inspiration for the drawing style and the composition of the Gallery was Raphael,567 not Michelangelo. The Villa Farnesina had come into the possession of the Farnese in 1580, and it is plausible that Annibale should have been both inspired by and urged to compete with Raphael's Story of Psyche in the Loggia of that villa (c. 1517). That series had 'framed picture' elements in the imitation tapestries stretched across the top of the


Annibale Carracci: the Farnese Gallery,

c. 1597-1604. Rome, Palazzo Farnese.




Annibale Carracci: Polyphemus throwing a rock at Acis, fresco. End of the Farnese Gallery, Palazzo Farnese, Rome.

'arbour'. In the next room was The Triumph of Galatea; Annibale used the dynamic contrapposto of Galatea herself as the basis for his own Glaucus and Scylla, but its indirect influence was also very pervasive: the same idea appeared in Polyphemus and Galatea and Polyphemus and Acis at either end of the Gallery, while similar exploding forces were harnessed in the noisy frieze which is the centrepiece of the vault, The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne. No single work can teach us more about the regenerative powers of the classical tradition. Its ultimate source is the iconography and arrangement of Bacchic sarcophagi, which it follows closely. It is partly inspired by Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne, which had been in the Aldobrandini Collection in Rome since 1598, but the immediate model was a drawing by Perino del Vaga, owned by the Farnese family, which Annibale tidied up and simplified, whilst retaining some motifs. And yet, in its fleshy vigour, sensuality and bright colouring The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne is new and modern, 'a dazzling demonstration', in J. R. Martin's happy phrase, 'of the fact that it was possible for an artist of vision and intellect, through diligent study of the antique and of the High Renaissance, to shake off the fetters of


Mannerist artificiality and bring into being a new and original style which . . . could take its place in the monumental tradition'.

In essence, Annibale revitalized the tradition of Antiquity and jthe High Renaissance style at one and the same time. As for the Camerino, the programme for the Farnese Gallery was probably worked out by the Farnese librarian, Fulvio Orsini, a specialist in ancient coins and gems. We may imagine Annibale working under his guidance both in the immense Farnese collections and on Fulvio's own possessions. The Farnese sculptures at eye level in the niches of the Gallery surely suggested to Annibale, trained as he was in a naturalistic and monumental style, that he should make his painted figures look like sculptures brought to life. Thus the Polyphemus seems now an invigorated Laocoon (in the Polyphemus and Galatea), now the Farnese Hercules in violent motion (in Polyphemus and Acis).

Such features ensured that the Farnese Gallery was studied not only as an example of the work of the classical school, but as a scheme containing a wide range of stylistic possibilities.563 Rubens, one of the most scholarly of artists interested in Antiquity,570 studied here.564'569 Van Dyck, who found the style of the High Renaissance too stiff for his taste, did likewise.571 Pietro da Cortona and Bernini, as well as Nicolas Poussin, partly founded their styles on Annibale's achievement.* In brief, seventeenth-century classicism is a style not completely distinct from the Baroque, as we shall see in a discussion of the work of Domenichino.

Classicism and Baroque

Aspects of Annibale's style were developed by pupils of the Accademia degli Incamminati, particularly Domenichino, Guido Reni and Guercino, in whose work we can see something of the varying stylistic pressures in the years when the Baroque style was developing. Even the general framework of the Farnese Gallery was adapted by Baroque artists: Lanfranco

*For Annibale's interest in landscape painting, see the section on Claude (pp. 170-2, below).

reworked it for his 'Benediction Loggia' for the Vatican (1619-20; never executed) and for the ceiling of the Casino Borghese in Rome (c. 1616), while Pietro da Cortona transformed it for his frescoes in the Villa Sacchetti at Castel-fusano (1626/9). But it was Domenichino, who had worked in the Gallery from 1602, who was Annibale's chief successor. He adopted a cooler, less rhetorical style in the two main monumental fresco commissions which he accepted from 1608, namely frescoes of The Life of St Nilus in the Abbey at Grottaferrata, near Rome (1608/10), and of The Life of St Cecilia in S. Luigi dei Francesi in Rome (1611/14). Domenichino restrains his scenes within a well-defined border, and it is the verticals and horizontals which control the emotional tenor of his figures. This feeling, in its turn, is reflected in the architecture of his scenes, the antique inspiration of which ennobles the monumentality of the sparse figures on their delicately lit stage. The Flagellation of St Andrew in S. Gregorio, Rome (1608-10), demonstrates these points. Gesture and expression, even figure types and poses, derive partly from Raphael's stanze: we might see the St Cecilia Giving Alms as a classicizing restate-

Domenichino: The Intercession of the Virgin, 1631—41. Naples, S. Gennaro Chapel.

classicaltrad3-44.jpg classicaltrad3-45.jpg

Domenichino: St Cecilia Giving Alms, 1611-14. Rome, S. Luigi dei Francesi.

ment of The Fire in the Borgo, with fewer figures, all exhibiting more self-control, in a spatially exact setting, rather like the stern characters of the Tapestry Cartoons.

The rhetoric inherent in Raphael's Tapestry Cartoons makes a bold appearance in the figures of the Four Evangelists which Domenichino painted in the pendentives of S. Andrea della Valle in Rome between 1622 and 1628. Their explosive vigour and exuberantly expressive drapery may have been a reaction to the style of Lanfranco's contemporary frescoes in the dome of the same church, in the Correggiesque illusionistic manner. In that Domenichino's figures differ but little from the mood of Bernini's St Longinus for St Peter's (begun 1629), they might be called Baroque.577 They obtrude upon the rigorous classicism of his scenes from The Life of St Andrew in the apse of the same church. Work on such a large scale, of course, presented problems which Domenichino could solve only by extending the rhetoric of the Tapestry Cartoons to make figures even larger, simpler and more theatrically grand. His unease in such commissions is confirmed by his unhappy frescoes in S, Gennaro, Naples, begun in 1631 and still unfinished at his death in 1641. These are on the


Ptetro da Cortona: The Triumph of Divine Providence, 1633-9. Rome, Palazzo Barberini.

scale of Baroque and have its outward forms, but they lack any warmth of sentiment, beauty of colouring or excitement of vision.

Nor is Domenichino's toying with the nascent Baroque an isolated phenomenon, for Poussin did likewise in 1624-30. Lanfranco, fabled as Domenichino's mortal enemy, at least began as his stylistic ally, as witness his training in the Carracci shop in Bologna and his decorations in the Casino Borghese in Rome (c. 1616). He may also have worked on the Farnese Gallery commission. However, his stay in his birthplace of Parma between 1610 and 1612 prompted him towards the introduction into his work not only of the Correggio of the altarpieces, but also of Correggio the grand illusionist. I have explained the part played by Correggio's works in the stylistic development of the Carracci; his importance for Baroque art as well confirms the existence of similarities between the roots of seventeenth-century classicism and the Baroque. The difference between the styles is often one of degree. The painting career of Pietro da Cortona offers examples to prove this point, as well as a testimony to the wide influence of Annibale's Farnese Gallery. Pietro's frescoes of The Life of Bibiana of 1624/6 in the church of that name in Rome are similar in setting to Domenichino's works in S. Luigi. However, Pietro's scenes present us with a larger, more sculpturally conceived collection of figures which, instead of remaining calm within a sober architecture, press forward with powerful gestures into the very space in which we stand. Canvases of the same decade, such as The Sacrifice of Polyxena and The Rape of the Sabine Women (by 1625 and c. 1629, respectively; both Rome, Capitol-ine Museum) show his move from a Domen-ichinesque figure style set in strong chiaroscuro to a brighter and more dynamic conception of the human body. In his later works the figures are, indeed, reminiscent of Bernini's sculpture. These canvases derive from the paintings of


Guercino's flamboyant Aurora ABOVE, in the Casino Ludovisi, Rome, and in which all the architecture is painted, not real, can be compared with Guido Rent's more classical Aurora BELOW. Rome, Casino Rospigliosi.

the Farnese Gallery, and so does Pietro's frescoed ceiling in the Great Hall of the Palazzo Barberini (1633-9). He retains the architectonic framework,574 the medallions and the slaves, and the scenes have to be viewed as quadri riportati. What makes the Barberini Ceiling the epitome of early Baroque is its

heightened illusionism and feeling of space. During the second and third decades of the century, therefore, the classical style fought against the rising Baroque. The struggle is captured in a comparison between Guido Reni's Aurora in the Casino Rospigliosi (1613-14) and Guercino's Aurora in the Casino





Guido Reni: Massacre of the Innocents, 1611-12. Bologna, Pinacoteca.

After Raphael: Tapestry of the Massacre of the Innocents, for which the Cartoon is lost. Rome, Vatican.

Ludovisi (1621-3). Reni's painting makes no attempt at illusionism; his bright and simple frieze derives from an antique sarcophagus, and is designed to look like a framed canvas.576 Guercino, on the other hand, produces a romantic vision partly contrived by the illus-ionistic architectural perspective of Agos-tino Tassi, and partly by the sotto in su view of the groups. The stylization so noticeable in the exquisite elaboration and rhythms in the drapes of his Aurora is equally evident in Reni's justly celebrated Massacre of the Innocents in the gallery at Bologna (1611-12). The precise symmetry of this composition, which is in effect a contrapposto turning around the central vertical dagger, echoes a geometry in the faces which is perhaps inspired by antique masks. Nothing is closer to the elegant monumentality


and poignant understatement of this painting than Giotto's rendering of the same scene in the Arena Chapel.573


In the rest of Guido Reni's work, we can truly say that disegno is matched by colore. In its sobriety of composition and monumentality of conception and figure type, his work is an extension of the Bolognese tradition; but there is added a new coolness of colour and a freedom of brushwork. Except for occasional glimpses of Caravaggio's style,575 which also affected Guercino, Guido's paintings are in the High Renaissance manner, heightened and enriched by his training in Bologna. That school, averred Horace Walpole in 1747,

to the dignity of the Antique, join'd all the beauty of living nature. There was no perfection in the others, which was not assembled here. In Annibal Carracci one sees the ancient strength of drawing. In his Farnese Gallery, the naked figures supporting the ceiling are equal to the exerted skill of Michael Angelo, superiorly coloured. In short, in my opinion, all the qualities of a perfect painter [are] never met but in Raphael, Guido and Annibal Carracci . . .

Modern taste has veered away from appreciation of such qualities. What seventeenth-and eighteenth-century connoisseurs saw as restrained and delicate beauty might appear to a modern critic as 'distressing insipidity'. Such connoisseurs believed that the Bolognese were conspicuously eclectic in their choice of sources, and that their success derived from this aspect of their art. Some modern critics deny that the Carracci were any more eclectic than Poussin or Raphael;579"81 others present the contrary view.578 Looking at the question in the naivest manner, it must be the case that the later an artist or school works within a tradition, in this case the classical tradition, the greater the variety of manners from which he can form his own style. It was certainly in the later years of the seventeenth century that classicism was fully codified in G. P. Bellori's The Idea of the Painter . . . superior to nature by selection from natural beauties (1672) and in the lectures of Charles Lebrun in France. Perhaps critics like Bellori recognized artists such as the Carracci as eclectic because they were themselves eclectic in gathering the portmanteau theories of art. In Panofsky's definition, such critics and the art they generate are not classical but classicistic, manifesting 'classicism that has become conscious of its own nature after a past no longer classical and within an environment no longer classical'.582


Critics like Bellori saw the Carracci as the rescuers of true art from the slough of Mannerism, and also from the destructive naturalism of Caravaggio, whose art was believed


Caravaggio: The Conversion of Saul, 1600-1. Rome, S. Luigi del Francesi.

to be without invention or selection, intellect or decorum. The task of the classical artists was to steer a median path between Mannerism and Caravaggism. As Bellori complained, The antique lost all authority, as did Raphael, and because it was so easy to obtain models and paint heads from nature, these painters abandoned the use of histories which are proper to painters . . . some artists began to look enthusiastically for filth and deformity. If they have to paint armour, they choose the rustiest . . .. Recent examination of Caravaggio's sources, of the iconography584-585 and style of his work, have shown him as 'less of an anti-traditionalist . . . than was believed for almost three hundred years'.587 Indeed, a comparison of his Conversion of Saul with Annibale Carracci's Assumption of the Virgin, both in the Cerasi Chapel of S. Maria del Popolo, shows a marked compatibility of styles. The magnified rhetoric of Annibale's forms harmonizes with Caravaggio's simple and calm composition, sparse and dignified figures, and emotional reticence. Because of his familiarity with antique sources, his use of the works of Raphael583


and Michelangelo,586 and the sublime understatement of his religious compositions, a case for the inclusion of Caravaggio in the classical tradition might be formulated. His so-called 'popular' art was in fact created for an audience that was anything but populist. Two factors prevent his receiving more than a passing mention here. First, the illogical quality of his chiaroscuro, which has connections with Mannerism, picks out details such as Bellori's 'wrinkles . . . defects of skin . . . knotted fingers . . /, which a classical artist would judge a disturbance of any depiction of the ideal. Second, the outward features of his style, imitated by artists who could not approach the intellectual and spiritual rigour of the master, led to hollow mannerisms which the classicists rightly abhorred.

Carlo Maratta

In the eyes of Bellori, the art of his friend and contemporary Maratta, like that of the much older Poussin, whom he also befriended, was the answer to the crudities of realism as it was to the fantasies of the Baroque. Maratta's long life (1625-1713) gives him as it were a bridging place in the history of classicism between the achievement of Sacchi (whose pupil he was and in whose shop he worked until 1661) and the consequent classical revival of the early seventeenth century, and the codification of the grand manner by theorists like Bellori.582 Maratta's fame was extended by Bellori's biography, begun in 1689 but unfinished, and not published until 1732—in time, one might say, to be read by the young Anton Rafael Mengs. Bellori's championship of Maratta must be seen in the context of his view of the history of art, at which I have already hinted: art declined after Raphael, to be reborn with the Carracci and succoured by Domenichino. Bellori saw Maratta's style as part of the same grand manner, a beacon of clarity against the confusion of works such as Baciccia's ceiling of the church of the Gesu in Rome which (on the analogy of Bellori's condemnation of contemporary architecture) adopts '. . . frantic angles, fragmented and distorted lines The Clemency of Clement X, Maratta's ceiling


fresco (begun 1676) in the Palazzo Altieri near the church of the Gesu, proclaims the formal and intellectual qualities of classicism. Except for the bright colouring, which is a feature of the age, it might be compared with Sacchi's fresco of The Divine Wisdom in the Palazzo Barberini (1629/33), to the greater credit of Maratta, the later artist. As we have seen, classical artists had difficulties with ceiling decoration when they did not treat their scenes as framed pictures; Maratta, like Domenichino before him, made certain concessions to the Baroque manner of artists like Pietro da Cor-tona and still retained simplicity and narrative control.

This short account cannot do justice to Maratta's commanding position in the last decades of the century as a painter of small devotional works, mythologies and portraits as well as great altarpieces. His importance extends well into the eighteenth century, partly through the work of pupils, and makes Rome the natural centre of Neoclassicism. His importance as a symbol is in association with Bellori, with whom he forms just the same kind of pair that Mengs later made with Winckelmann. For all four men, it is admiration for Raphael which provides their ultimate artistic standard. Bellori's Descrizione delle Stanze di Raffaello (1695) is only the last of a series of publications on Raphael in the second half of the century. Mengs was probably a great help in matters both of theory and of practice to Winckelmann : likewise Maratta, who restored the Stanze and the Farnesina, surely shared his own enthusiasm with the antiquarian rather than copied it from him. Bellori's archaeological text to the engravings of P. and F. S. Bartoli in their Admiranda . . . veteris sculpturae vestigia (1693) becomes one more example of cooperation between antiquarian and classical artist to place beside Dal Pozzo and Poussin, Winckelmann and Mengs, and Quatremere de Quincy and Canova. That same stream of classical theory which had fed the Carracci and Poussin found only its summa in Bellori; it was already part of French academic theory. In the eighteenth century, Reynolds no less than Winckelmann was to codify it into even stricter doctrine.