(b. 1560, Bologna, d. 1609, Roma)
Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne (detail)1595-1605
Galleria Farnese, Palazzo Farnese, Rome
As the 16th century drew to a close, a certain weariness of the forms of late Mannerism, which dominated the entire European art scene by the second half of the century, was becoming evident. In this respect, the early Baroque in Italy may also be regarded as a conscious and critically motivated phase of reform in every field of art.
The school of the Bolognese artists Lodovico, Agostino and Annibale Carracci formulated this approach clearly by founding an academy. A masterpiece of this reform movement was the huge cycle of paintings commissioned to decorate the Galleria Farnese in Rome, created under the auspices of Annibale Carracci, who was responsible for its planning and execution.
The grand mythological programme representing the power of love by way of example of the Olympian gods went hand in hand with an aesthetic concept that was to be of fundamental importance for all subsequent Baroque fresco painting. The underlying motivation of the academy is clearly evident in this major work; it is aimed at a revival of the natural ideal once embodied by the art of the High Renaissance.
Bernini, master of Roman Baroque, expressed this aim in his assessment of Annibale, who, he claimed, had "combined all that is good, fusing the grace and drawing of Raphael, the knowledge and anatomy of Michelangelo, the nobility and manner of Correggio, the colour of Titian and the invention of Giulio Romano and Mantegna".
The result of this approach based on synthesis was not a work of stale eclecticism, but a visual world of enormous vitality in which it was possible to develop a single programme based on Ovid's Metamorphoses - over a vast area while at the same time jettisoning the more esoteric elements of Mannerism in order to convey the heady eroticism and physicality of the myths with greater immediacy.
In the bridal procession of Bacchus and Ariadne, which fills the central area of the ceiling, these qualities merge to the most highly condensed composition of the Farnese Gallery.