Carlo Maratta
Classical Baroque Catholic Painter and Portraitist.

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Pope Clement IX (1669)
By Carlo Maratta (Maratti)
Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.
One of the great portrait paintings
of the Baroque.

Carlo Maratta (Maratti) (1625-1713)


Early Life and Artistic Training
Establishes His Reputation
Mature Career
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An important figure during the era of Baroque art, Carlo Maratta was the leading painter in Rome from the 1650s onwards, and arguably succeeded Bernini as the foremost artist in the city. Maratta's style of Baroque painting is noted for its idealistic naturalism based on Classical models, a style associated with Raphael (1483-1520) and Annibale Carracci (1560-1609). Like many Italian Baroque artists he was mostly occupied with religious paintings, and became a major contributor to Catholic Counter-Reformation Art. In particular, he gained an international reputation for his numerous versions of the "Madonna and Child" theme, largely derived from High Renaissance painting from the 16th century. Among Maratta's best Baroque paintings are "Adoration of the Shepherds" (1650, San Giuseppe dei Falegnami), and "Constantine ordering the Destruction of Pagan Idols" (1648, Lateran Baptistery). In addition he was one of the best portrait artists in Rome. For more, see: Classicism and Naturalism in 17th Century Italian Painting.



Early Life and Artistic Training

Born Carlo Maratta in Camerano in the Marche region, then part of the Papal States, he showed such exceptional skills in drawing and sketching that, at the age of 11, he was sent by his patrons to Rome to study in the workshop of the classicist Andrea Sacchi (1599-1661), whose classical style was shared by such greats as Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) and Alessandro Algardi (1598-1654). Sacchi became Maratta's closest friend and greatest benefactor, and the latter continued to work in Sacchi's workshop until the painter's death in 1661. Maratta's own style of painting closely followed that of Sacchi and the Bolognese School (under the Carracci family), as well as that of Guercino (1591-1666), Guido Reni (1575-1642), and Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647). It was - at least until his 40s - much more restrained and composed than (say) the exuberant, dramatic paintings of Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669).

Establishes His Reputation

In his early 20s, about 1648, with the backing of his two greatest patrons Sacchi and Cardinal Albrizio, Maratta was introduced to Pope Innocent X's Secretary of State, the future Pope Alexander VII (reigned 1655–1667), who gave him a number of commissions. These included - at the request of Sacchi - a particularly important one for a fresco painting (based on preliminary sketches by Sacchi) entitled: "Constantine ordering the Destruction of Pagan Idols" (1648) for the Baptistery of the Lateran. One of Maratta's masterpieces, this work greatly increased his popularity at the Vatican.

However, his first major independent painting - with which he established his reputation - was the "Adoration of the Shepherds" (1650) for the Church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami, in the Forum.

Mature Career

Between 1654 and 1666, Maratta began using the Baroque language of Lanfranco in his frescoes for the Church of S. Isidoro Agricola in Rome, and in other works. The same tendencies appear, for instance, in the altarpiece painted for the Barberini family in 1660: "Saint Rosalia among the Plague Victims". He did not wholly abandon himself to the Baroque, but at the same time he was drawn, through Lanfranco, towards the greater sensitivity and lyricism expressed in a diffused chiaroscuro, derived from Correggio (1489-1534). It was at this time that he produced two of his finest works, "The Virgin and Child with St Francesca Romana" (1656, Ascoli Piceno, Church of S. Angelo Magno) and "The Mystery of the Trinity Revealed to St. Augustine" (1655, Church of Santa Maria dei Sette Dolori), and also began work on the series of the Apostles for Cardinal Barberini.

After the death of Sacchi in 1661, Maratta became more open to such Baroque stylistic devices as foreshortening and diagonals, and, under the influence of Pietro da Cortona, modified the pathos evident in the S. Isidoro compositions to move towards a more colourful and decorative mode. This, in any case, was called for by the nature of his commissions, which included a number from Pope Alexander VII for large-format works, such as the "Nativity" in the Quirinal (1657). At this time, too, Maratta began to paint secular subjects, which were to become more numerous towards the end of his life. See, for instance, "Alpheus and Arethusa" (Private Collection).

Maratta's synthesis of past and present, his linking of Raphael, the Carracci - that is, Annibale Carracci, his brother Agostino Carracci (1557-1602), and his cousin Ludovico Carracci (1555-1619) - Lanfranco and Pietro da Cortona, turned him into one of the leading Old Masters in Rome, making it impossible for anyone to follow the Baroque tendencies of Giovanni Battista Gaulli (1639-1709) after 1670.

His huge output dominated religious art in Rome at the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century. He created altarpieces like "Death of St Francis Xavier" at the Church of the Gesu; a gigantic "Madonna" in the Vatican: "The Virgin and Child between St Charles Borromeo and St Ignatius" (1685, Church of S. Maria in Vallicella) and "The Virgin and Child in Glory" (c.1680, Spanish Royal Collection, National Museum, Madrid); fresco decorations like "The Triumph of Clemency" (1676, Palazzo Altieri, Rome); cartoons for St Peter's Basilica (1677-89) and for Urbino Cathedral (after 1707); secular decorations like "Juno Beseeching Aeolus to Release the Winds Against the Trojan Fleet" (1654-56, Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina); "Birth of Venus" (1680, Villa Falconieri, Frascati); Romulus and Remus (1692, Sans-Souci Palace, Potsdam). He was a particular favourite of the Vatican, due to his promotion of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, with works such as: "The Immaculate Conception" (1664, Ancona, Church of S. Agostino); "Doctors of the Church discuss Assumption of the Virgin" (1686, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome); "St. John the Baptist Explaining the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception to Sts. Gregory, Augustine, and John Chrysostom" (1686, Cybo Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome).

There was a constant trend throughout the 17th century towards a more intellectual form of art, from which all lyricism had been banished. Elsewhere in his secular compositions, Maratta alternated between gracefulness and a coldness that prefigured Giuseppe Chiari (1654-1727) and Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-79), and at the same time permitted a more important role for landscape painting, sometimes borrowing from Gaspard Dughet (1615-75).


Maratta was also one of the finest portraitists of 17th-century Italy. After starting in a naturalistic vein he developed a refined style of portrait art, reminiscent of Anthony Van Dyck, exemplified by the "Portrait of Maria Maddalena Rospigliosi" (c.1664, Louvre, Paris). Other masterpieces include "Portrait of Pope Clement IX" (1669, Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg), and "Portrait of Clement IX Rospigliosi (1669, Pinacoteca Gallery, Vatican Museums, Rome).

More Articles About Baroque Art

For more about painting, sculpture and architecture during the Baroque, see the following articles:

Painting in Naples (1600-1700)
An overview of developments in the south of Italy.

Neapolitan School of Painting (1600-56)
Early 17th century art in Naples.

Neapolitan Baroque Painting (c.1650-1700)
Neapolitan art during the Late Baroque.

Style of illusionistic ceiling decoration perfected during the Baroque.

Baroque Architecture (c.1600-1750)
Leading Baroque building designs of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Venetian Painting (c.1450-1800)
History and characteristics of oil painting in Venice.

Paintings by Carlo Maratta (Maratti) can be seen in several of the best art museums around the world.


• For more biographies of Italian Baroque painters, see: Homepage.

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