Assunzione della Vergine (1588-1590)

Carracci, Annibale (1560-1609)

Assunzione della Vergine (The Assumption of the Virgin)
Oil on canvas, 130 × 97 cm
Museo del PradoMadrid

Annibale Carracci’s Assumption of the Virgin now in the Museo del Prado is first mentioned in the so-called “Memoria de Velázquez”, a list of the paintings in the possession of King Philip IV that were sent at his behest to the monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial in 1656. Here, Annibale’s picture, which is said to be in the sacristy, is described as a gift to the king brought from Italy by Manuel de Fonseca y Zúñiga, 6th Count of Monterrey (1588–1653). In 1657, the historian monk Francisco de los Santos describes it in the same place: “It is a painting of great renown, by Annibale Carracci, very similar to those by Tintoretto in the blotches and colours; as well as in the composition of the story”. In 1668, the writer and diplomat Lorenzo Magalotti reports that Cosimo III de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, saw the painting in the sacristy of El Escorial. The painting remained there until it was put on deposit at the Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, Madrid, in 1813; it was given to the Prado in 1839. Nothing is known about who might have commissioned the painting, or when. Given its relatively small size, it was likely to be destined for a private chapel. More certain is its unrelatedness to another Assumption of the Virgin by Annibale in Dresden’s Gemäldegalerie which is dated 1587, and for which it was erroneously believed to be preparatory. Made for the Confraternity of San Rocco in Reggio Emilia, the Dresden work is profoundly infused with reminiscences of Correggio (c. 1489–1534). Quite differently, the Prado Assumption reflects Annibale’s fascination with Venetian painting, in particular Titian (c. 1488–1576) and Jacopo Tintoretto (1519–1594) – the latter’s 1554–55 Assumption of the Virgin in Santa Maria Assunta in Venice must have impressed Annibale – although Paolo Veronese (1528–1588) could also qualify as a source of inspiration. Another Assumption of the Virgin by Annibale, executed in 1592 for the Bonasoni chapel in San Francesco, Bologna, is also indebted to Venice, whose influence nevertheless appears entirely metabolised here, as opposed to the Prado painting, where Annibale seems to be experimenting with the “blotches” and “colours” – as acutely suggested by Santos – characteristic of the Venetian pictorial tradition. On a preliminary basis, it can generally be assumed that the Prado Assumption was executed between 1587 and 1592. To be more specific, the painting was almost certainly made in 158890: that is, between Annibale’s Madonna of Saint Matthew, dated 1588 – where Correggio’s imprint is still discernible – and the Virgin and Child in Glory with Saints Louis, Alexius, John the Baptist, Catherine, Francis and Clare, known as the Madonna of San Ludovico, which is usually dated after Annibale’s sojourn in Venice in 1588, and was probably executed in 158990. As a disciple and collaborator of Annibale, Guido Reni considered both Correggio and Venetian painters such as Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese canonical models to learn from and improve upon. In Guido’s eyes, however, Annibale’s engagement with these two pictorial traditions (the “Venetian” and the “Lombard”, to which Correggio belonged) was at times too exclusive. In praising the “broader” vision of painting of Ludovico Carracci (1555–1619), Guido pointed out that he, “unlike his cousins [Annibale and Agostino], had not been so attached to the Lombard and the Venetian schools that it could not be seen that he had studied the Roman school as well, and that the other two had been taken up with a manner that was similar to Titian and Correggio, whereas Ludovico, despite having also studied the manners of Andrea del Sarto, Tibaldi, Primaticcio, and having a liking for all the other masters, had then formed a new manner that was distinctive and truly his own.” Whether or not Guido might have thought this was the case, the notion that Annibale and Agostino did not manage to create a fuller synthesis of styles by going beyond Titian and Correggio is as unfair as it is inaccurate. It is nonetheless true that Ludovico was more open to various styles, and in some cases bolder in fusing them together.

Pericolo, Lorenzo, ‘Ludovico Carracci. The Assumption of the Virgin’. In: Guido Reni, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2023, p.159-160 nº 6.