At the end of the Seventeenth Century the historian Carlo Cesare Malvasia describes this Carracci’s painting in Felsina Pittrice, the first compendium dedicated to the Bolognese school:
The Bargellini lords committed it to him, but in this form: that being two brothers and two sisters he would portray them to the natural […] He therefore thought, with a capricious invention, of transforming those into four saints, to whom their effigy adapted. Since the two brothers were gaunted, pale, and looked a bit exhausted, […] came of one of them, to obtain […] a St. Domenico, and turning the other in profile, a St. Francesco. Of the two women, the former who elderly lived in celibacy and it is said she was called Donna Cecilia, with her same black clothes and a widow’s mantle, served […] for a St. Marta” with her stoup and aspergillum. “And to the latter woman, who was with a not-so-astonishing physiognomy, so he made she turned her face, added more hair, […] and so came to create a very beautiful St. Maria Maddalena” with a jar of ointment. Then there are “naked putti fluttering over the Blessed Virgin, spreading roses”, and they crown her. “Others who came to earth with so big wings, dressed in very thin veils […], with a lute playing a sweet song.””And of the beauty and modesty of the celestial Reina and of the Son can not be said nothing more: because it’s necessary that every force of eloquence is surrendered to the virtue of sight.”
In the background Bologna with its characteristic towers.
Son of a butcher, the painter and engraver Lodovico Carracci was the elder cousin of Annibale (1560-1609) and Agostino Carracci (1557-1602). He was trained in Bologna by the late Reinassence painter Prospero Fontana, before broadening his education visiting Firenze, Parma, Mantova and Venezia, where he was influenced by the works of the florentine Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530), of the magnificent illusionist Correggio (1489-1534) and of the venetian genius Tiziano (c.1485/8-1576). Lodovico was the first artist who sistematically shelved late-Mannerism style in favor of a more innovative and modern one for moral and devotional paintings: perceiving the directions of Cardinal Paleotti, who was deeply interested in the Counter-Reformation church’s views on the proper content of art, Lodovico recondsidered a more naturalistic painting and enriched his religious pieces with familiar gestures and light effect so as to communicate a sense of mistery and spiritual emotions.
Lodovico left Bologna just for short periods. Here he founded, together with his cousins, the Accademia dei Desiderosi, later called Accademia degli Incamminati and then simply known as Accademia Carracci, which he directed when his cousins moved to Rome. This academy was a real change of course from late Mannerist art, thus contributing to the renewal of Italian art: its fundamental innovation was the emphasis given to the drawing as studying method for the nature and the life, which was given primary importance. Destinated to become a point of reference for the most important painters of the Emilia area, it was in fact frequented by some of the leading Italian artists of the new generations, such as Guido Reni and Domenichino.
Lodovico collaborated with his cousins in various commissions for the frescoes and the proof of the tight union of the group arrived when the three cousins Carracci painted together the frescoes of Palazzo Fava. The simplicity of their compositions recalls the style of Federico Barocci while the sweetness of their expression recalls Correggio.
The artworks of Lodovico Carracci reveal, therefore, a tendency towards naturalism and the use of the highly contrasted chiaroscuro.
Ludovico Carracci was commissioned to decorate an entire chapel in SS. Filippo e Giacomo, the church of the converted Nuns in Lame street, Bologna. The chapel was owned by the Buoncompagni family, the family of Pope Gregory XIII and the artist would have made the frescoes to honor the recent ascent to the pontificate and the altarpiece.
The client was Donna Cecilia Bargellini, widow of the deceased brother of the pope. The Bargellini altarpiece of 1588, currently in the National Pinacoteca of Bologna, shows the Madonna and Child enthroned, in the presence of San Domenico, San Francesco, Santa Marta, Mary Magdalene and the angels, according to the Venetian aulic diagonal setting. The artist paints the profile of his hometown Bologna in the background, the sunset shines among the famous towers of the city.
OTHER WORKS IN BOLOGNA AND SURROUNDINGS
- Stories of Jason, 1584, frescoes, with the collaboration of Cousins Annibale and Agostino Carracci, Palazzo Fava, Bologna.
- Annunciation, around 1584, oil on canvas, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna.
- Annunciation, about 1585 year, oil on copper, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna.
- Conversion of Saul, year 1587-1588, oil on canvas, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna.
- Bargellini altarpiece, year 1588, oil on canvas, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna.
- Madonna and Child with Saint Dominic, year 1588-1590, oil on canvas, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna.
- Between 1590 and 1592, still together with the cousins Carracci, Annibale and Agostino, he worked at the frieze of Palazzo MagnanI.
- The Tacconi family, around 1590, oil on canvas, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna.
- Madonna and Child with Saints Girolamo and Francesco, about 1590, oil on canvas, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna.
- Madonna and Child with saints and patrons, year 1591, oil on canvas, Civic Art Gallery, Cento.
- Preaching of the Baptist, about 1592 year, oil on canvas, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna.
- Martyrdom of Saint Ursula, year 1592, oil on canvas, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna.
- Martyrdom of St. Ursula, oil on canvas, Imola, Church of San Domenico.
- Transfiguration of Christ, about 1595, oil on canvas, National Gallery, Bologna.
- Flagellation of Christ, about 1595, oil on canvas, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna.
- Crowning with thorns, around 1595, oil on canvas, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna.
- The probation pool, about 1596 year, oil on canvas, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna.
- Martyrdom of San Pietro Toma, year 1598-1599, oil on canvas, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna.
- Meeting of the saints Francesco, Domenico and Angelo, year 1598-1599, oil on canvas, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna.
- Birth of the Baptist, year 1604, oil on canvas, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna.
- Between 1604 and 1605 he worked on a cycle of frescoes in the cloister of San Michele in Bosco, currently in a serious state of conservation, in collaboration with his disciples, including Guido Reni.
- Vocation of Matthew, year 1605-1607, oil on canvas, National Gallery, Bologna.