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The History Of The Caracci
by [?]

The congenial histories of literature and of art are accompanied by the same periodical revolutions; and none is more interesting than that one which occurs in the decline and corruption of arts, when a single mind returning to right principles, amidst the degenerated race who had forsaken them, seems to create a new epoch, and teaches a servile race once more how to invent! These epochs are few, but are easily distinguished. The human mind is never stationary; it advances or it retrogrades: having reached its meridian point, when the hour of perfection has gone by, it must verge to its decline. In all Art, perfection lapses into that weakened state too often dignified as classical imitation; but it sinks into mannerism, and wantons into affectation, till it shoots out into fantastic novelties. When all languishes in a state of mediocrity, or is deformed by false tastes, then is reserved for a fortunate genius the glory of restoring another golden age of invention. The history of the Caracci family serves as an admirable illustration of such an epoch, while the personal characters of the three Caracci throw an additional interest over this curious incident in the history of the works of genius.

The establishment of the famous accademia, or school of painting, at Bologna, which restored the art in the last stage of degeneracy, originated in the profound meditations of Lodovico. There was a happy boldness in the idea; but its great singularity was that of discovering those men of genius, who alone could realise his ideal conception, amidst his own family circle; and yet these were men whose opposite dispositions and acquirements could hardly have given any hope of mutual assistance; and much, less of melting together their minds and their work in such an unity of conception and execution, that even to our days they leave the critics undetermined which of the Caracci to prefer; each excelling the other in some pictorial quality. Often combining together in the same picture, the mingled labour of three painters seemed to proceed from one palette, as their works exhibit which adorn the churches of Bologna. They still dispute about a picture, to ascertain which of the Caracci painted it; and still one prefers Lodovico for his grandiosita, another Agostino for his invention, and another Annibale for his vigour or his grace.[1]

What has been told of others, happened to Lodovico Caracci in his youth; he struggled with a mind tardy in its conceptions, so that he gave no indications of talent; and was apparently so inept as to have been advised by two masters to be satisfied to grind the colours he ought not otherwise to meddle with. Tintoretto, from friendship, exhorted him to change his trade. “This sluggishness of intellect did not proceed,” observes the sagacious Lanzi, “from any deficiency, but from the depth of his penetrating mind: early in life he dreaded the ideal as a rock on which so many of his contemporaries had been shipwrecked.” His hand was not blest with precocious facility, because his mind was unsettled about truth itself; he was still seeking for nature, which he could not discover in those wretched mannerists, who, boasting of their freedom and expedition in their bewildering tastes, which they called the ideal, relied on the diplomas and honours obtained by intrigue or purchase, which sanctioned their follies in the eyes of the multitude. “Lodovico,” says Lanzi, “would first satisfy his own mind on every line; he would not paint till painting well became a habit, and till habit produced facility.”

Lodovico then sought in other cities for what he could not find at Bologna. Ho travelled to inspect the works of the elder masters; he meditated on all their details; he penetrated to the very thoughts of the great artists, and grew intimate with their modes of conception and execution. The true principles of art were collected together in his own mind,–the rich fruits of his own studies,–and these first prompted him to invent a new school of painting.[2]