Agostino Carracci (1557-1602)
For a guide to the two main responses to 16th century Italian Mannerism, see: Classicism and Naturalism in 17th Century Italian Painting.
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Born into a family of Bolognese Old Masters, the Italian painter and printmaker Agostino Carracci was the brother of the renowned Annibale Carracci (1560-1609) and the cousin of Ludovico Carracci (1555-1619), with whom he founded the celebrated Bolognese School of painting (c.1590-1630). As an artist, Agostino is noted in particular for his printmaking which circulated widely in Europe. In addition he collaborated with his brother on several projects, including the decoration of the Ceiling of the Farnese Palace in Rome (1598-1599). He was also a popular and skilled teacher: his anatomical studies, for instance, were later engraved and used for almost two centuries as academic teaching aids. His final years were spent as court painter for Duke Ranuccio Farnese in Parma, where he died without completing the fresco cycle in the Palazzo del Giardino.
Born in Bologna, the son of Antonio Carracci, a tailor, Agostino started out as an apprentice in goldmithing, before turning to painting which he learned first under Fontana, who had also taught Lodovico, and later with Passerotti and Domenico Tibaldi (1541-1583). During the late 1570s he worked as a reproductive engraver, copying paintings by 16th century masters including Federico Barocci (1526-1612), Paolo Veronese (1528-88), Tintoretto (1518-94), Antonio Campi (1522-87), and Correggio (1489-1534). In this, he was greatly influenced by the Dutch-born engraver and draughtsman Cornelis Cort (1533-78).
He visited Venice (1582, 15871589) and, in between, Parma (15861587). During this period he worked alongside Annibale and Ludovico on the fresco cycles at Palazzo Fava and Palazzo Magnani, in Bologna. These mural paintings included the Histories of Jason and Medea (1584) and the Histories of Romulus (1590-92), respectively. He also completed his altarpiece of the "Madonna with Child and Saints" (1586, National Gallery of Parma). In 1598 Agostino joined his brother Annibale in Rome, to fresco the Gallery of the Farnese Palace, whose ceiling was judged by many art critics to be one of the real masterpieces of painting, ranking alongside the Sistine Chapel frescoes and the Raphael Rooms in the Vatican. It remained hugely influential, as a template of heroic figure design and painterly technique, until denigrated by John Ruskin (1819-1900), who - somewhat perversely - considered the Carraccis to lack talent. Fortunately, they were fully rehabilitated during the second half of the 20th century.
In 1589 Agostino and his brother Annibale returned to Bologna and - in partnership with Lodovico - started the "Academy degli Desiderosi" (later renamed "Academia degli Incamminati" - Academy of the Progressives), to champion figure drawing using live models and to discuss the latest issues of art and design. It was this academy that formed the nucleus of the Bolognese School. Agostino himself combined teaching with painting. In 1592 he painted his masterpiece - the "Last Communion of St. Jerome" - now in the National Art Gallery of Bologna (Pinacoteca di Bologna), and in fact lent a hand in the decoration of almost every great palace in Bologna. Naturally innovative, Agostino's painting style leaned towards Mannerism, in contrast to the idealistic naturalism of his brother Annibale. However, like both Annibale and Ludovico, his draughtsmanship was exceptional: indeed skill at drawing was a quality that was associated with nearly all the graduates of the Bolognese School - especially Guido Reni (1575-1642), Domenichino (1581-1641) and Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647), three of the leading representatives of the following generation of artists. Later artists who were influenced by the Bolognese school included the great Catholic painter Carlo Maratta (1625-1713).
Agostino was a master of engraving in what is now called "the large style". Indeed his influence in the art of printmaking extended across Europe, being appreciated by the Dutch genius Rembrandt, among others, and his graver technique was widely imitated. His best works include "Triumph of Galatea" (London); "Saint Francis receiving the Stigmata" (Vienna); and "Aeneas and His Family Fleeing Troy" (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).
Sadly, in 1600, Agostino had a major falling out with his brother Annibale and took off for Parma, where for the remaining two years of his life he laboured to produce his own "Farnese Ceiling" at the Palazzo del Giardino for Duke Ranuccio Farnese. The unfinished fresco painting reveals a meticulous but rather lifeless version of Annibale's lively Classicism. Agostino was survived by his son - Antonio Marziale Carracci (1583-1618), who decorated Cardinal Tonti's chapel, and afterwards the chapel of St. Charles Borromeo, as well as a room at the papal palace at Monte Cavallo.
For more about early 17th century Baroque painting, please see the following articles:
Venetian Altarpieces (c.1500-1600) - Altarpieces in 16th Century Venice.
For the best works, see: Best Baroque Paintings (c.1600-1700).
Painting in Naples (1600-1700) - A short Guide.
For more detail, see: Neapolitan School of Painting (1600-56).
For later works, see: Neapolitan Baroque (c.1650-1700).
NOTE: Paintings and engravings by Agostino Carracci can be seen in some of the best art museums in Europe and America.
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF OLD MASTER