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River Landscape

February 24, 2011


River Landscape


Annibale Carracci 1590.

34 3/4 x 58 5/16 in. Oil on canvas.

Now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Hand in hand with the Baroque taste for naturalism, infinite space, and light is the landscape.  Annibale Carracci represents one of the key Baroque landscape painters.  In his River Landscape of 1590, he depicts a type of painting popular in Venice.  Although less popular than religious paintings, landscape, still-life, and genre scenes have their place in Baroque history.

In this landscape, we see human figures at a scale much smaller in proportion to the surrounding setting.  According to John R. Martin, in the Baroque landscape, especially those by Annibale Carracci, priorities have shifted.  History (and the characters associated with that event in time) are subordinate to the spacious landscape (60).  Human beings are not the only subjects to be depicted in a naturalistic style, landscape and nature deserve attention, too.

This is not just a pretty picture of a river and some leisure boaters.  This is a Moses scene.  However, the action is occurring in the middle ground, blocked by a repoussoir tree.  Carracci used many devices that have been used before in religious, mythological, and genre scenes.  Multiple picture planes give this scene depth.  He also utilized atmospheric perspective to emphasize the infinity of the depth.  Not only does the distant landscape get hazier, but also bluer in color, contrasted by the lush green closest to the viewer.  There is also a series of diagonals throughout the picture.  In the immediate foreground, the trees both frame the picture and lead the eye around with their predominant diagonals.  The hills that create the valley in the background carry the eye off into the distance.

Martin, John R. Baroque. New York: Harper & Row. 1977.


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