Annibale Carracci

Annibale Carracci

Annibale Carracci was one of the many talented artists from the Carracci clan. He was born and raised in Bologna, Italy and grew up in an environment that promotes art and culture as his family had their own studio. It was thought that Annibale was one of the top three most accomplished painters of the clan alongside his cousin Ludovico and brother Agostino.

What made Annibale more influential than his predecessors and contemporaries was his individualistic style that constitutes the characteristics of the Italian Baroque painting. He was considered as an Old Master that pushed through the development of Baroque painting during the latter part of 16th century. He defied Mannerist style of painting for he wanted to revive classicism and naturalism among 17th century artists.

Most of Annibale’s art works were frescoes for chapels, palaces and cathedrals. Some of which included the famous Assumption of the Virgin (1590), The Laughing Youth (1583), The Virgin Appears to the Saints Luke and Catherine (1592), The Flight into Egypt (1603), and his frescoes in Palazzo Farnese in Rome from 1597 to 1605.

Early Life

Annibale Carracci was born on November 3, 1560 in Bologna, Italy. He presumably spent his adolescent days providing assistance to the studio of his relatives. Ludovico and Agostino established their own studio in 1582 called the Academy of the Incamminati. Therefore, it would make sense if it was to say that Annibale’s source of earliest training was with his cousin and brother.

However, as a revolutionary painter, he was able to come up with his own painting style that was probably inspired by the techniques of Andrea del Sarto and Raphael Santi. Annibale looked up to Florentine and Venetian painters while growing up. He particularly liked the vibrant colors and shadowing effect on the objects unique from the Venetian painters while he liked the linear perspective that was commonly exercised by the Florentines.

Early Training

Annibale could have close encounter with those influential art works in Florence and Venice when he traveled around the country in 1580. He was accompanied by his brother, Agostino all throughout and later on together with Ludovico, they changed the name of their studio to School of Carracci, also known as the School of the Eclectics.

The younger Carracci collaborated with the older ones as they received a major commission by a nobleman. They were called upon to decorate the Palazzo Fava which began from 1583 and finished by 1584. It was possible that it was around this time when Annibale had painted his earliest religious art work, a Crucifixion.

The Crucifixion was a shocker for Annibale opted to follow his individualistic style than throw himself in to the Mannerist bandwagon. The figures were painted in naturalistic style based on live models combined with his passion for bringing back classic Italian painting.

In 1585, Annibale would have continued receiving commissions that helped him establish his growing reputation in the industry. He was asked to create an altarpiece for Santi Gregorio e Siro Church, and what he did was a Baptism of Christ altarpiece. This was followed by an Assumption painting for San Rocco Church in Reggio Emilia in 1587.

As with any other would-be independent artists, Annibale had crossed the country sides from 1587 to ’88 with his brother. He went to Parma, Venice and probably Florence to instill some artistic influences while completing some commissions. At some point in their travels, Ludovico, Agostino and Annibale were hired to complete a series of frescoes for Palazzo Magnani in Bologna in which Annibale and a collaborator Lucio Massari were responsible for painting the Virgin on the Throne with Saints John and Catherine altarpiece in 1593.

The triumvirate of Carracci painters had shared some successful feats together as they worked on the Palazzo Sampieri in Bologna from 1593 to 1594. Before this one Annibale had done a solo commission for Bonasoni Chapel, San Francesco in 1592, for which he painted an Assumption altarpiece and a Resurrection of Christ painting.

Art Works for the Farnese Palace

After Annibale’s successful stint with the Bonasoni Chapel, he moved forward with the sponsorship of a wealthy art patron, Cardinal Odoardo Farnese. He was invited by the said cardinal to paint some emotive frescoes around the Palazzo Farnese in Rome. This milestone cemented the reputation of Annibale and the Carracci school in the country, as go-to painters.

In the Palazzo Farnese, Annibale devoted a lot of his time to perfecting the ceiling frescoes which he entitled as The Loves of the Gods, which its creation began around 1597. This particular work is now considered a masterpiece for it was revolutionary in terms of its style, the level of skill that this subject would require from a painter and for its monumental size.

Annibale Carracci began working on the Camerino of the palace. The scheme included the life story of Hercules, and then proceeded onto the Farnese Gallery to decorate it with mythological characters painted within frames and on quadrature. The focal point of this art work was the depiction of the procession and triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne.

Annibale had a different interpretation of the characters’ story though, as he opted to paint them seated in a tiger-and goat-drawn carriage or chariot. Around them were a group of satyrs, nymphs and bacchanti. The foreground depicted the tutor of Bacchus displaying his drunken and ugly appearance as he was seated on the horse.

For over two centuries after High Renaissance, The Loves of the Gods frescoes remained an undisputed masterpiece of all artists. The creative process; from preparatory drawings, planning on the frameworks and to the actual painting combined with some inspiration from the works of Michelangelo and Santi, the said work served as a model for methodological procedure in painting historical events. In turn, this lengthened Annibale’s legacy after his death.

The Loves of the Gods solidified the on-going transition of Italian painting style at the time; from Mannerism to Baroque. And this was continued by the likes of Lanfranco, Andrea Pozzo, Cortona and Gaulli, all of which were artists that emerged at the height of Baroque period.

However, in contrast to Annibale’s classical style, Caravaggio and his faithful followers would revolutionize Italian painting once more but it focused on painting overly realistic art works compared to the dynamic and light paintings of the Carracci’s. Caravaggio painted melancholic and dramatic characters and sceneries while Annibale knew of joy and celebration. These two did it on the opposite ends of the spectrum but one can’t deny that they were two of the most significant artists of early Baroque painting.

Religious Art Works

Aside from mythological figures, Annibale also had the mastery of painting religious characters while incorporating some story in it. His Pieta (1599) was one of the most important religious paintings, which is now at Museo di Capodimonte in Naples.

Another relevant example is the Christ Wearing the Crown of Thorns, Supported by Angels which he completed by 1587. The painting depicts Christ as the centerpiece of it all and he was supported by cherubs and his oversized head is occupying the most space in the panel. His religious art works continued by the creation of The Penitent Magdalene in a Landscape (1598), The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine (1587) and the Temptation of Saint Anthony Abbot (1597).

Annibale quickly became a favorite painter of religious art patrons. One day in 1600, he was invited by the Santa Maria del Popolo Church in Rome to paint an altarpiece for their Cesari Chapel. This commission interestingly put him in rivalry with Caravaggio as they both had worked on the same edifice. Annibale painted the Assumption of the Virgin Mary altarpiece while Caravaggio focused on designing the side of the paintings.


During the last few years of his life, he was suffering from depression. This condition could be brought up by his difficulties in getting his salary for his contributions at the Farnese Palace. Beyond 1605 was the beginning of a long lull for the aging artist albeit he had done a couple of sketches.
Annibale Carracci passed away in 1609 and his remains were buried in the Pantheon of Rome. He was such a significant public figure that he was buried near the tomb of Raphael. On a positive note, his death started a legacy that would last for two centuries through the likes of Giovanni Lanfranco, Guido Reni, Francesco Albani and Domenichino.