At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Domenichino - Baroque master

Artist whose talents rivalled Raphael


Domenichino's picture St John the Evangelist sold for £9.2 million in 2009
Domenichino's picture St John the Evangelist
sold for £9.2 million in 2009
The painter Domenico Zampieri, in his era spoken of in the same breath as Raphael, was born on this day in 1581 in Bologna.

Better known as Domenichino (“Little Domenico”), the nickname he picked up early in his career on account of his small stature, he painted in classical and later Baroque styles in Rome, Bologna and Naples.

Noted for the subtle, almost serene lighting and understated colours of his compositions, he painted portraits, landscapes, religious and mythological scenes and had a prolific output. Among his most notable works were significant frescoes commissioned by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese for the Badia (monastery) at Grottaferrata, outside Rome, and for Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini at the Villa Belvedere (also known as the Villa Aldobrandini) in nearby Frascati, as well as Scenes from the Life of Saint Cecilia at the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, not far from Piazza Navona, in Rome itself.

Domenichino’s paintings can be seen in art galleries in many countries, with the largest single collection held by the Louvre in Paris.

One of his most celebrated paintings, the depiction of St John the Evangelist that he worked on between 1621 and 1629 and which has been described as a “masterpiece epitomising the grandeur and nobility of Roman Baroque", sold for £9.2 million at auction in London in December 2009 only to be the subject of an intervention by the British government to keep it from leaving the United Kingdom.

Domenichino's talent put him not far behind Raphael among the Italian greats
Domenichino's talent put him not far behind
Raphael among the Italian greats
The painting had been on a wall at the Glyndebourne Opera House in Sussex for more than 100 years, having been bought by the owners of the house for 70 guineas in 1899. Put up for sale at Christie’s it was bound for the United States before the culture minister, Margaret Hodge, imposed an export bar. It was sold eventually to a British buyer on condition that it was on public display for at least three months each year.

The son of a shoemaker, Domenichino studied in Bologna, first in a local studio and then joining Lodovico Carracci’s Accademia degli Incamminati.

He left Bologna for Rome in 1602 to work under Annibale Carracci and became one of the most talented apprentices to emerge from Carracci's supervision.

Following Annibale Carracci's death in 1609, his Bolognese pupils, the best of whom were Domenichino, Francesco Albani, Guido Reni and Giovanni Lanfranco, became the leading painters in Rome, upstaging even the followers of Caravaggio, who had left Rome in 1606.

Domenichino's masterpiece, his frescoes of Scenes of the Life of Saint Cecilia in the Polet Chapel of San Luigi dei Francesi, was commissioned in 1612 and completed in 1615.

At the same time he was painting his most celebrated altarpiece, The Last Communion of Saint Jerome, for the church of San Girolamo della Carità, noted for the accuracy of facial expressions, which would subsequently be compared with Raphael's great Transfiguration and was at one time hailed as "the best picture in the world".

Domenichino's River Landscape with Boatmen and Fishermen demonstrates qualities that influenced many landscape painters
Domenichino's River Landscape with Boatmen and Fishermen
demonstrates qualities that influenced many landscape painters 
He would later move away from the rigid classicism of his early work towards a broader, less conventional Baroque style, evident in the last works he produced in Rome and in his fresco cycle, Scenes from the Life of San Gennaro (1631–41), which he painted for the Cappella del Tesoro di San Gennaro, in the Duomo in Naples.

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries Domenichino’s paintings were regarded as second only to those of Raphael.

His work fell from favour in the mid-19th century but his importance to the evolution of Baroque classicism was recognized again in the 20th century.

Domenichino also occupies an important place in the history of landscape painting, his work known to have had a deep influence on the classical landscapists Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain.  In 1996 the first major exhibition of his work was held at the Palazzo Venezia in Rome.

He died in Naples in 1641 while still working at the Duomo. There were suspicions he had been poisoned by the Spanish painter Jusepe di Ribera, the leading member of a group of three artists known as the Naples Cabal, furious to have been passed over for the Cappella del Tesoro di San Gennaro commission in favour of an outsider.

Part of the Domenichino fresco cycle at San Luigi dei Francesi
Part of the Domenichino fresco
cycle at San Luigi dei Francesi
Travel tip:

The Baroque church of San Luigi dei Francesi can be found in Via della Dogana Vecchia, a couple of blocks to the east of Piazza Navona in the heart of Rome’s historic centre. Built in the 16th century to serve the French community in Rome, it is notable not only for Domenichini’s fresco Scenes from the Life of Saint Cecilia but for the cycle of paintings by Caravaggio about the life of St. Matthew in the Contarelli Chapel.

The Cattedrale di San Gennaro, as the Naples Duomo is more frequently known
The Cattedrale di San Gennaro, as the Naples Duomo is
more frequently known
Travel tip:

The Duomo of Naples, known locally more often as the Cattedrale di San Gennaro, was completed in the 14th century after being commissioned by King Charles I of Anjou, the youngest son of Louis VIII of France. Nowadays the seat of the Archbishop of Naples, it is most famous for housing a vial supposedly containing the dried blood of San Gennaro, the city’s patron saint.  The blood is put on public display twice a year, in May and September, when it usually is seen miraculously to liquefy. If the blood fails to liquefy on these days, legend has it that a disaster will befall Naples. Many have doubted the authenticity of the blood and the miracle.  A recent hypothesis is that it actually contains iron oxide (rust) in the form of a thixotropic gel that has the colour of old blood and would become less viscous if shaken or otherwise agitated, and therefore appear to liquefy.


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