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The History Of The Caracci
by [?]

But a new difficulty arose in the attempt to combine together such incongruous natures; the thoughtful Lodovico, intent on the great project of the reformation of the art, by his prudence long balanced their unequal tempers, and with that penetration which so strongly characterises his genius, directed their distinct talents to his one great purpose. From the literary Agostino he obtained the philosophy of critical lectures and scientific principles; invention and designing solely occupied Annibale; while the softness of contours, lightness and grace, were his own acquisition. But though Annibale presumptuously contemned the rare and elevated talents of Agostino, and scarcely submitted to copy the works of Lodovico, whom he preferred to rival, yet, according to a traditional rumour which Lanzi records, it was Annibale’s decision of character which enabled him, as it were unperceived, to become the master over his cousin and his brother; Lodovico and Agostino long hesitated to oppose the predominant style, in their first Essays; Annibale hardly decided to persevere in opening their new career by opposing “works to voices;” and to the enervate labours of their wretched rivals, their own works, warm in vigour and freshness, conducted on the principles of nature and art.

The Caracci not only resolved to paint justly, but to preserve the art itself, by perpetuating the perfect taste of the true style among their successors. In their own house they opened an Accademia, calling it degli Incaminati, “the opening a new way,” or “the beginners.” The academy was furnished with casts, drawings, prints, a school for anatomy, and for the living figure; receiving all comers with kindness; teaching gratuitously, and, as it is said, without jealousy; but too many facts are recorded to allow us to credit the banishment of this infectious passion from the academy of the Caracci, who, like other congregated artists, could not live together and escape their own endemial fever.

It was here, however, that Agostino found his eminence as the director of their studies; delivering lectures on architecture and perspective, and pointing out from his stores of history and fable subjects for the designs of their pupils, who, on certain days exhibited their works to the most skilful judges, adjusting the merits by their decisions. “To the crowned sufficient is the prize of the glory,” says Lanzi; and while the poets chanted their praises, the lyre of Agostino himself gratefully celebrated the progress of his pupils. A curious sonnet has been transmitted to us, where Agostino, like the ancient legislators, compresses his new laws into a few verses, easily to be remembered. The sonnet is now well known, since Fuseli and Barry have preserved it in their lectures. This singular production has, however, had the hard fate of being unjustly depreciated: Lanzi calls it pittoresco veramente piu che poetico; Fuseli sarcastically compares it to “a medical prescription.” It delighted Barry, who calls it “a beautiful poem. Considered as a didactic and descriptive poem, no lover of art who has ever read it, will cease to repeat it till he has got it by heart. In this academy every one was free to indulge his own taste, provided he did not violate the essential principles of art; for though the critics have usually described the character of this new school to have been an imitation of the preceding ones, it was their first principle to be guided by nature, and their own disposition; and if their painter was deficient in originality, it was not the fault of this academy so much as of the academician. In difficult doubts they had recourse to Lodovico, whom Lanzi describes in his school like Homer among the Greeks, fons ingeniorum, profound in every part of painting. Even the recreations of the pupils were contrived to keep their mind and hand in exercise; in their walks sketching landscapes from nature, or amusing themselves with what the Italians call Caricatura, a term of large signification; for it includes many sorts of grotesque inventions, whimsical incongruities, such as those arabesques found at Herculaneum, where Anchises, AEneas, and Ascanius are burlesqued by heads of apes and pigs, or Arion, with a grotesque motion, is straddling a great trout; or like that ludicrous parody which came from the hand of Titian in a playful hour, when he sketched the Laocoon whose three figures consist of apes. Annibale had a peculiar facility in these incongruous inventions, and even the severe Leonardo da Vinci considered them as useful exercises.