CARRACCI, Annibale
(b. 1560, Bologna, d. 1609, Roma)

The Flight into Egypt

Oil on canvas, 122 x 230 cm
Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome

When the frescoes of Annibale Carracci on the ceiling of the Galleria Farnese were unveiled on June 2, 1601, one of those present was Pietro Aldobrandini, Clement VIII's nephew and Secretary of State. This is probably what led to a relationship between the cardinal and the Emilian painter, resulting in the former commissioning a painting entitled Domine quo vadis? (now in the National Gallery in London) from the artist the following year. He also asked him to decorate, between 1603 and 1604, six lunettes in his private chapel. This no longer exists, but at the time was located in what is today the private entrance to the apartment of Palazzo Doria Pamphilj al Corso. An old plan shows that it had three entrances and six walls of different sizes, two large, two middle-sized, and two small, on which the six lunettes were placed. The Flight into Egypt, one of the two biggest, was probably located on the wall in front of the altar, to the right of the entrance that led into what is now the Aldobrandini room. It is very likely that Annibale Carracci had made the designs for all six of the canvases, but when he fell ill in 1605, the commission passed to his assistant Francesco Albani, who received the first payment in that year. Shortly afterwards, on May 21 1606, Pietro Aldobrandini, who had fallen out with Paul V, left Rome and did not return until 1610. Meanwhile, the work proceeded under the supervision of Albani, who did not receive the final payment until 1613.

The critics agree that only the Flight into Egypt and the Deposition are entirely the master's work, while the other four paintings - the Visitation, the Adoration of the Shepherds, the Adoration of the Magi, and the Assumption were painted by his collaborators Giovanni Lanfranco, Sisto Badalocchio, Domenichino, and Francesco Albani, though it is difficult to determine their individual contributions to the joint undertaking.

The "classical," composed, measured and ideal landscape of the Flight into Egypt, - one of the works that set the ground rules for seventeenth-century painting - spilled over, in harmony with the Aristotelian views of Agucchi, popular in Farnese-Aldobrandini circles, into the work of Poussin. Indeed its influence spread even further afield, to the German classicists Anton Koch and Philipp Hackert. The restful setting, the gently undulating planes that extend to the distant horizon, and even the boat - a symbol of life - floating on a peaceful river in the foreground create a most unusual atmosphere, based on the effect of repetition. This motif of the "already seen" and known, a constant feature of Italian landscape painting, from Carracci to Domenichino, from Viola to Grimaldi, and from Dughet to van Bloemen, always gives rise to a pleasing sense of familiarity.