Bolognese School
Classical Baroque Style of Painting, Founded by Carracci Family.

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Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne
The central ceiling panel of the
Farnese Gallery frescoes (1597-1608)
by Annibale Carracci. A masterpiece
of the 'Bolognese School'.

Bolognese School of Painting (c.1590-1630)


What is the Bolognese School?
Who were its Most Famous Members?
Origins, History and Characteristics
The Farnese Gallery
Influence of Annibale Carracci and the Bolognese School
Other Artists of the Bolognese School
Further Resources

For details of art movements
and styles, see: History of Art.
For a guide to dates,
see: History of Art Timeline.

For the best oils/watercolours,
see: Greatest Paintings Ever.

What is the Bolognese School?

In fine art painting, the term "Bolognese School" usually describes the anti-Mannerism art movement, based in Bologna (capital of Emilia Romagna, Italy), which became the driving force for a return to the solidity and grandeur associated with High Renaissance Painting, combined with the rich colourism of Venetian Painting (1450 onwards). This classical movement - in effect, a reaction against the contrived artificiality of Mannerism - was highly influential in the cinquecento transition to Baroque painting, and was pioneered by the Carracci Academy established by Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), his brother Agostino (1557-1602), and their cousin Ludovico (1555-1619). As a centre of painting and drawing, during the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the Bolognese School outshone the Parma School of painting and ranked alongside Florence, Rome, or even Venice - not least because of its contribution to Catholic Counter-Reformation Art of the day. However, the reputation of the school (and of the Carracci family) declined during the 19th century, due to the views of the art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900), only to rise again in the 20th century. See: Classicism and Naturalism in Italian 17th Century Painting.

Who were its Most Famous Members?

In addition to the Carracci family, the best-known figures in the Bolognese School included: Francesco Albani (1578-1660), Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri) (1581-1641), Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647), Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) (1591-1666) and Guido Reni (1575-1642), most of whom were influential in the development of Baroque art in Rome, Venice and Naples.


Origins, History and Characteristics

The Bolognese School flourished during the early 1580s in the classical Mannerist painting practised in Bologna by the Carracci family - as illustrated by the cycle of fresco paintings on the History of the Founding of Rome (c.1589, Palazzo Magnani, Bologna) - who also ran a small progressive art academy called the Accademia dei Desiderosi, later renamed the Academy of the Progressives (Accademia degli Incamminati). In keeping with its promotion of High Renaissance aesthetics, emphasis on figure drawing and, above all, naturalism, were among the main characteristics of the Bolognese School: features which were soon to attract a number of important patrons in Rome.

This was because, in response to the Protestant Reformation of 1519, the Catholic Church in Rome launched the "Counter-Reformation", a European propaganda campaign designed to reassert the values and appeal of the one true Church and thus woo back those congregations lost to Martin Luther. An important element in this campaign was the use of Christian art to illustrate important Catholic dogma. In planning their religious art, the ecclesiastical authorities placed particular importance on the need for paintings to explain themselves clearly. The Bolognese School's style of painting, with its clear, simple, direct imagery, was a perfect vehicle for Catholic religious paintings, and - not surprisingly - was enthusiastically endorsed in Rome. (For the greatest individual works, see: Best Baroque Paintings: 1600-1700.)

The Farnese Gallery

The School first caught the eye of Cardinal Odoardo Farnese (1573-1626), the great-great-grandson of Pope Paul III (Cardinal Alessandro Farnese) (1468-1549) who called Annibale Carracci to Rome in 1595 and commissioned him to decorate parts of the family palace, the Palazzo Farnese. Annibale began by decorating the ceiling of the Cardinal's study with mythological painting featuring Hercules and others, before tackling what became his masterpiece - the decoration of the ceiling and walls of the Farnese Gallery: a work which owes its inspiration to Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel Frescoes and the murals in the Raphael Rooms in the Vatican. As well as this masterpiece of decorative art, Annibale Carracci is also credited with formulating the standards for heroic landscape painting - as exemplified by his Flight into Egypt (1604, Doria Pamphilj Gallery, Rome) - a genre in which he was followed by Domenichino (his favourite assistant and pupil), Claude Lorrain (1600-82), and Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665).

Influence of Annibale Carracci and the Bolognese School

In due course, Annibale was joined by his brother Agostino, and also by several Carracci pupils, including Domenichino, Guido Reni, Francesco Albani, and Giovanni Lanfranco. As a result, the Bolognese School - up until now an unimportant regional tendency - rapidly became the most influential style in Roman Baroque. Its characteristics were there for all to see on the ceiling of the Farnese Gallery, and had a huge influence on later painters.

Annibale embodied all the key elements of the Bolognese School. Not only was his Farnese Gallery seen as the Baroque template of heroic figure painting, but his sketching techniques were acclaimed as a model of artistic procedure. He completed hundreds of preliminary drawings for the Gallery ceiling, and until the late 18th century when the spontaneity of Romanticism became the fashion, his meticulous preparation became accepted as the norm for any ambitious history painting. For this reason, Annibale may have exerted an even greater influence than his contemporary Caravaggio (1571-1610), since the latter worked exclusively in oils, and avoided fresco painting, a medium which was still seen as the litmus test of a painter's ability and the most suitable medium for painting in the Grand Manner.

The full glory of Baroque illusionism was still to come: see, for instance, the quadratura and other forms of trompe l'oeil painting by Giovanni Lanfranco (Assumption of the Virgin, 1625-7, on the underside of the duomo of the church of S. Andrea della Valle); by Guercino (Aurora fresco, 1621-3, Villa Ludovisi, Rome); by Pietro da Cortona (The Allegory of Divine Providence, 1633-39, Rome); and by Andrea Pozzo (The Apotheosis of St Ignatius, 1688-94, San Ignazio, Rome). But Annibale Carracci's decoration of the Farnese Gallery ceiling was one of the foundations of their style. Another great Baroque painter who was influenced by the Bolognese School was Carlo Maratta (1625-1713), who became the leading exponent of Catholic Counter-Reformation art after the death of Bernini.

Other Artists of the Bolognese School

Many of the painters of the Bolognese School became influential artists in their own right. Domenichino became one of Rome's top painters during the period 1610-25, while Lanfranco was an important figure in the Neapolitan School between 1632 and 1646. Guido Reni returned to Bologna, as did Francesco Albani, to become a leading figure of the Bolognese school. Guercino - renowned for his virtuoso drawing - was famous for his use of chiaroscuro and dramatic tenebrism, an approach to which he later added more Classical features, combining Florentine-style disegno and Venetian colorito. Heavily influenced by the frescoes of Ludovico Carracci (1555-1619), and dramatic oils of Caravaggio (1571–1610), his own followers included Mattia Preti (1613-99), the Calabrian artist who played a key role in the evolution of Neapolitan Baroque painting during the mid-17th century. In addition, many other Baroque painters from across Italy profited by adopting the style and technique of the Bolognese School. Further afield, followers included Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640).

Further Resources

- Italian Baroque Artists (c.1600-1700)
- Titian and Venetian Colour (1500-76)
- Legacy of Venetian Painting (1530 onwards)
- Caravaggio in Naples: Altarpieces, Paintings (early 1600s)

Works reflecting the style of the Bolognese School can be seen in some of the best art museums in the world.

• For information about Baroque painting in Bologna, see: Homepage.

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