Portraits and poetry by Annibale Carracci


"Portrait of an Old Man", ca. 1583, oil on paper applied on canvas, private collection, London

Art historian Giulio Carlo Argan claims Annibale Carracci (Bologna, 1560 – Rome, 1609) “imitated poetry [with his painting]: non just because he used images to say what poetry can say in words, but also because he emulated the freedom of imagination that belongs to poetry.”

Critics consider Carracci one of the leading innovators of 16th- and 17th-century painting, and one of the most important promoters of “the idea that art has an authentic power to create one’s own vision of the world and of things, with a personal code and personal way to speak of time and space” (Claudio Strinati).

Here is a selection of portraits by the Bologna-born master, held in high esteem by his contemporaries – in the words of 17th-century art historian Giovanni Pietro Bellori – for his ability to draw “the shape of natural things […] with a praised talent for expressing a certain spirit and mind with just a few lines”.

Tying in with Argan’s mention of poetry, Carracci also loved to compose burlesque verses and use them to caption his caricatures. This emblematic tercet, for example, described his portrait of a vane courtier:

Temea Natura di non farlo a caso, / slargò la bocca, ed allungò gli orecchi, / ma si scordò di rassettargli il naso (“Nature feared not making him by chance, / widened his mouth and elongated his ears / but then forgot to fix his nose”).

January 30, 2017