(b. 1560, Bologna, d. 1609, Roma)
Galleria Farnese, Palazzo Farnese, Rome
In 1597 Cardinal Odoardo Farnese commissioned Annibale Carracci's great masterpiece, the ceiling of the Galleria Farnese in the Palazzo Farnese, the most splendid and influential ceiling decoration in Rome since that of the Sistine Chapel. Annibale's brother Agostino assisted him on at least two of the scenes until they quarrelled and Agostino left Rome. In contrast to the earlier interpretation which saw them as a Neoplatonic allegory of the victory of Celestial Love over physical passion, in recent years Annibale's frescoes have generally been regarded as a witty and joyous celebration of the classical gods in love.
During the 1570s and 1580s fresco cycles with mythological subjects had been relatively unfashionable in Rome, since the climate of the Counter Reformation favoured religious decoration, even in secular buildings such as palaces and villas. It may be a measure of the Catholic Church's confidence in winning the battle for souls that it could increasingly tolerate such overtly erotic decoration, even in a cardinal's palace, albeit in what was probably one of the more private rooms. Besides celebrating love's power to conquer, it is likely that the frescoes were intended to complement the antique statues, some of the finest in one of Rome's most magnificent collection of antiquities, which were displayed there.