Annibale Carracci’s “Boy Drinking” at the Cleveland Museum of Art, helped inaugurate genre paintings
Today, while we are used to seeing images of all kinds in all mediums and at all scales, it is difficult to imagine the impact on the 16th century eyes of a small painting like this. at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Just under two feet tall, it doesn’t show a man-god dying on a cross or a beheaded saint or a heroic battle or heaven or hell, but – quite simply and without fuss – a boy emptying a glass of wine.
Images of such subjects barely existed before Annibale Carracci, who painted “Boy Drinking” circa 1582-1583. Carracci (c. 1560-1609) was an important artist from Bologna, a city landlocked between Florence, Venice and Genoa. When it was purchased in 1994, then Cleveland Museum Director Robert P. Bergman called it “arguably the most spontaneously painted picture of the 16th century.”
It looks incredibly cool. We do not feel the painter following an existing pattern. Rather, it looks like a representation of something that he observed directly with his own eyes and did his best to reproduce with the brush in hand.
The impression of freshness and immediacy is reinforced by the craftsmanship of the painting. Get up close and you can see the brushstrokes – not just the thicker marks that catch the light reflecting off the glass decanter, but also the ones that outline the folds of the boy’s white shirt and even his skin. Notice the change in skin tone from his main forearm to his redder wrist and hand. In front of the painting itself, you can see not only where this change is occurring, but also how the textures of the paint mimic the textures of real skin. (A recent exhibition in London linked Carracci to Lucian Freud, and you can see why.) Also marvel at how light refracted through wine leaves a rust-colored patch of light on his shirt.
Described as “one of the first true genre paintings” (genre painting is the term used by art historians to refer to images of ordinary people engaging in common activities), “Boy Drinking” exists in three versions. One of the three was stolen last year from the Christ Church Picture Gallery at the University of Oxford and has yet to be found.
Carracci had an older cousin, Ludovico, and an older brother, Agostino, both of whom were successful artists. They worked closely together, but of the three, Annibale was the most accomplished and revolutionary.
Before Carracci, Italian art was dominated by a style that art historians later called “mannerism”. Mannerism had many fascinations, but the Bolognese scholar, Count Carlo Cesare Malvasia, set the general tone when he dismissed the style a century later as “far from plausibility, not to speak of the truth itself. same”. Mannerism, he continued, was advanced by artists guilty not only of weak drawing and “flabby and washed-out coloring”, but also “of having abandoned the imitation of ancient statuary, as well as of nature” and of found their art “entirely in their imagination.”
Carracci – a bit like the Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who died when Carracci was 8 years old – wanted to bring art back to reality and to lived experience. By ridding his work of idealization and rhetoric and coldly confronting the truth, he provided an antidote to the excesses of mannerism and, along with Caravaggio, helped usher in the baroque.
When we watch “Boy Drinking”, with its unfamiliar sight of a boy’s exposed neck and dark nostrils, it’s easy to see how the artistic turn brought about by Carracci may have been linked not only to interesting new forms of consciousness. of oneself, but also to a renewed investment in the pleasures of the here and now. A toast to that! Hi!