Exhibit of the week
Captured Emotions: Baroque Painting in Bologna, 1575–1725
Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Through May 3

It’s not often that you hear “audible gasps” at an art exhibition, said Jeff Favre in the Ventura County, Calif., Star. But you, too, may just be “overwhelmed by the beauty” of Annibale Carracci’s enormous Madonna Enthroned With St. Matthew, which fills the opening room of the Getty Center’s new exhibition. The painting, an early masterpiece of baroque art, is filled with life-size figures, “colors that accurately mimicked nature, and three-dimensional detail that popped with depth.” Carracci and his brothers were at the center of a flourishing art school based in Bologna, Italy, which re-emphasized naturalistic detail and portraiture. Annibale’s Portrait of the Lute Player Giulio Mascheroni, for instance, “captures the family friend in casual performance, Mascheroni’s eyes gazing toward the viewer as if he is offering an invitation to hear him play.”

The vast majority of the pictures are religious in nature, said Jim Farber in the Pasadena, Calif., Star-News. In the wake of the Reformation, the Catholic Church enlisted its finest artists in the propaganda war against Protestantism. That explains the many paintings devoted to celebrations of the Madonna or, in the case of one remarkable series by Giuseppe Maria Crespi, the seven sacraments. But it may also explain why artists such as Carracci, Guido Reni, and Crespi remain “basically unknown in America.” Despite the wonderful touches in individual scenes, many of the paintings are suffused with a sense of pious melodrama, and “sentimental in their representation of stories from the Bible, depictions of martyred saints, and the glorification of Catholic ritual.”

Yet these melodramatic themes helped produce masterpieces, like Annibale Carracci’s St. Sebastian, said Christopher Knight in the Los Angeles Times. This life-size depiction shows the martyr lashed to a column, “a single gruesome arrow piercing his groin.” Arms bent and broken, the figure could be a recovered piece of classical statuary. The Carraccis and their contemporaries drew equal inspiration from the two great Italian schools that had preceded them, the Florence of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo and the Venice of Tintoretto and Titian. Yet the Bologna artists developed their own visual grammar, combining “the naturalism of Florentine draftsmanship with atmospheric Venetian color.” It’s time to add Bologna to the list of great Italian cradles of art—and to add the name of Annibale Carracci to “Italy’s pantheon of celebrated artists.”