Ludovico Carracci is one of the most significant figures in the development of the Italian Baroque. Like his younger cousin, Annibale Carracci (1560–1609), he hailed from Bologna where he remained for almost all of his life. His significance is owed to the crucial role he played in taking Bolognese painting away from what was then perceived as the artificiality of Mannerism and, instead, basing his art on a naturalism which was aligned to the cultural agenda laid out by the Council of Trent. This was known as the Carracci reform. In 1582 he founded the Accademia dei Desiderosi, the 'Carracci Academy', along with his cousins Annibale and Agostino to instruct artists in their new method. So characteristic was the house style that some of Ludovico’s early paintings are almost indistinguishable from those by his more famous cousin Annibale.
Despite his espousal of naturalism, Ludovico’s early works have the grace and colorism of more overtly elegant artists such as Federico Barocci (1535–1612) and Correggio (1489–1534), as well as the Venetian school. It was during the decade before 1590 that Ludovico produced many of what are now his most popular works, among them the St Vincent Martyr (Credito Romagnolo, Bologna), The Vision of St Francis (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) and the Bargellini Madonna (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna). Ludovico’s later paintings become darker in tonality with more massive figures, as altarpieces such as the Madonna appearing to St Hyacinth (musée Louvre, Paris) and Christ at the Pool of Bethesda (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna), both with a clear debt to Venetian painting, demonstrate. But well into the 1590s his Madonnas have an almost doll-like Correggesque sweetness which is instantly recognizable. Ludovico went to Rome in 1602 and was patronized by important Roman patrons such as the Farnese and Barberini, but despite that brief excursion he remained rooted in Bologna where he was its leading painter until he was eventually eclipsed after 1610 by a new generation led by Guido Reni (1575–1642)
In addition to Ludovico’s large-scale religious works he decorated major Bolognese palaces, notably the Palazzo Fava and the Palazzo Tanari, with mythological and allegorical paintings. He was also an exceptionally fine portrait painter as well as the occasional painter of exceptionally refined works on copper, such as the Vision of Saint Francis at the Art Institute of Chicago, which entered into their collection in 2010.
Top Auction Results fo Lodovico Carraci
Salmacis and Hermaphroditus
Sold for £7,400,000 ($13,597,695)
London, Christie’s, 6 July 2006, Important Old Master Pictures, lot 45
Portrait of Carlo Alberto Rati Opizzoni in armour, three-quarter-length, wearing the Order of the Knights of Malta, the city of Bologna beyond
Sold for £5,071,250 ($6,705,342)
London, Christie’s, 5 July 2018, Old Masters Evening, lot 36
Sold for $5,227,500
New York, Christie’s, 27 January 2000, Important Old Master Paintings, lot 74