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Andrea Sacchi (1599-1661)

April 1, 2011

Andrea Sacchi's St. Gregory & the Miracle of the Corporal, 1625-1627.St. Gregory and the Miracle of the Corporal

Andrea Sacchi 1625-1627.

Oil on canvas.

Commissioned for St. Peter’s, now in Pinacoteca, Vatican.

This painting is an example of Sacchi’s matured style.  It contains both Classical and Baroque elements.  This is a story of a miracle; the piercing of a sacred cloth with a dagger.  This cloth was used to clean the chalice in the Mass.  It bleeds from its puncture.

The figures are arranged in a Classical triangle.  However, the two figures at the bottom of the group have their backs to the picture and look up at the pope.  This dynamic spiraling turns the triangle into a pyramid.  The composition as a whole has a contrappasto between those in disbelief, now realizing their Faith, and those who believed all along.

Sacchi painted this in warm Venetian colors and tones.  There is a painterly quality to his brushstrokes.  He had also looked as masters such as Raphael in his studies.  This is evident in the psychology of the painting as well as the composition.

Wittkower, Rudolf. Art and Architecture in Italy 1600-1750. Vol II. High Baroque Yale University Press. 1958.

Divine Wisdom

Andrea Sacchi 1629-1633.


Antechamber to private chapel in Palazzo Barberini, Rome.

Andrea Sacchi’s ceiling fresco in the Palazzo Barberini was painted before Pietro da Cortona painted the ceiling of the Gran Salone.  The two compositions are very different from each other.  Andrea Sacchi’s is considered more Classical, yet utilizes di sotto in su, as was vogue, inspired by Lanfranco’s Council of Olympian Gods (Harris).  However, one cannot help but notice the lack of depth of the background.

Because this was a private room, the decorum of the Counter Reformation did not apply here.  This scene is from the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon.  It referenced the beauty of Wisdom.  Each character in this composition is an allegorical figure.  Sacchi’s accomplishment in portraying these figures is in their affeti.  The figures do not need much context to convey who they are, they simply just are.  Their gestures express all one needs to know.

Since this room led to the private chapel of the Barberini, it acted like a nave of a church.  The doors of the chapel were right below the bottom of the composition on the ceiling.

Ann Sutherland Harris. “Sacchi, Andrea.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 1 Apr. 2011 <;.

Vision of St. Romuald

Andrea Sacchi 1631.

Oil on canvas.

For S. Romualdo, Rome, now in Pinacoteca, Vatican.

Andrea Sacchi’s work in the Barberini Palace put him in favor with the family.  Cardinal Lelio Biscia commissioned an altarpiece by Sacchi for the new church of the Camaldolese Order.

The altarpiece contains a simple, Classical composition.  Sacchi depicts the monks in their characteristic white robes.  St. Romuald tells the others about his vision and points behind the listening figures.  Behind them is his vision.  Even further behind the vision is distant landscape.  A warm golden light comes from the vision and shines on the figures of the foreground mostly illuminating St. Romuald and another listening monk.

The figures each have very individualized features.  This makes for a personal experience for the viewer.  This is a contemplative piece that evokes the viewer to concentrate just as the figures in the painting are.


Week 9: Domenichino (1581-1641)

March 24, 2011



Alms of St. Cecilia

Domenichino 1613-1614.


Polet Chapel, S. Luigi dei Francesi, Rome.

Compared to the Caravaggio St. Matthew pieces in the same church, Domenichino’s St. Cecilia fresco is radically different.  Executed only over 10 years after Caravaggio’s dark, tenenbristic laterals and altarpiece in the Contarelli Chapel, Domenichino’s composition of alms giving has a much lighter palette.  This is due to its medium, fresco.  Many other aspects of this piece make it much different from Caravaggio’s Baroque style.

Domenichino appears to be reviving Bolognese Classicism with his St. Cecilia fresco.  The composition of figures as a whole creates a triangle that is very much in the foreground.  This establishes stability.  Within the triangle, however, there is still much movement and strong diagonals.  The two figures at the bottom corners of the composition mirror each other, creating a continuity of movement within the scene.

Indirect quotes from Raphael can be seen in this piece as well as others of the time period and style.  Instead of directly quoting figures used in earlier pieces, as done in the Late Renaissance and Maniera, Baroque artists captured the essence of a figure’s pose, then had a live model reenact the pose, and fianlly drew the model from different angles.  Thus, they made their own adaptation of recognizable figures from the past masters while making them their own.

This scene of alms giving was important during the Counter-Reformation because it emphasizes the importance of a saint and her good works.



Last Communion of St. Jerome

Domenichino 1614.

Oil on canvas.

For Congregation of St. Jerome of Charity, now in Pinoteca Vaticana, Rome.

Domenichino’s St. Jerome shows his familiarity with the Carracci version, but also created controversy in that it looked too similar.

In Domenichino’s piece, the composition is flipped from Agostino Carracci’s original.  Jerome is now on the left side, looking right to the priest handing him the Eucharist.  Everyone in the composition is focused on the main event – Jerome in penitence receiving his last Communion (Cropper).  These are two sacraments that the Protestants would not accept.  This painting is a stronger defense of those sacraments during the Counter-Reformation than Carracci’s.  Domenichino even features items that would be found at the altar during such a ceremony such as candles and a chalice.

Domenichino’s St. Jerome is arguably more Baroque than Carracci’s in that it encompasses far distant space.  Both compositions feature a piece of architecture in the background that is open to reveal a landscape beyond.  Carracci’s scene seems to eliminate most planes of the middle ground and jumps straight to the distant background.  Domenichino, on the other hand, takes the time to show a receding background with many planes in between.

Elizabeth Cropper. “Domenichino.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 22 Mar. 2011 <;.



Vocation of Ss. Peter & Andrew

Domenichino 1625-1628.


S. Andrea della Valle, Rome.

The center-piece of the dome-like apse spandrel frescoes at S. Andrea della Valle is a Vocation by Domenichino.  It shows Christ, fishermen, and Saints Andrew and Peter.

Domenichino faced a technical problem with the shape of the surface for the fresco.  It is rounded, concave.  He devised a way to make each painting appear quadro riportati, yet also appear to only be a window into the world of the apostles.  This scene, like the others in this apse, gives the illusion that it extends beyond the picture frame.  There are hints of a background landscape in this boat scene, as well.

The action of this vocational scene is happening in the foreground.  The figures form diagonals in their interactions with one another.  The most prominent can be seen in the long stick one of the men on the boat has.  It even seems to mimic the ribbing of the dome.

Christ’s gesture recalls that of Caravaggio’s Calling of St. Matthew Christ.  He stands off to the side, seemingly not quite fitting in with the rest of the characters in the scene.  His arm is extended and he points to the chosen ones with a languid finger.  Caravaggio derived this from Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel ceiling (1508-1512).

Elizabeth Cropper. “Domenichino.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 22 Mar. 2011 <;.

Guercino (1591-1666)

March 24, 2011




Guercino 1621.


Casino Ludovisi, Rome.

Guercino’s ceiling in the Casino Ludovisi marks a transition from quadro-riportato scenes to the use of illusionistic di sotto in su and quadratura.

Unlike quadro-riprotato, both di sotto in su and quadratura give the illusion that the ceiling is opening up, or that there is a continuation of the internal architecture.  In his Aurora, Guercino used extreme foreshortening in the center of the composition.  This is an example of di sotto in su, which means “seen from below.”  If the event of Dawn being brought in by chariot were happening above us, this is what we would see: the under side of the horses, the lower and foreshortened side of the chariot.  Dawn would have to lean over the chariot, as she does here, in order to be visible.  The illusion of the continuation of the interior architecture extending into the illusionistic open sky is an example of quadratura.

Although Aurora is more di sotto in su than quadro-riportato, one still must orient himself in a fixed position to read the center of this painting.  The surrounding scenes also must be read from their own fixed point of view, below.  In this sense, Guercino has yet to fully master this illusionism.  This is not a fully unified illusionistic ceiling.



Burial of St. Petronilla

Guercino 1622.

Oil on canvas.

Altarpiece of St. Peter’s, now in Musei Capitolini, Rome.

This colossal altarpiece carries an unclear message that is up for discussion.

Guercino was commissioned to paint this altarpiece in 1622.  One would assume that such a major commission would render a clear, unambiguous composition and message.  St. Petronilla is depicted twice, once in the heavenly realm above and again in the earthly realm below.  This is called The Burial, but it is unclear if she is being buried or being removed from her grave.  It was common for the bodies of deceased saints and notable people to be moved from their original gravesite to a new one for commemorative purposes.  Because there are two halves to this altarpiece, one must decided if the upper portion is a vision, perhaps divine inspiration to the digger attempting to find and move her body.  Or, one must consider if that is the saint’s resurrection to Heaven.

The two worlds are composed very Classically.  Everything is happening in the foreground.  There is little indication of background or recession, except for a piece of architecture directly behind the action on earth.  No one below seems to be aware of what is happening in the scene above, however, Petronilla’s face is pointed directly at it, implying that she is the only one aware of it, so perhaps this is her burial scene. Likewise, a man appears t be under Petronilla in the grave, it is more likely that he is pushing her up rather than helping to lower her in.

Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647)

March 24, 2011



Transport of the Magdalene

Lanfranco 1602-1604.

Oil on canvas.

For the Camerino degli Eremiti in the Palazzetto Farnese, Rome, now in Capodimonte, Naples.

Cardinal Eduardo Farnese had a camerino built onto the Palazzetto Farnese so that he could retreat into hermit-like prayer.  The imagery of this room was inspired by the penitent hermits of biblical times, Mary Magdalene one of them.  Keeping with the theme of the rest of the house, Lanfranco’s Magdalene is shown descending above a pastoral French landscape.  This painting is an example of Lanfranco’s independent early style, before he dabbled in Carracci, Correggio, and Classical inspired styles.

This is an odd composition and choice of subject matter for a number of reasons.  The floating Mary and angels do not seem to belong in such a landscape.  Knowing the story of how Mary Magdalene retreated to the forests of France after Christ’s crucifixion and lived there naked in solitude helps to understand this piece.  She was given glimpses of Heaven via these angels.  However, one could almost separate two entirely different paintings in this one.  The palette of each portion is very different – Mary painted in light, warm colors with a hint of cangiantismo, and the landscape below in very dark, harsh, earth tones.

Landscapes were not uncommon at this time, but also not extremely popular.  If anything, artists painted landscapes that encompassed a biblical scene (see Carracci’s River Landscape).  However, this narrative is not technically biblical, but apocryphal.  The story of Mary Magdalene’s hermitage was not accepted into the Bible stories.  This along with her unidealized naked body (although crucial to the story) was against the Decrees of the Council of Trent.  But this was also a painting for a very private room, so perhaps the Decrees did not pertain to it like public altarpieces.




Lanfranco 1616.

Oil on canvas.

S. Carlo ai Catarini, Rome.

This painting shows Lanfranco’s short experiment with dramatic lighting perhaps influenced by Caravaggio or other Caravaggist painters.  It is far from Caravaggio’s stark tenebrism, but the light is very obviously controlled and directed.

Here, the rich palette is reminiscent of the Carracci.  The few, but varied hues are heavily saturated creating a unifying effect.  Three primary colors, red, yellow, and blue, create a triangle among the many diagonals that make this piece dynamic yet stable.

The grace in the postures and poses of figures are reminiscent of Raphael.  Mary’s oval face, delicate gesture, and the kneeling poses of both her and the angel, are very Classical.  There are few clouds in this piece, but the composition already feels light and airy.

This piece follows the decrees of the Counter-Reformation much closer than Lanfranco’s earlier Magdalene piece.  It is very easy to understand.  The narrative and message is clear.  It depicts a miraculous event.  Miracles were a popular subject mater defended by Catholics in High Renaissance and Baroque art.



Vision of St. Margaret

Lanfranco 1618-1620.

Oil on canvas.

For S. Maria Nuova, Cortona, now in Galleria Pitti, Florence.

This altarpiece is closer in style to Lanfracno’s Annunciation, Classically inspired, but with less dramatic lighting.

The subject matter of this painting is interesting for its time.  It was common to portray saints, their visions, and their miracles in response to the Council of Trent.  However, St. Margaret, and a Franciscan sister, had not been canonized yet, and would not be for about 100 years.  This shows just how important this woman was to the people of Cortona at the time and their interest in creating saints.

As in the Annunciation, the light in this painting is controlled and directed.  It seems to come from Christ, maybe even from behind him.  Margaret’s face is in the light, but Christ’s is not.  Christ’s wound in his side is, however, illuminated.  The light that shines on his wound lands on both of Margaret’s hands, creating a triangle.  This could perhaps allude to the stigmata of another famous Franciscan, St. Francis.

The placement of the figures in this composition is dynamic and Baroque.  St. Margaret appears to have lost control in ecstasy and may collapse right out of the picture frame.  There is not, however, much sense of depth.  All action occurs at the foreground, which is very Classic.  But Martin’s idea of co-extensive space is predominant in this painting, adding to its drama.

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



Council of Oylmpian Gods

Lanfranco 1624.


Loggia Borghese, Rome.

Lanfranco’s interest in illusionism begins to show in this ceiling piece in the Loggia Borghese.  He utilized both quadro-riportato and quadratura in this fresco. There is a slight hint of di sotto in su, but most prominently, this is a quadro-riportato.  It can only be seen when the viewer is oriented in the right spot below.  Not only was illusionism a Baroque interest, but also the union of painting, sculpture, and architecture was becoming prominent.

This work is very different from Lanfranco’s earlier pieces both in composition and palette.  Because this was a fresco, the palette is much lighter and brighter.  There is very little chiaroscuro.  Although there are several planes of recession, there is little indication of depth behind the furthest cloud.  The action takes place in the foreground.

Not only is fictive architecture depicted in fresco in the quadratura of this piece, but the figures appear to be inspired by Classical and antique sculpture.  The Belvedere torso can be identified in a few of the muscular men’s contorted bodies.  Also, many of the figures resemble Michelangelo’s idealized male nudes.  Similar figures can be seen in the pendentives of this room recalling the ignudi of the Sistine Ceiling.

Because this was a private commission, the subject matter did not need to heed the decrees of the Council of Trent.  In fact, only educated persons could fully understand this painting.  This is a mythological scene.  Few gods are recognizable by the common person (Jupiter, some river gods, etc.).  This did not need to have a clear narrative and quite frankly does not appear to have one.  It is merely a frieze-like composition of the Council of the gods.  It is Baroque because the figures balance each other out and act as foils in this diagonal twists and placements along the foreground.



Assumption of the Virgin

Lanfranco 1625-1627.


S. Andrea della Valle, Rome.

The painting of this dome is one of Lanfracno’s most celebrated works.  It was the first great dome painting of the Baroque.  Lanfranco’s primary influence was Correggio’s dome in S Giovanni Evangelista (1520-1523, Parma).

The dome is painted entirely in di sotto in su.  The viewer must stand directly underneath the dome for the illusion and perspective to work correctly.

The composition of this Assumption is comprised of concentric circles leading to the peak of the dome.  Lanfranco’s layers of figures are much less distinct than Correggio’s clear sections separated by clouds and space.  Lanfranco’s crowded figures seem to spiral up to the top.

Like Correggio’s dome in Parma, the illusionism produced a co-extensive space-like quality.  The figures above the viewer seems as if they can fall out of their suspension at any given moment.  Although receding away from the viewer, Lanfranco’s successful extreme foreshortening creates the illusions that this scene hovers above the viewer, and that he or she may begin his or her own descent into the heaven-like tip of the dome.

Lanfranco was a contemporary of Domenichino.  During the reign of Pope Gregory XV, Lanfranco fell out of papal favor and Domenichino took his place.  This dome was commissioned after Gregory’s death, so favoritism was not taken into consideration.  Domenichino did, however, get to paint the pendentives around the dome.

Week 8: Second Generation Caravaggists: Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1654)

March 21, 2011













Judith Slaying Holofernes

Artemisia Gentileschi 1619-1620.

Oil on canvas.

For Cosimo II de’ Medici, now in Uffizi, Florence.

Although frequently associated with Caravaggio’s Judith, Artemsia Gentileschi’s version of this gruesome slaying is not believed to have been directly influenced by the master.  Artemesia was the daughter of Orazio Gentileschi, a Caravaggist.  It is more likely that she was influenced by her father’s color and tenebrism in depicting this popular scene.

This painting is believed to be a feminist reaction to a traumatic experience in young Artemisia’s life.  Agostino Tassi, an artist in Orazio’s studio, raped Artemisia.  The vicious brutality with which Judith decapitated Holofernes could be visual revenge for what happened to the painter.  Whether this is true or not, Artemisia exemplifies the Baroque emphasis on naturalism and verisimilitude in brutal violence.

Other meanings can be read in this painting.  Although it is a biblical narrative, the characters in this scene could be representative of Christ and his crucifixion.  Judith’s sword, handle pointed upward, resembles a cross.  The bloody white cloth is like the shroud that Christ wore or even wiped his face in during his journey to the cross.  Holofernes’s bed could perhaps be the tomb or the slab of rock in front of the tomb.

Ann Sutherland Harris and Judith W. Mann. “Gentileschi.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 16 Mar. 2011 <;.












Self-Portrait as Allegory of Painting

Artemisia Gentileschi 1630 or 1638-1639.

Oil on canvas.

Royal Collection, London.

Artemisia Gentileschi not only chose to represent herself as a respectable artist in the act of painting, but also composed this piece as an allegory of painting itself.

The paintbrush and palette in Artemisia’s hands are the only things that give this scene away as an artist at work.  The viewer cannot see what she is painting.  Artemisia is presented three-quarter length, not quite full-legnth which is reserved for images of nobility.  However, the gold chain around her neck, the mask medallion on it, and her finely woven silk garment reveal her as a well-to-do gentlewoman.

Not only are we witnessing Artemisia in the act of painting, but we are also witnesses to her inspiration.  Light pours in from the top left and only illuminates her face – her head, her mind – not her hands.  This shows her talent as a painter comes from intellect.  Her hair is also in disarray, a sign of a mind at work.

This piece is impressive and striking because it shows a woman represented in ways that typically only men were shown.

Ann Sutherland Harris and Judith W. Mann. “Gentileschi.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 16 Mar. 2011 <;.

Mattia Preti (1613-1699)

March 21, 2011



Crucifixion of St. Peter

Mattia Preti c. 1656-1660.

Oil on canvas.

Comissioned by Ferdinand van den Einden, now in Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham.

This painting was one of three commissioned by the Flemish merchant Ferdinand van den Einden in Naples.  It shows the martyrdom of Saint Peter, a popular subject of the time.  Inspired by Caravaggio and Ribera’s naturalism and Venetian taste for landscape, Preti presents this gruesome scene front and center in an actual setting.  The upside down Peter is similar to Caravaggio’s, yet Preti has opened up his background to show onlookers and landscape, as opposed to the former’s dark background with only four figures.

Although Caravaggio pushed coextensive space in his numerous compositions, he had not quite forced the subjects on the viewer at Preti has.  Especially in the two artists’ Crucifixions, Preti’s Peter invades the viewer’s space far more disturbingly than Caravaggio’s Peter who recedes away from the viewer.

Preti’s Caravaggesque chiaroscuro cannot be ignored, however.  Besides the theatrical lighting, the thunderstorm in the background and the emotions of the characters intensify the drama of this scene.

John T. Spike. “Preti, Mattia.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 16 Mar. 2011 <;.

Sarah Brown. “Picture of the Month 2008.” Barber Institute of Fine Arts. 16 Mar 2011. <;

Luca Giordano (1634-1705)

March 20, 2011










St. Sebastian Cured by St. Irene

Luca Giordano 1665.

Oil on canvas.

Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Although also influenced by Ribera, this painting in the PMA shows Luca Giordano’s use of Caravaggist tenebrism.  Other works by the artist at this time show his flexibility and sensitivity to other phenomena happening around him: counter reaction to Baroque Classicism, lightening of the palette, and a shift into High Baroque.  Giordano’s painterly style in this piece lends itself to his time in Venice.

Martyrdom scenes were popular after the Counter-Reformation.  This scene is a bit different, however.  It does not show St. Sebastian’s actual martyrdom, rather, an incident leading up to the main event.  St. Irene performed a miracle – another important motif in Counter-Reformation art – by removing the arrows from St. Sebastian’s body (PMA).  Imagery of healing was important subject matter for post-plague Neapolitan art.

Daniela Campanelli. “Giordano, Luca.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 17 Mar. 2011 <;.