ACCADEMIA CLEMENTINA : Atti e Memorie, Issue. 30-31 , Bologna 1992, pp. 111-150.
This late painting of Agostino’s is a fine example of the Carracci’s “ideal” landscape style in the years around his arrival in Rome, where he began to work in Palazzo Farnese circa 1598. In it he combined a Virgilian subject, (Eclogue X:69) representing Pan as carnal lust defeated by Love, with a pastoral setting that demonstrates to the full his real gift as a landscape artist. Considering that the artist and his younger brother Annibale were regarded throughout the seventeenth century in France as well as Italy the founders of the modern landscape tradition, examples of this genre from Agostino’s hand are extraordinarily rare. We can only surmise that it was because he was a great teacher that the degree of observation of nature which Agostino demonstrates in a few paintings and in his drawings and engravings, found a following that along with the work of Annibale, really served to shape a whole tradition in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The origin of the composition lies in the preparatory drawing for the engraving (Frankfurt Stadelisches Institut, 4059) dated to circa 1597. The corrections and additions found in the painting that differ to Agostino’s engraving dated 1599 of the same subject suggests the latter predates our painting. The presence in the preparatory drawing and in our painting of minuscule farm buildings in the middle distance (to the left) and the exclusion of this feature from the engraving suggests that Agostino may have referred back to his original ideas when working on the painting.
The closest comparison, in subject and overall character to Omnia vincit Amor is with Agostino’s mythological frescoes for the Gallery Farnese and it seems likely that our picture shares a common origin in Farnese patronage. Agostino’s invention and subtleties of execution so evident in Omnia vincit Amor are easier to observe in the actual cartoons for the frescoes. It has even been suggested that Omnia vincit Amor may be the result of Agostino working out ideas for the Gallery. The recently discovered date ‘1600 18 Maggio’ (see G. Briganti, ‘Nuove Indagini sulla Galleria Farnese’, in G. Briganti, A. Chastel and R. Zapperi, Gli Amori degli Dei, Nouve Indagini..., Rome 1987, (note 1, p.24) fig.c.) below the central fresco Triumph of Bacchus which was executed by Annibale simultaneously with Agostino’s two flanking frescoes sets the context for the creation of Omnia vincit Amor. It is plausible that Agostino painted our picture straight after his contribution to the Farnese Gallery was complete.
The small format and copper support have allowed for a greater delicacy than possible in large frescoes. This landscape with Pan, Amor and two beautiful nymphs, shows an extremely evocative poetry in its rendering of trees, the reflections in the water, the effects of light and shadow. The twisted trunks of Virgil’s shady juniper tree on the right are a feature that occurs time and time again in the oeuvre of both Carracci as seen in Agostino’s sketch of this singular feature at Holkham Hall (Portfolio II, 43R). All the way through there is a tremendous sensitivity to the effects of light in the rendering of perspective, with the transition from a dark foreground to the blue distance punctuated with Bologna’s famous towers being effortlessly held together not so much by any landscape formula or convention, but by a feeling for aerial perspective. Dott. Emiliani has remarked upon this feature saying that it is reminiscent of the “bird-eye view” which he believes originated in Bologna, particularly in early engravings of Agostino e.g. Il Caroccio di Cremona portato in battaglia (1582). Posner acknowledges Agostino’s contribution to the development of the ideal landscape style in his monograph on Annibale and admits that his possible role in shaping Annibale’s landscape style still awaits study. Such references merely emphasize the seminal importance of Agostino’s inventions, which were assiduously admired and imitated by Domenichino’s generation and beyond.
The sensitivity for light is also, as we would expect from Agostino, maintained in the figures that are the protagonists of this work. The lighting as it falls on them is evocative of the effect of sunlight falling through foliage, and it dramatically enhances the moment when the naked nymphs are hidden from Pan’s lustful view. Here is the genesis of the classical landscape idiom, when Agostino places a mythological subject in a setting that enhances the Arcadian associations to the subject. Born, like so much of their art, in the context of a decorative tradition, this combination of the mythological subject within a landscape setting proved to be one of the Carracci brothers’ most lasting inventions. Naturally, the figures are reminiscent of their life-size relations in Agostino’s “Woman Borne Away by A Sea God” on the ceiling of the Farnese Gallery which he was working on at the time. The figure of the pointing nymph correlating with that of a nereid and the Pan sharing similarities with the muscular twisted torsos of the sea god and triton. Agostino’s cartoons for the ceiling were the subject of a recent conservation treatment and a major exhibition at London’s National Gallery (1995-96).
Omnia vincit Amor’s stylistic counterparts are to be found in Agostino’s small format paintings of the same era, Sacra Famiglia con Santa Margherita of 1600 (Naples) and a painting commissioned by the Farnese, the Madonna col Bambino e San Giovanino (Colnaghi 1979). They coincide precisely with this Raphaelesque development in Agostino’s work that transpired during his final sojourn in Rome. The painting demonstrates a sophisticated step beyond the more rustic characterization of the preparatory drawing with its leering satyrs or the pugnacious cupid of the engraving, replaced in the painting by a classical Eros.
Omnia vincit Amor is evidence of the presence in Rome of Agostino’s
hidden talent for highly finished cabinet pictures to which the better-known
engraving was merely a rationale.
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