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Ludovico Carracci, The Virgin and Child (c. 1580–95), red chalk heightened with white chalk on faded blue laid paper, 28.2 x 24.5 cm. NGC
The history of the Carracci, an eminent family of artists, began in the sixteenth century in the northeastern Italian city of Bologna. Together, brothers Annibale (1560–1609) and Agostino (1557–1602), along with their cousin Ludovico (1555–1619), revolted against the art of the late Renaissance. They rejected, wholesale, the prevailing pictorial tide of mannerism, which was characterized by a penchant for exaggerated shapes, acidic colours, and plays of light and shadow. Instead, they turned to a more naturalistic painting style, influenced by the Venetian and Florentine Old Masters. The classicism that imbued their innovative style drew upon Titian, Veronese, Michelangelo, and Raphael, and practically initiated the Baroque.
The exhibition of twenty works titled The Noble Art of the Carracci and their School: A Selection of Drawings and Prints, presented at the National Gallery of Canada until January 2014, highlights the ways in which the Carracci reshaped painting. Their main ambition was to ennoble art; they achieved this both by seeking simplicity and legibility in their works, and by teaching. In Bologna, they founded an academy at which they introduced young artists to life drawing and study of the Old Masters. Training at this institution—the Accademia degli Incamminati (“Academy of those who progress”)—was based upon observation of Nature, and aimed for realism. This is evident in the fourteen drawings and prints executed by members of the Carracci family, around which the exhibition was developed.
The considerable influence of the Carracci can be seen in the exhibition in the works of important Baroque artists, such as Guido Reni (1575–1642) and Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1591–1666), known as Guercino. In addition to religious art and mythological subjects, the selection includes landscapes and caricatures: two genres popularized by the Carracci.
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