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The History Of The Caracci
by [?]

Such was the academy founded by the Caracci; and Lodovico lived to realise his project in the reformation of art, and witnessed the school of Bologna flourishing afresh when all the others had fallen. The great masters of this last epoch of Italian painting were their pupils. Such were Domenichino, who, according to the expression of Bellori, delinea gli animi, colorisce la vita; he drew the soul and coloured life;[5] Albano, whose grace distinguishes him as the Anacreon of painting; Guido, whose touch was all beauty and delicacy, and, as Passeri delightfully expresses it, “whose faces came from Paradise;”[6] a scholar of whom his masters became jealous, while Annibale, to depress Guido, patronised Domenichino, and even the wise Lodovico could not dissimulate the fear of a new competitor in a pupil, and to mortify Guido preferred Guercino, who trod in another path. Lanfranco closes this glorious list, whose freedom and grandeur for their full display required the ample field of some vast history.

The secret history of this Academia forms an illustration for that chapter on “Literary Jealousy” which I have written in “The Literary Character.” We have seen even the gentle Lodovico infected by it; but it raged in the breast of Annibale. Careless of fortune as they were through life, and free from the bonds of matrimony, that they might wholly devote themselves to all the enthusiasm of their art, they lived together in the perpetual intercourse of their thoughts; and even at their meals laid on their table their crayons and their papers, so that any motion or gesture which occurred, as worthy of picturing, was instantly sketched. Annibale catching something of the critical taste of Agostino, learnt to work more slowly, and to finish with more perfection, while his inventions were enriched by the elevated thoughts and erudition of Agostino. Yet a circumstance which happened in the academy betrays the mordacity and envy of Annibalo at the superior accomplishments of his more learned brother. While Agostino was describing with great eloquence the beauties of the Laocoon, Annibale approached the wall, and snatching up the crayons, drew the marvellous figure with such perfection, that the spectators gazed on it in astonishment. Alluding to his brother’s lecture, the proud artist disdainfully observed, “Poets paint with words, but painters only with their pencils.”[7]

The brothers could neither live together nor endure absence. Many years their life was one continued struggle and mortification; and Agostino often sacrificed his genius to pacify the jealousy of Annibale, by relinquishing his palette to resume those exquisite engravings, in which he corrected the faulty outlines of the masters whom he copied, so that his engravings are more perfect than their originals. To this unhappy circumstance, observes Lanzi, we must attribute the loss of so many noble compositions which otherwise Agostino, equal in genius to the other Caracci, had left us. The jealousy of Annibale at length for ever tore them asunder. Lodovico happened not to be with them when they were engaged in painting together the Farnesian gallery at Rome. A rumour spread that in their present combined labour the engraver had excelled the painter. This Annibale could not forgive; he raved at the bite of the serpent: words could not mollify, nor kindness any longer appease, that perturbed spirit; neither the humiliating forbearance of Agostino, the counsels of the wise, nor the mediation of the great. They separated for ever! a separation in which they both languished, till Agostino, broken-hearted, sunk into an early grave, and Annibale, now brotherless, lost half his genius; his great invention no longer accompanied him–for Agostino was not by his side![8] After suffering many vexations, and preyed on by his evil temper, Annibale was deprived of his senses.

[Footnote 1:
Lanzi, Storia Pittorica, v. 85. ]

[Footnote 2:
D’Argenville, Vies des Peintres, ii. 46. ]

[Footnote 3:
The curious reader of taste may refer to Fuseli’s Second Lecture for a diatribe against what he calls “the Electic School; which, by selecting the beauties, correcting the faults, supplying the defects, and avoiding the extremes of the different styles, attempted to form a perfect system.” He acknowledges the greatness of the Caracci; yet he laughs at the mere copying the manners of various painters into one picture. But perhaps–I say it with all possible deference–our animated critic forgot for a moment that it was no mechanical imitation the Caracci inculcated: nature and art were to be equally studied, and secondo il nativo talento e la propria sua disposizione. Barry distinguishes with praise and warmth. “Whether,” says he, “we may content ourselves with adopting the manly plan of art pursued by the Caracci and their school at Bologna, in uniting the perfections of all the other schools; or whether, which I rather hope, we look farther into the style of design upon our own studies after nature; whichever of these plans the nation might fix on,” etc., ii. 518. Thus, three great names, Du Fresnoy, Fuseli, and Barry, restricted their notions of the Caracci plan to a mere imitation of the great masters; but Lanzi, in unfolding Lodovico’s project, lays down as his first principle the observation of nature, and, secondly, the imitation of the great masters; and all modified by the natural disposition of the artist. ]

[Footnote 4:
D’Argenville, Vies des Peintres, ii. 47-68. ]

[Footnote 5:
Bellori, Le Vite de Pittori, etc. ]

[Footnote 6:
Passeri, Vite de Pittori. ]

[Footnote 7:
D’Argenville, ii. 26. ]

[Footnote 8:
Fuseli describes the gallery of the Farnese palace as a work of uniform vigour of execution, which nothing can equal but its imbecility and incongruity of conception. This deficiency in Annibale was always readily supplied by the taste and learning of Agostino; the vigour of Annibale was deficient both in sensibility and correct invention. ]