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Ludovico Carracci

February 21, 2011


Bargellini Madonna

Ludovico Carracci 1588.

12’ 3” x 6’ 2” Oil on canvas.

For the Buoncompagni Chapel of the Church of the Monache Convertite in Via Lame, now in Pinacoteca, Bologna.

According to Rudolf Wittkower, Ludovico Carracci painted in a Baroque manner in contrast to his cousin Annibale who painted in a classical manner (32).  Ludovico’s highest point in his Baroque career can be seen in his Madonna dei Bargellini altarpiece for the Buoncompagni Chapel.

Instead of Annibale’s stable pyramidal composition from the Renaissance, Ludovico has placed his figures in a diagonal pyramid, allowing for movement.  The Madonna is to the right of the center, throwing off the typical pyramid which she would have been at the top of.  Even though the Madonna is not in the center of the composition, her head is above all other figures, and all gestures point to her.  A break towards the center of the compositions allows for the viewer to enter into the multiple planes of the picture.  The eye is led in an S-shaped path through the crowd and up to the Madonna, again.  Serookskerken suggests this altarpiece was inspired by Titian and Veronese, great Venetian painters.

This scene is a sacra conversazione because the saints in the piece are from different time periods.  The scene takes place in the Bolognese landscape, in order to anchor this occurrence to an earthly realm.  The family of the Bargellini are also said to be represented within the composition as saints (

C. van Tuyll van Serooskerken, et al. “Carracci.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 21 Feb. 2011 <;.

Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna.  21 Feb. 2011. <;

Wittkower, Rudolf.  Art and Architecture in Italy 1600-1750: Vol. I, Early Baroque. Yale University Press. 1958.

Vision of St. Francis

Ludovico Carracci 1583-1586.

40 x 40” Oil on canvas.

National Gallery, On loan from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

This daring composition splits the frame into three parts.  On the far left is the wilderness that St. Francis is said to have been followed into by a fellow friar.  The friar is a witness to this miracle.  St. Francis is positioned in front of a tree which separates the picture – earthly from spiritual.  He holds the glowing Christ child as the Madonna, in the far right portion, gazes off into the distance.  She is surrounded by light and color and is standing on a cloud, differentiating her from the rest of the painting.  These three portions of the picture together create a stable balance yet allow for a Baroque dynamism from own portion to the other.

Ludovico’s handling of color is very controlled in this piece.  Although part of the painting clearly has a different color scheme than the other (natural vs. supernatural), all colors in both portions contain the same strength of hues and saturation.  This gives the composition unity and harmony.

Ludovico Carracci used light to distinguish the heavenly beings in this painting. The Madonna is most obvious, surrounded in bright light that illuminates the forest behind her.  The Christ child has a glow around his head, contrasted by the dark world St. Francis occupies.  It also appears that St. Francis has a glow around his head as well.  This raises the question of whom is having the vision – St. Francis? Us? Or the friar in the background?  And what is the Madonna looking at?  It does not appear that her gaze is fixed upon anything in the picture, and so we wonder what else is going on in this scene?

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