Ludovico Carracci
Italian artist and founder of Bolognese School of Painting.

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The Transfiguration (1594)
Bolognese altarpiece art
by Lodovico Carracci, one of the
great Old Masters of Bologna.

Ludovico Carracci (1555-1619)


Early Life and Training
Painting Style
Carracci Academy
Related Articles

For a guide to 16th century Italian art, please see:
Classicism and Naturalism in 17th Century Italian Painting.

For biographies of contemporaries of Ludovico Carracci,
please see: Italian Baroque Artists (c.1600-1700).

For details of the pigments
used by Ludovico Carracci
in his colour painting,
see: Renaissance Colour Palette.

See: Best Artists of All Time.

For oils, see: Oil Painting.

Early Life and Training

A key contributor to the Bolognese school of painting, which had a significant influence on Baroque painting in Rome, the painter, etcher and engraver Ludovico Carracci was the cousin of the great Annibale Carracci (1560-1609) and his brother Agostino Carracci (1557-1602). Known for being somewhat slow though dogged, Ludovico was advised by his teachers to quit but no one could dissuade him from becoming a painter. As it was he trained in Bologna under the late Renaissance painter Prospero Fontana (1512–1597), before widening his experience with visits to Florence, Parma, Mantua and Venice, where he was influenced by the works of the Florentine Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530), the wonderful Parma-born illusionist expert Correggio (1489-1534), and the Venetian genius Titian (c.1485/8-1576). The influence of his Baroque contemporary Bartolomeo Cesi (1556-1629) is also noticeable in the simple, strict construction of such youthful works as "The Annunciation" (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna) and "The Vision of St Francis" (Rijksmuseum), both painted in Bologna.

Painting Style

The works painted here and elsewhere reveal a tendency towards naturalism and make use of strongly contrasted chiaroscuro. Typical of his way of painting at this time are "The Conversion of St Paul" (1587), "The Madonna of the Bargellini" (1588), "The Madonna of the Scalzi" (all three in the National Art Gallery of Bologna), "The Flagellation" (1589, Douai Museum) and his masterpiece, "The Madonna with St Francis and St Joseph" (1591, Cento Museum, Emilia). The fervour of their pictorial imagination and their subtlety of feeling are equally impressive.

Carracci Academy

After travelling widely, Ludovico returned to Bologna in 1589 at the age of 34 and, together with his cousins Agostino and Annibale, founded the "Academy degli Desiderosi", to encourage drawing from live models and to discuss current issues of art and design. (It later changed its name to "Academia degli Incamminati" - Academy of the Progressives.) It was this academy that formed the nucleus of the Bolognese School of painting (c.1590-1630). For the next decade, all three Carraccis worked together developing their school until the two brothers were called to Rome. In their absence Lodovico became the director of the Academy - a position he retained until his death. The reputation and influence of the Carracci Academy spread throughout Italy. As it did so, Ludovico himself became famous, but mostly on account of the success of his pupils, rather than because of his own painting. Among his best pupils were: Francesco Albani (1578-1660), Guido Reni (1575-1642), Domenichino (1581-1641), Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647), Leonello Spada (1576-1622), Alessandro Tiarini (1577-1668), and Pietro Paolo Bonzi (1576-1636) known as il Gobbo dei Carracci (hunchback of the Carracci).


Ludovico Carracci's warm and passionate temperament found its outlet only in Catholic Counter-Reformation Art (1560-1700), but his works in this genre are remote from any experimental spirit or intellectualism and lack both spontaneity and originality. He was a teacher rather than a great artist. He was very much attached to his birthplace, Bologna, and seldom left it, and then only for short periods. In 1607-8 he visited Piacenza to carry out frescoes for the choir of the cathedral, but all the other commissions he received from Piacenza and from elsewhere in Emilia or Lombardy were always carried out in his home town. He refused to conform to current taste, and thus quickly appeared old-fashioned in comparison with the new trends in Bolognese art exemplified by the work of Guido Reni and Francesco Albani in Bologna, and Domenichino and Giovanni Lanfranco in Rome. His last important work was a series of fresco paintings which he carried out with his pupils (1604-5) in the cloister of the Church of S. Michele in Bosco. Today these murals are so badly damaged that it is hard to appreciate them except through reproductions. Although his example played a determining role in the education of artists like Guercino (1591-1666) and, later, Carlo Maratta (1625-1713) and Crespi (1665-1747), Ludovico Carracci never achieved the fame of his cousin Annibale and his influence remained limited.


That said, Ludovico's printmaking was much more interesting than his painting. His engraving in particular is exceptional and very beautiful - his technique was to begin his plates by freely etching them, after which he completed matters with an elaborate use of the graver. His masterpieces include: "Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes" (Berlin); "Ecce Homo" (Rome); and "Virgin and Child" (Paris). His etched and engraved plates include: the "Holy Family" and "Samson overcoming the Lion".

Related Articles

For more about late Mannerist painting and early Baroque art, please see the following articles:

• For the best works, see: Best Baroque Paintings (c.1600-1700).

Painting in Naples (1600-1700) - A short Guide.

• For later works, see: Neapolitan Baroque (c.1650-1700).

NOTE: Paintings and prints by Ludovico Carracci can be seen in some of the best art museums around the world.


• For more famous 16th century Italian painters, see: Homepage.
• For analysis of important pictures, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed.

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