Art and the Viewer in 17th Century Italy

Agostino Carracci as Teacher

Agostino's contribution to the formation of the Carracci academic method, and its relationship to the broader academic movement.

Raichel Le Goff, Trinity College Oxford

This essay presented as a Seminar 28th April 1994 - Courtauld Institute of Art

Agostino was born in Bologna in 1558, two years before his brother Annibale.

Malvasia, the seventeenth century biographer of Bolognese artists, tells us that as children, both Agostino and Annibale Carracci attended the Scuola di Grammatica in Bologna. The brothers were taught not only Latin, but grammar, rhetoric and the humanities. Malvasia records that Agostino was an exceptionally bright pupil who excelled in Latin and orthography, a method of spelling. When Agostino was fourteen, the normal age then, for leaving school, his elder cousin Ludovico noticed the two boys had a talent for drawing and it was decided they should study painting. Agostino entered the workshop of Prospero Fontana, but is reported as being a difficult student, and he was removed to the studio of the engraver and architect, Domenico Tebaldi. It seems the precision and flexibility of engraving, appealed to the adolescent Agostino more than painting, and he very quickly became a highly competent and innovative engraver, much in demand by artists such as Tintoretto and Veronese.

Engraving held a lifetime fascination for Agostino: Here is an early engraving of "The Annunication" after a painting by the Emilian artist Sammachini, which Agostino did when he was only 19 years old and an engraving of his own invention of "St.Jerome", which he was working on at the time of his death.

Annibale was only eleven when the boys had left the Scuola di Grammatica and had not finished his formal schooling. It is partly for this reason, that history tends to view Agostino as the more academic of the two - even Charles Dempsey, acknowledged champion of the younger brother, calls Agostino the "Philosopher-Painter". Certainly, throughout his life, Agostino was to devote most of his energy not to painting, but to scholarship. Independently, he proceeded to study philosophy, mathematics, geometry, astrology, music and other liberal arts. He also gained quite a reputation as a poet in both Latin and the vernacular. At the same time, he continued to work as an artist and taught at the Academy. It was this profile of the artist as an academic, as someone who could tap into the liberal arts for fresh sources, someone whose knowledge was not confined to the manual process of studio painting, that became the example for students at the Carracci Academy and at other academies in Europe that followed. The antique attitude that the most extensive possible universal education was necessary, or at least most desirable for artistic production had been set forth prominently by Vitruvius, who wrote that an artist should also be :

<<a man of letters, a skilful draughtsman, a mathematician, familiar with historical studies, a diligent student of philosophy, acquainted

with music; not ignorant of medicine, learned in the responses of jurisconsults, familiar with astronomy and astronomical calculations.>>

This opinion was adopted by Renaissance theorists such as Alberti and Ghiberti and it is this old humanistic theory in practice, that Agostino applied to his own life.

When Agostino died, Bologna honoured him with a magnificent funeral and elogies dedicated to Agostino refer to him as <<A great professor, a great painter and a great poet.>>

Bellori says, he was considered "the most excellent of teachers" and from all accounts, it appears that not only was Agostino eager to acquire knowledge, but to impart it. Several authors blame the fact that he never became a prolific painter due to his obssession with scholarship, which they say, distracted him from pursuing a painter's, career as his brother did.

Although we often hear that it was Annibale, who is the 'true genius' of the family, Bellori, credits Agostino with actually opening the famous Academy of the Carracci in 1582. But we also have evidence that Ludovico was trying to obtain official recognition for an Academy two years beforehand and it seems more likely, that Ludovico, the eldest of the Carracci originated the idea, with Agostino and Annibale lending their full support.

The first true Academy of Art was the Accademia del Disegno in Florence and there can be little doubt, that it served as a model for the Carracci when they were inspired to create their own academy.

The Accademia del Disegno was originally founded in 1560 by two monks, who having shared their plans with Florentine artists like Vasari, Bronzino and Ghirlandaio, revived the moribund Compagnia di San Luca, a society of artists founded in Giotto's time. The Accademia del Disegno, is better known as 'Vasari's Academy', as it was Vasari who took particular interest in the idea and with the support of Cosimo Medici, was largely responsible for the creation of, the Accademia e Compagnia del Disegno, which was formally inaugurated on January 31, 1563. It was in effect, a combined guild and school for artists.

The purpose of this Academy was to teach the arts of 'disegno', i.e. painting, sculpting and architecture.

But supported as it was by the State, and subject to control by the State, the Florentine Academy was not, like that of the Carracci, a e Academy was not, like that of the Carracci, a private Academy. Theirs, was the first institution of this character that we know of.

According to Bellori and Malvasia, the Carracci opened their Academy between late 1583 and early 1584 fresh from the success of their first important commission, the fresco cycle in Palazzo Fava. Agostino, would have been 26 years of age than, already an accomplished painter and engraver. Initially, the Carracci academy was called, the Accademia dei Desiderosi, - which can be interpreted as, 'the Academy of those who desire to learn' - but as their fame grew, they changed the name to the Carracci Accademia - before arriving at the final name of the Accademia degl' Incamminati - meaning, 'the Academy of the Progressives'.

Unfortunately, no archives survive from the Academy, we have only fugitive allusions from contemporary texts to work with. But Dempsey has been brave enough to try and define what exactly distinguished the 'Carracci Academic method' from previous academic training, concluding that <<for the Carracci, the purpose of art lay in the delight of intellectual enlightenment and not in the pleasure of the senses>>. Dempsey says that the Academy was founded on the concept that <<painting and the arts of design, like the arts of letters, constituted a profession, and that as a profession it should be taught in an Academy rather than by apprenticeship in a bottega.>> . Further, that <<the Carracci Academy was characterized as representative of the most advanced and truly imaginative artistic thinking of their age>> - which is reflected in their choice of name, the Accademia degl' Incamminati - (the Academy of the Progressives). But much more than that, the high ambition of the Carracci with their Academy, seems to have been to achieve an 'ideal', by merging poetry with painting. Not only were they interested in raising the status of the professional artist to that of the man of letters, but they aspired to elevate the painted image itself. They saw painting as a form of discourse, that like poetry, employs the techniques of rhetoric, narrative and pleasing description in order to persuade the viewer of a sentiment being expressed. But these were the Carracci's intellectual concerns - it is a somewhat more difficult task to examine how the practical application of this idealism was carried out inside the Academy and even more elusive to pinpoint exactly how Agostino himself, contributed toward it. Dempsey is not really concerned with the nitty gritty of how the Carracci put their ideas into the everyday teaching experience within the Academy - which is briefly what I am going to try and do here...

Although we only have what are most probably exaggerated seventeenth century anecdotes describing the novel teaching methods of Agostino - I think if we are looking to extract method from the theory, we cannot ignore the evidence of the wealth of Carracci drawings surviving to us from this period. Many of these drawings, are what can be loosely described as 'of an academic nature'. (slides, Agostino sketches of feet over a sketch of the Annuciation/sketches of heads, eyes,etc..). Here, we see Agostino's sheets of repetitive drawings of the eye, the foot, types of head and characters in profile. They are what one would expect to find in a school of 'disegno'. Nevertheless, the question whether the Carracci academy had a systematized method of teaching has often been hotly debated - but I believe that sheets of drawings like these, indicate that they did. (slides, divisioned sketches of Heads, figure and landscape on one sheet/compare to Leonardo da Vinci's partitioned sheets of grotesque heads). In Agostino's numerous drawings of caricatures, it is clear, he is making an attempt to systematize categories of phyisiognomies. A requisite for the invention of caricature, is an analytical approach to physiognomical formation and deformation. This was provided by Agostino's systematized studies of the human body, which drew on the 'scientific' tradition of Leonardo and Durer. At the same time, and on a more basic level, I see Agostino's caricatures as furthering the tradition of depicting "low-life" types that we see in "The Bean Eater", "The Butcher Shop", and works of the early Bolognese period of the Carracci. This fascination with caricature, and the employment of it as a teaching device, would seem to be supported by a philosophy that Agostino embraced. As Dempsey has pointed out, - <<there is no doubt that Agostino, the scholar, passionately cared about Aristotelian distinctions - an eye capable of seeing more than surface facture will discern that his paintings are constructed upon a systematized classification of experiential phenomena appealing to universal rule. Agostino was one of the founders of an Academy based on such distinctions>>. Agostino manifested this philosophy in an amusing work dated to the last year he was in Rome circa 1600 - (slide) - it is called "Hairy Harry, Mad Peter and Tiny Amon". Thought to portray three personalities at the court of Ranuccio Farnese, Duke of Parma ; Hairy Harry was known as Arrigo Gonzales, a young man cherished by the Duke as a freak of nature, due to the long blonde hair that completely covered his body. Depsite his strange appearance Agostino has given this central figure the attitude of a young mythological god. He is surrounded by Mad Peter, the court buffoon and Tiny Amon, a dwarf. They are joined by various favourite pets of the court and the whole composition seems aimed at lending these malformed creatures, a poetic beauty and dignity.

One fundamental aspect of Academic training was and still remains, the system of IMITATION - learning by studying and copying the works of past and contemporary masters. Although this practice would have been central to the training at the Academy, the purpose of the Carracci's training was not to enforce upon their students a particular style, but on the contrary, to encourage them to follow the path of their own invention - to liberate the artist's 'giudizio', or aesthetic judgement. They were evidently very successful at this for their Academy produced great masters; Domenichino, Guido Reni and Albani, who although they were nurtured on the Carracci method, emerged to paint in highly individualistic styles. Part of the process of learning by Imitation for these artists was through studying Agostino's engraved copies of great works of art. He was especially talented at remaining faithful to the work of art he was copying, as Tintoretto commented, instead of stamping his own artistic style over everything, as most engravers could not avoid doing. (slide, an early engraving of Agostino's after Tintoretto of "Minerva drives Mars from Peace and Plenty") An engraving Agostino executed after a painting of the Flagellation, by Denis Calvaert, a Fleming who painted in Bologna was quite influential as Robert Spear, (author of a monograph on Domenichino), comments, <<Agostino's engraving apparently was quite admired among the Carracci pupils; it also influenced Pavico's fresco of the Flagellation in San Salvatore, Farnese.>> Spear has pointed out that Domenichino borrowed a figure ddirectly from Agostino's engraving when he painted the fresco of "The Flagellation of Saint Andrew" in the Oratory of San Andrea in Rome (1609).

By studying Agostino's engravings, members of the Academy might thereby learn the principles of disegno, both in the rendering of line and in the effects of chiarascuro. Agostino also taught his students how light and shade could be used as the foundation of perfect illusion by taking them to study the Jupiter fresco in the Palazzo Fava - which was painted in chiarascuro with such illusionary effect that it appeared not painting, but sculpture. (slides, Palazzo Fava view of the entire wall/view of the Jupiter figure). It was said that the three dimensional sculptural appearance of Jupiter, was so strong, that the mirage could only be shattered by touching the flat fresco surface. Such illusionary effects were later exploited to their fullest by both Annibale and Agostino in the Farnese Gallery in Rome. (slides of Farnese Gallery ceiling figures).

Malvasia relates another interesting teaching technique of Agostino's, which involved personally acting out the postures and expressions of the figures to be painted. This was a lesson that Domenichino took to heart for it is related that one day, Annibale caught Domenichino in a furious rage as he acted out the figure of the soldier restraining the crowds when he was working on the Flagellation of Saint Andrew fresco.

The Carracci believed very much in the benefits of drawing constantly and it is said that they drew on every available free surface, almost incessantly. As schoolchildren, Agostino and Annibale's books had been covered in the margins with sketches. And some of Agostino's work sheets, (such as the example of the sheet covered in sketches of feet over a drawing of the Annunciation figures, I showed you earlier), attest to this compulsion, covered as they are in numerous small quick sketches of great variety. Faberio another 17th century source, tells us that Agostino was interested in "Ogni cosa creata" - or, every single thing created - and that he studied, buildings, landscapes, costumes, people of all sexes and ages, horses and animals, battles, vases, trees, clouds, fires and weather conditions - combining this stimulus with his love of poetry in order to facilitate invention in his painting and engraving. Malvasia demonstrates to us how Agostino enjoyed playing jokes with his pencil - (*SLIDE* - this is a drawing which was included in the recent Chatsworth Old Master Drawings exhibition at the British Museum - can anyone spot the CAT?) - it is possible, that Agostino employed such jokes to amuse and stimulate his pupils at the Academy.

Certainly, it seems likely, that with his knowledge of such a wide range of subjects from the sciences to Ovid and Virgil, that he was able to transfer to his pupils, more than just manual instruction in 'disegno'. We know also, that the Academy employed various scholars to teach subjects other than 'disegno' there, such as Pietro Faccini, who taught mathematics.

Two artists who are identified as being pupils of Agostino's are Sisto Badalocchio and Giovanni Lanfranco. Both artists were born in Parma and are thought to have attended the academy at Bologna before studying under Agostino for two years when he was working for Ranuccio Farnese, the Duke of Parma. After Agostino's death in 1602, Farnese sent Badalocchio and Lanfranco to study with Annibale in Rome. (show *SLIDES* 1. of Agostino's drawing of The Holy Family - from Ellesmere collection and 2. of The Holy Family by Badalocchio) The drawing is by Agostino and belongs to the period around 1595 before he set out to join his brother in Rome. This is well before Sisto would have been up to painting a picture of this standard, but it gives an indication of the kind of drawings he would have seen Agostino, his master, working on in the studio and I even think that we can see certain parallels between the two - for instance, the model for Joseph, and the type of Christ Child with the slightly elongated limbs and curly head. Agostino made a study of a man's head, (*SLIDE*) which is thought to be taken from a classical gem. It is a formulaic type, which we see repeated in the work of Agostino and his Academy students - as you can see, it is very similar to the head of Joseph in Sisto's painting.

Lanfranco, went on to a more successful career than his compatriot Sisto, rising in Rome to become the favourite artist of Paul V and Principe of the Accademia di San Luca. Agostino was Lanfranco's first teacher and I think this is fairly evident in his Madonna and Child with Saints Charles Borromeo and Bartholomew, (*SLIDES*) if we also look at Agostino's Assumption of the Virgin (painted circa 1590) which was the altarpiece for the church of San Salvatore in Bologna and a famous painting of its time. The picture has an effect of great freedom and pictorial fluency, as in the angels who support the Virgin, (which incidentally, are very similar to those in Lanfranco's painting). At the same time there is a severity which anticipates French classicsm. It is because of these characteristics, that Agostino had such an impact upon Lanfranco and other painters connected to the Academy - such as Francesco Albani, (slide). Looking at Francesco's painting of the Madonna Enthroned dated to 1599 (when he still would have been in contact with Agostino in Rome after having worked together in the Farnese Gallery,) and comparing it to Agostino's earlier, Madonna and Child with Saints John the Baptist, Benedict, Margaret and Cecilia, we can see the obvious parallels. Agostino's picture was painted in Parma and there is a direct line of influence from Correggio to - Agostino/Agostino to - Albani.

To answer the issue of Agostino's contribution to the Carracci academic method and its relationship to the broader academic movement : we must first look at other Art Academies that sprung up, in imitation of the Accademia degli'Incamminati. I have already mentioned that Agostino's pupil, Lanfranco became Principe of the Accademia di San Luca in Rome. This was in 1631 and the Accademia had officially been open since 1593, a full decade after the Carracci had opened their Academy in Bologna. The fame of the Carracci and their Academy had been quick to spread throughout Italy, and it must have rankled Rome that they did not possess such an Academy that could produce a succession of homegrown, top quality, artists. It was through the efforts of Cardinal Federigo Borromeo and the painter Federigo Zuccari, that the Accademia di San Luca was formed. They tried to take one stage further, the Carracci philosophy of viewing the arts of 'disegno' as an intellectual pursuit, by stating that their primary aim would be to make the Accademia "Educational" - that rather than just a glorified 'bottega', they would run it as a serious school with strict hours of study, daily lectures and professori in constant attendance. As we have seen, Agostino, the 'painter-philosopher,' had contributed much to developing the Carracci's Academy's reputation as an elite training center for high-brow artists. It seems to be this particular facet of the Bolognese academy, i.e. a talent for turning out well educated artists, that Zuccari and Borromeo wished to emulate. However, the Accademia di San Luca of Rome, was not a private family enterprise like the Carracci Academy and it was plagued by internal disputes and bad organization which meant that it never realized its full potential. Pope Urban VIII tired to reform the Accademia in 1627 but failed and in 1658 when Poussin was elected Principe and declined, it was time for Rome to admit the centre of both art and academic teaching of art, was now at the court of France. Perhaps disappointed with the failure of the Roman academy, the same Cardinal Borromeo who had inaugurated the Accademia di San Luca with Zuccari, was responsible for opening up an Academy in Milan in 1620. He went some way further into associating painting with scholarly endeavour by incorporating within the one institution, a library, art museum and art academy. It was known as the AMBROSIANA. As Archbishop of Milan, Borromeo founded the Ambrosiana as an official diocesan institution whose purpose was to reform sacred scholarship and the figurative arts, in response to the decrees of the Council of Trent. Put quite simply, it was Borromeo's intention to produce artists that would reform art. Just as the Carracci aimed to break with the artifical style of the older generation of painters (the Mannerists), in order to restore naturalism to painting, so Borromeo wished to combat what he saw as a decline in sacred art by revitalizing it with naturalism. He believed that the instructional validity of religious art depended on it. For Borromeo, the Carracci were the most successful at interpreting the classical world and with it, the natural style of Raphael and Leonardo, and making it acceptable in the language of the seventeenth century.

In 1613, whilst the Ambrosiana was still in its embryonic stage, Borromeo wrote to Ludovico Carracci asking for copies of the rules of the Carracci Academy that he should be guided in the correct way to run his institution. This goes some way in illustrating the respect that Borromeo held for the Carracci's teaching methods, which Agostino had contributed to formulating. As it turned out, the Ambrosiana was not a success, but what remains important, is that the Carracci; their theories on art; their methods of teaching and the actual works of art they produced, provided role models for the Accademia di San Luca, the Ambrosiana and also for the French Academy which was founded in 1648. After a period of instability, The Royal French Academy became a well organized institution under the control of Jean Baptiste Colbert, between the period 1662 - 1682. He attempted to give the Academy an intellectual role, devising an educational program that involved the teaching of anatomy, perspective and history by professors who were not artists. Colbert operated on the principle that beauty could be taught, and that a code of rules applied to art in the same way that rules of grammar must be applied to understand a language. He also established the heirarchy of the genres, reserving the positions of professor, rector and director of the Acadmey for those painters who practiced the noblest genre; "history" painting. Colbert applied the same theoretical methods at the French Royal Academy of Architecture, which he founded in 1671. Here, paying students were instructed and examined on such subjects as: arithmetic, mechanics, hydraulics, perspective and geometry. The principles of Euclid and Alberti were taught <<in order to deduce aesthetic doctrine>>. Just as the best of the Carracci pupils followed Annibale and Agostino to Rome, there to further the learning process - so too, the French went to study antique and Renaissance art at the source, when they established the French Academy in Rome in 1661.

If the Carracci Academy, led the way at the end of the sixteenth century, for art academies of the seicento then surely Agostino, as the most enthusiastic and possibly, the most gifted scholar of the three Carracci, can be considered a leading proponent of the new academic movement that spread from Bologna, throughout Europe.

FOOTNOTES - Apologies, the footnotes have not yet been formatted to include number reference, however they do appear below as in order in the text.

 De Architectura, Vol. I, Book I, Chapter I, 'On Training of Architects', (2.-3.), Loeb Classical Library, p. 7.  translated from the poem written by Cesare Rinaldi as it appears in Bellori, Le vite de pittori, scultori et architetti moderni, E. Bora, ed., Turin 1976, p.96  Bellori, Enggass, p.93.  Dempsey article, p.569.  ibid. p.563.  ibid. p.567.  C. Dempsey, Annibale Carracci and the beginnings of Baroque Style, p.41.  R. Spear, Domenichino, note 28, p.156.  in Vasari, Lives...., Milanesi, IV, p.376.  P.M. Jones, Federigo Borromeo and the Ambrosiana, Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 2.  L. Hautecoeur, Histoire de l'architecture classique de France (Paris, 1948), 2:462, no. 1. 


The Age of Correggio and the Carracci, exh. cat. National Gallery Washington, 1986. G.P. Bellori, Le vite de pittori, scultori et architetti moderni, E. Bora, ed., Turin 1976. G.P. Bellori, The Lives of Annibale and Agostino Carracci, translated by Catherine Enggass, Pennsylvania, 1968. C. Dempsey, Annibale Carracci and the Beginnings of Baroque Style, Harvard, 1977. C. Dempsey, "On the Education of Artists in Florence and Bologna", Art Bulletin, 1980. S.J. Freedberg, Circa 1600, A Revolution of Style in Italian Painting, Harvard, 1983. P.F. Grendler, Schooling in Renaissance Italy, Literacy and Learning 1300-1600, John Hopkins University Press, 1989. J. Hargrove, The French Academy Classicism and its Antagonists, Newark, 1990. P.M. Jones, Federigo Borromeo and the Ambrosiana, Cambridge University Press, 1993 Malvasia, La Felsina Pittrice N. Pevsner, Academies of Art Past and Present, (1940), ed. New York 1973. D. Posner, Annibale Carracci, A study in the Reform of Painting Around 1590 R. Spear, Domenichino. Vasari, Lives..., Milanesi, Vol IV. Vitruvius, De Architectura, Vol. I, Loeb Classical Library 

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