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

The Beaneater

Oil on canvas, 57 x 68 cm
Galleria Colonna, Rome

The interest taken by artists and art buyers in worldly images of "humble" everyday life has always been of particular socio-cultural significance. Initial forays in this direction led to the evolution of the so-called "genre" scene, already evident in Franco-Flemish tapestries of the 15th century and in the works of Pieter Aertsen and Willem Beuckelaer in the mid-16th century. Without their example, its emergence in early Italian Baroque would probably have been quite unthinkable. The Northern Italian schools, in particular, which had always been receptive to Flemish influences, for example, showed a keen interest in the realism of the genre.

A simple peasant or farm labourer is sitting down to a meal. With a wooden spoon, he greedily scoops white beans from a bowl. Onions, bread, a plate of vegetable pie, a glass half full of wine and a brightly striped earthenware jug are standing on the table. Everything in the picture is homely and simple. The food, the man, his clothing, his loud table manners and his furtive, and hardly inviting, glance towards the spectator. None of this would be particularly striking in comparison with the examples of other painters.

What is truly new and quite astonishing, however, is the fact that Annibale's painterly technique and artistic approach are entirely in keeping with the rough and ready subject matter. Matt, earthy colours are applied to the canvas in thick and rugged brushstrokes. The compositional simplicity makes no attempt at sophisticated perspective or spatial structure, and the simple alignment of objects on the table is portrayed in almost clumsy foreshortening. What is revolutionary about this painting, of which several preliminary studies exist, is the deliberate lack of artifice or skill an approach that actually makes it all the more compelling.