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Week 5: The Carracci Drawings & Engravings

February 21, 2011

Drawings were very important to the Carracci.  Drawings helped artists prepare for masterpieces.  Drawings were also fundamental to the students in the Carracci Academy.   They placed heavy emphasis on drawing and drawing from life in their Accademia degli Incomminati.  The Carracci sought to imitate nature while expressing truth.  The style that evolved from their thinking and the Academy can be thought of as a reform movement after the Tridentine decrees on religious painting (Serooskerken).

In an early ink and wash drawing by Ludovico Carracci, Allegory of Poetry Comfortning Painting*, examples of a dialogue between contemporary artists and past masters appears to have begun.  This particular ink drawing is an allegory composed of many different elements.  A Michelangelesque river god is in the foreground, indicated by his vase.  There is an obelisk in the center.  This shows the Carracci were not only drawing from life, but also from what was available to them in terms of previous masters’ work and other monumental structures.

This is not a finalized drawing.  One can see the quick gestures of the contours of the figures and the reworking of the composition.  The leg of the river god seems to be in more than one place, undecided perhaps.  Although this drawing appears to have been done quickly, it was obviously done with skill, attention, and care.  The chiaroscuro expressed via the ink and wash shows this was more than a gesture sketch.

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

Some drawings were done in chalk, such as the Young Artist at Work* by Annibale Carracci.  This appears to be a rather finished drawing of a young student of about 8-10 years old.  This is a successful drawing in that it was difficult to represent a person at such an age while using the most basic media at hand.



Portrait of Titian

Agostino Carracci 1587.

13 x 9” Copperplate engraving.

Staatliche Museen, Berlin

This engraving by Agostino Carracci is an example of the translation of colore onto a black and white image.  One of the Carracci’s chief aims in art was to express truth by using color and design.  Being that engraving is a medium that usually only renders monotone images, Agostino improvised to make this piece a true Carracci piece.

This is a self-portrait in which Titian used color to express the various textures of his costume.  When translated into an engraving, Agostino Carracci was very sensitive to these textures.  One can distinguish the fur of Titian’s overcoat, from the satin of his shirt, and the velvet of his hat.  His coarse hair tells of old age and wisdom as well as the wrinkles around his eyes.

Titian has presented himself (prior to Agostino’s engraving) not as a working class artist, but as a learned person.  In his self-portrait, he does not show himself holding a paintbrush or in dirty work clothes, but rather as a respectable man in attire that the upper class wore.  Agostino’s re-rendering of this portrait is a reassertion of the elevated status of the artist.  The Carracci Academy was not merely an art school in which young students apprentice older masters, but a place of learning.  This elevation of the art student to a learned person rather than a craftsman is echoed in this portrait, built on the foundations early masters such as Titian began to set.




Agostino Carracci 1579.


Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna, Austria

Like his Portrait of Titian, Agostino Carracci’s engraving of Michelangelo’s Pieta (1498-1499) shows a visual dialogue between artists of different time periods.  Although Michelangelo could not actively participate in the conversation among artists, he left behind a wealth of artwork for the Carracci to study and draw from.

Agostino Carracci’s Pieta engraving places the sculpture in a setting one would never see it in  – landscape.  By presenting a two dimensional image of this piece, Carracci has forced the viewer to look at it from a certain direction.  The point of view is fixed, no longer a sculpture in the round.  Christ’s foreshortened head removes that sense of mystery – is He dead or just sleeping?

Drawings and engravings were important to the Carracci.  It was still vogue to make many preliminary sketches before starting a painting during this time.  Drawing from life was heavily emphasized in the Carracci Academia degli Incomminati.  Some drawings found themselves in engravings by Agostino.  One of his special talents was taking the work of well known artists and turning into an entirely new piece just by copying it into an engraving.  Whatever the medium, the Carracci strove for verisimilitude in their work and the work of their pupils.

*Image currently unattainable.

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