Annibale Carracci is the forgotten Italian artist of the 17th century. A quiet, introverted man, his conspicuous lack of torrid love affairs, salacious scandals, or violent behavior has lead to his gradual disappearance on the horizon of famous artists.
Annibale Carracci was born in 1560, Bologna. Little is known of his early life, except that he was probably apprenticed within the family. His brother Agostino and cousin Lodovico were also painters, and together the three artists opened their own studio in the 1580s. Initially the studio was called theAcademy of the Desiderosi (desirous of fame and learning) but then became the Academy of the Incamminati (progressives). Where Lodovico's earlypainting was distinctly Mannerist in style, and Agostino initially practiced the more lucrative area of engravings, Annibale caused shock waves with his more naturalistic style. His earliest known religious painting, Crucifixion (1583, Santa Maria della Carita, Bologna) shocked an older generation of artists who insisted on idealized forms in the Mannerist style. Annibale, on the other hand, painted naturalistic figures from live models and there were suggestions that he did not treat the subject matter with appropriate dignity.
In about 1583 the Carraccis received their first joint commission - two mythological fresco friezes for the Palazzo Fava in Bologna. This was followed by more commissions, and it was said they improved upon Michelangelo's sculpture with their 1589 masterpiece, the Founding of Rome (frieze, Palazzo Magnani). In about 1585 Annibale came under the influence of the Urbino painter Federico Barocci (c.1526-1612) who was creating a new art form that incorporated Correggio's taste for Venetian colours and sfumato effects, with some Mannerist tendencies. Although all three Carraccis were master draughtsmen, by the early 1590s Annibale had emerged as the greatest artist in the family - a reputation based on a variety of portraits, landscapes and genre-works.
The gallery of the palace housed one of the finest collections of ancient sculpture. Annibale decorated the vault with a picture gallery of delicate mythological scenes and imagery, which was acclaimed as an unrivaled masterpiece. In fact, for more than two centuries (1600-1800), Annibale Carracci's Farnese Ceiling was ranked alongside Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel frescoes and the Raphael Rooms in the Vatican, as one of the great masterpieces of painting.
Annibale's last years were pretty miserable; he suffered from depression, which was compounded by difficulties in getting paid for his work at the Farnese Gallery. He is not known to have painted anything after 1605, although he made a few sketches the following year. He died in 1609 and was buried near the artist Raphael in the Pantheon of Rome. It is a measure of his success that on his death he was praised by Bernini, as well as French Baroque artists such as Nicolas Poussin. His work went on to influence numerous other contemporaries like Domenichino, Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647), Domenico Viola (1610-96), Guido Reni (1575-1642), Sisto Badalocchio (c.1581-1647), Francesco Albani (1578-1660) and Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). Annibale's artistic reputation suffered during the 19th century, but was firmly reinstated during the mid-20th century, and paintings by him can be seen in the best art museums in both Europe and America.