(b. 1581, Bologna, d. 1641, Napoli)

The Maiden and the Unicorn

c. 1602
Palazzo Farnese, Rome

The Maiden and the Unicorn is part of the decor commissioned for the Galleria Farnese under the artistic directorship of Annibale Carracci. The fresco above the south-east wall was identified at an early stage as the work of his student Domenichino, yet scholars still disagree as to the extent to which it was executed alone.

Whatever aspects of this painting may be comparable with Annibale's own compositions, this work betrays a very different temperament indeed. The strict avoidance of dynamic spatial diagonals and the grouping of unicorn and maiden parallel to the picture plane correspond much more closely to Domenichino's "classicistic" orientation and his preference for the art of the Renaissance, including the paintings of Raphael. Psychologically, too, much speaks for this painting's entire execution by Domenichino. The unicorn is not merely an attribute of the virgin. In the tradition of this allegory of chastity, the unicorn seeks refuge in the lap of a virgin. Domenichino emphasizes the shyness of these two sensitive creatures who have moved out of the centre of the picture towards the edge of the woods. Instead of the full-blooded sensuality of Annibale's figures in the Galleria Farnese, Domenichino conveys an expression of quiet and gentle introversion.