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The Carracci Academy
If you look up the word "eclectic" in the dictionary you'll find it refers to a mixing of different styles usually in philosophy, architecture, or interior design. As in mixing various flavours in cooking, the hope is that the chosen styles will complement one another. However, just as too many cooks very often spoil the broth; in art, too many styles are very often just as tasteless. Thus the term "eclectic" has come to have something of a negative connotation. The Victorian era of the late nineteenth century is a prime example of this.

However, in the late sixteenth century there developed an eclectic school of art, perhaps even the first use of the term as related to art. It was founded in Bologna in 1589 by the painter, etcher, and engraver, Lodovico Carracci, and called the Academy degli Incamminati (Academy of the Progressives), taking as its motto, "The school of those who regret the past, despise the present, and aspire to a better future." The Italian Futurists 350 years later echoed this same sentiment.

Lodovico Carracci was, at best, a rather pedestrian painter. Though he studied under the great Mannerists, Tintoretto, and later Fontana; not only they, but also his fellow students tried to talk him out of a career in art. By all accounts he was a rather dull, "plodding" painter, though he has two or three excellent pieces of work to his credit such as Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. However, Lodovico was best known by the work of those whom he trained, and particularly by his talented nephews, Annibale, and Agostino. For eleven years, they worked with him, teaching and painting in their popular art academy, establishing what has since come to be known as the School of Bologna in painting. Their students include Albani, Guido Remi, Domenichino, Lanfranco, Spada Riarini, and Bonzi (Il Gobbo)--none of them exactly household names today, but all outstanding practitioners of the painter's art of their time.

The Carracci school in Bologna had as its eclectic ideal to combine Michelangelo's line, Titian's colour, Correggio's chiaroscuro, and Raphael's symmetry and grace. Yeah, nice trick if you can do it. Actually, in large part, they did; in effect, "reforming" the Mannerist style and laying the groundwork for the Baroque period that was to follow. Annibale and Agostino left the school around 1600 for Rome, and there were employed by the wealthy and powerful Farnese family in the decoration of their ornate palace. Their work is often considered the seventeenth century secular equivalent of Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling. They took as their theme that of Ovid's The Loves of the Gods, merging mythological, religious, and tromp l'oeil virtuosity into a magnificent, celestial masterpiece of massive proportions and truly eclectic content.

The star of the show, Annibale (pronounced ann-IB-al-ee) encored by producing numerous religious works, principally his 1604 Flight into Egypt, which became a model for later Italian landscapes and was to have a profound influence on both Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain. On the lighter side, he left behind a number of very natural genre paintings such as The Butcher's Shop and a surprisingly diverse collection of caricatures, an artform which he is generally credited with having invented. An eclectic artist, from an eclectic family, and an eclectic school--who says eclecticism has to have a bad name?

Contributed by Lane, Jim
23 May 2000

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