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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Annibale was one of the renowned Italian Baroque painters that lived in 16th and 17th century. His is a fascinating story of painting frescoes for the mighty in Italy. Although he did not get high recognition during his lifetime, people began to appreciate the brilliance of his work later on.

Today, his works of art are available in various museums around the world. Here is his biography.

Early Childhood

Annibale Carracci was born in Bologna, Italy on November 3, 1560. His father was called Antonio Carracci and worked as tailor. Carracci also had a brother called Agostino. His interest in painting started early in life when he and his brother could paint images of various items at home. It was at this stage that a cousin called Lodovico, who was also a painter, offered to enable Carracci get quality education.

He even took Annibale on a tour to Northern Italy and Venice during his early adulthood so that he could have a look at what other masters had painted. This helped shape his focus later in life. One of the painters that had a profound effect on the young Carracci was Jacopo Bassano. The works of art by Correggio also influenced his style of painting. It is believed that Annibale's painting of Baptism of Christ in 1585 for the church of San Gregorio was a tribute to the works of Correggio.


After getting trained in the art of painting, Annibale spent a significant part of his early career working along his cousin and elder brother. He then decided to open his own studio in 1582. Both the brother and cousin also worked in the studio. The first solo project was the fresco at the church situated in Bologna. The altarpiece was called The Baptism of Christ and was completed in 1585. He then worked on another piece called ‘The Assumption for the San Rocco Church.

Then, he combined efforts with his brother and cousin to create several elaborate frescoes called, The Founding of Rome. The painting was done at Palazzo Mangani and completed in 1589. Later on, he partnered with Lucio Massari, another renowned painter, to create a piece called, The Virgin on the throne with St. John and St. Catherine. He then made his own creation called Resurrection of Christ. One of the most important pieces of art that he created was San Rocco Distributing Alms. It is one of the works that he is best known for.

Annibale later joined hands with his brother and cousin to start as school for artists called Accademia degli Incamminati. This Bolognese school became an important part of frescoes art well into 17th century. It is during this period that he painted a piece of art called the Enthroned Madonna with St Mathew at the Church of San Prospero in Reggio. In all of his pieces of art, he had mastered the ability to combine bucolic and genial tone.

His mastery of painting in his hometown of Bologna led to his recognition among master painters in Italy. This led to his commissioning to paint frescos at Odoardo Farnese palace in Rome. He started the project in 1595 and worked on the project for the next decade. Cardinal Odoardo had one of the most splendid palaces in Rome and wanted to have beautiful motifs painted on the principal rooms of the palace to appeal to his guests. Most of the frescoes in the palace were stories of Hercules, the mythical character of Greek folklore who was considered a hero.

Annibale created hundreds of sketches for his work and led a team that painted the frescoes on walls. The most famous of all the frescos in the palace was titled, The Love of the Gods. This piece was painted on the ceiling of this palace and is considered one of the most valuable frescos that were ever painted. Unfortunately, Odoardo Farnese failed to pay his fairy for his work. Therefore, he left the palace in 1605.

Despite this being one of his biggest setbacks, Carracci did not lose heart. He continued to make masterpieces long after this. During his stay in Rome, Annibale took time to study other works of art especially those of Michelangelo and Raphael along with ancient Roman and Greek. He used the new-found knowledge to create magnificent pieces that had a little of each of the styles.

His brother, Agostino later joined him to paint the frescoes of the coved ceiling of Galleria. He decorated the ceiling with love fables from Ovid. These were some of the most complicated pieces of art in history. They were illusions or reality that seems to interweave when one is looking at them. Later on, experts in painting believed that the paintings were more complex than the famous paintings of Raphael at Vatican Loggia, where Classicism was blend with humanity.

Annibale went on to create other marvellous pieces of art that included Domine, Quo Vadis (translated to Jesus and Saint Peter), the Pieta and The Flight into Egypt. All of these were religious paintings showcasing various parts of the New Testament. One of the most striking features in the image was how he was able to bring about powerful, weighty figures in somewhat simple compositions. However, his most famous frescoes were those that he painted at Palazzo Farnese from 1595. Artists after him looked up to the frescoes for inspiration and therefore ushered a new era of frescoes.

The Flight to Egypt and later, The Entombment in particular, had lunette-shaped landscapes. These paintings are said have brought about heroic landscape paintings as seen in the works of Nicolas Poussin and Domenichino, both of whom were his students. Later in life, he was not as prolific as he had in his youthful years. He continued to create several frescoes. However, he failed to complete a commission that had been offered to him by the Duke of Modena.

His Personal Life and Death

There is no written record that Annibale Carracci ever had a romantic relationship or even married. At the age of 46 years, he suffered a stroke while living in Rome. Luckily for him, he was able to make a full recovery with minor lasting physical difficulties. However, he soon caught a bout of fever. He could not fight the fever and succumbed to it on July 15, 1609. He was aged 48 years at the time of his death. According to his wishes, he was buried near Raphael’s tomb in Rome.

Appreciation for his Art

Annibale Carracci is widely believed to be one of the founders of Baroque style of painting. This style borrowed from the ancient painting styles of the north and south of Bologna. The style aspired the reinvention of classical monumentality but blended it with a pinch of dynamism.