Domenichino e il paesaggio. Nuovi contributi (english text)


Landscapes by Domenichino and the Agucchis.

Among Domenichino’s earliest landscapes, those painted before he took part in the series of lunettes originally in the Palazzo Aldobrandini al Corso, there are both history subjects and ones where the subject is decorative but the figures are shown to be pursuing activities that marked these pictures as something special for the patrons who acquired them. Perhaps the first of these was the Landscape with Washerwomen, now in the Louvre, which Mancini (and Bellori) described, and said was bought by Annibale Carracci himself, and indeed it is one of the paintings that remained among his meagre possessions at the time of his death in 1609. It was unusual for a landscape subject to be peopled with characters showing azzione, and Annibale is said to have declared that he had not even paid the price of the likeness of the little boy who had spilled an amphora of wine in the stream, staining it. It is a fascinating painting, with a compositional arrangement that will become quite familiar in the Seicento, and a landscape that is carefully measured in perspective, with little figures calibrated according to their distances, many devices of alternating light and shade, recurring banks and stretches of water, a central building with a bridge set in front of a hill with a wooded bluff, seagulls hovering against the darker background, a flock of sheep on the far meadow, differing profiles of tree against the sky, and distant mountains whose blue peaks show that they are a good way away. The stream starts with a waterfall to the left, and is in a different plane than the stretch of water behind it, with a couple of boats giving another key to distance. But the central figures are meaningful, even though they are but washerwomen,  the righthand one stands on tiptoe to take the basket of laundry she will wash on the board behind her. This was a subject that appealed to Annibale, who himself had done nothing of this kind since he had been in Bologna, and with that seal of approval the young man was to go far. We are fortunate in knowing quite a variety of landscapes by him that date from these first years in Rome, and they reveal an aspiring talent that was anxious to do something different from his colleagues, that would please the powerful patrons to whom he had an introduction.

Domenichino Paesaggio con il sacrificio d’Isacco Kimbell Ar Museum, Fort Worth

The first documented landscape is the small copper with Abraham about to Sacrifice Isaac that has become better known since I published in the the exhibition England and the Seicento at Agnews in London in 1973, and which was painted in 1602 as it is already recorded in the January 1603 inventory of the Aldobrandini collection, drawn up by Mgr Gerolamo Agucchi, then maggiordomo to Cardinal Pietro. Although Bellori tells us that Domenichino spent two years, after his arrival in Rome, in Albani’s house  the young painter must have been introduced to the Agucchi, soon after his arrival from Bologna and this was a new kind of history landscape that must have pleased the cardinal; it has a number of stylistic characteristics that make it a key piece of evidence in understanding the sheer application of this young painter, who gained the reputation of The Ox (il Bue) because of his hard work and determination. Most of all it is the careful use of the landscape as a foil to the history subject, with the little figures assisting by gesture in the unrolling of the view as Abraham directs his son Isaac to the mountain top where would light the firewood that the young boy is carrying, in order to effect the sacrifice that God asked for in the Old Testament  narrative (Genesis, 22).  These are little figures, much the same proportion as in Agostino’s own painting (Paris, Louvre) that was presumably painted before his departure from Rome in the summer of 1600.

Domenichino Paesaggio con san Girolamo Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum

Another history painting is the Landscape with St Jerome[1] in Glasgow, Museum and Art Gallery, , is a prime example of his ability in the paese con piccole figure  for which he gained fame in Rome almost as soon  as he got there in 1602, this one with a real narrative theme. It was doubtless a private commission, done perhaps at the same time as his three fresco lunettes on the life of the same saint in the portico of Sant’ Onofrio on the Janiculum, which were commissioned by Gerolamo Agucchi. Like his brother Giovanni Battista’s request to Ludovico Carracci for a painting of Erminia and the Shepherds, where he saw himself escaping from the business world among shepherds, Jerome reflects on his beguiling vision of dancing girls (who figure in the background of the S. Onofrio fresco) and the delights of Roman life[2] as he suffers the loneliness of a hermit fasting in the midst of wild beasts and scorpions,  as he writes to his patron Paula’s daughter Eustochium on the virtues of penitence and chastity. The solace is in the prospect before us, and the beautifully crafted view into the distance, with many passages of receding banks, hillsides streams and lakes, peopled with wild animals and distant sailboats, is an idealised setting for Jerome’s penitence.

Agostino Carracci Louvre Fonds des dessins et miniatures

When we see a drawing by Agostino Carracci of the same subject (Louvre. Inv. #        ) it shows how Domenichino was the principal beneficiary of this kind of composition, and while his teacher had in fact done very few painted landscapes, he was the inventor of this kind of  composition with a new naturalistic setting for the themes that the Seicento would propagate.  And the young painter’s drawn landscapes are in Agostino’s preferred medium of pen and ink, it seems to be later in his career that he used the softer lines of pencil and charcoal. The cliff that is a foil to the saint both in the fresco at S. Onofrio and in the panel in Glasgow is related to Agostino’s wooded bluffs that are featured in several his drawings, and in the Sacrifice of Isaac on copper in the Louvre. Domenichino not only inherited  the lessons of landscape design that he had had in the Accademia degli Incamminati in Bologna, he knew how to personalise a subject so that it would appeal to a patron.

Another landscape by Domenichino, one that belonged originally to a member of the Rondinini family was described by Bellori:

“In casa Rondenini [sic] sopra una picciola tela di sua mano è finto un fiumicello, col Barcaiuolo, che spinge à riva, dov’ è una donna con una cestella di granchi, la quale piegata à terra, addita un fanciullo piangente, morso da uno di quei granchi, che gli pende dalla mano.  Dietro di essa un pescatore tiene un’anguilla per fargliela guizzar frà le spalle, e col ditto alla bocca, accena silentio ad una Signora, che col marito, viene à diporta al fiume.” Bellori, 1672 op. cit. pp. 356-7.
Domenichino (cf Grimaldi 551 at Chatsworth (Jaffe)

Not known in the original to Richard Spear when he wrote his monograph on Domenichino, he recorded it from a copy then in a private collection in Albany, NY. The figures have their own action, although not apparently a story, with the fishermen bringing in their catch, and a child grimacing as a crab hangs from its hand. The poling boatman is a figure often found in Domenichino’s work, from the River Landscape presented by the late Sir Denis Mahon to the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Bologna, to the oarsman in the Calling of Peter and Andrew on the apse of Sant’ Andrea della Valle in Rome, which Domenichino painted between 1623-28. The buildings in the landscape are not the kind of huts from the Venetian lagoon preferred by Annibale (and derived from Titian and Campagnola) but buildings more reminiscent of the Castelli romani, and the clump of trees (with markedly different foliage) articulates the prospects on each side of the view. The perspective is facilitated by devices like the rider leading his horse to the water, partly obscured by the bank that he is descending, and by the proportionally receding boats in the stretch of water leading to the town: another boat is drawn up on land, yet another with a boatman mooring it in the arch, and further diminutive figures are seen against the walls of the town. The horsemen and shepherd and flock of sheep on the land side provide a complementary gauge of distance, but it is the main figures who are the key to the subject, and despite their small size, the narrative is telling, and like the Landscape with Washerwomen had its own fame that Bellori transmitted to  us.

Domenichino Paesaggio con lavandaie, Parigi Louvre

Like the Louvre landscape, it has an improvised subject, entering around the sensation that the child experiences in being bitten by a crab, rather like Caravaggio’s Boy bitten by a Lizard, itself a very novel idea.

The organised landscape prospect, arranged around the figure subject, was something that Agostino had frequently drawn, and Benedetto Morelli in his funeral oration for him in 1603 mentioned how he took his students out to sketch ‘alla villa’ so catering even for the decorative painter who might in this way cope with placing figures in a landscape setting – Domenichino in reality chose to make this a pitch for a speciality that would appeal to clients who would not just commission altarpieces, but even have paintings in their own domestic setting. But he was also sensitive to the idea of narrative on a small scale, expressing all sorts of action (azzione as Bellori called it)  and it was here that he listened  to and observed Ludovico as much as his cousin Agostino. The enthusiasm the elder Carracci had for figures in motion, muscles stressed, conveying action rather than a static description, was what Domenichino picked up from the elder Carracci, and he did it once again on a small scale, as if there was a market for history subjects on a domestic scale. Mancini ci racconta

et essendo raccolto et abbracciato da Monsignor Agocchi, gli fu dato trattenimento in casa sua; et in quel tempo, ancor giovanetto, fece quell’ historie di San Girolamo che sono nel portico di S. Honofrio, e nel medesimo tempo fece in casa alcuni paesaggi di gran vaghezza e perfettione, che in simil sorte di pittura veramente eccedeva’.

And apart from the little Landscape with the Sacrifice of Isaac that is already recorded in the inventory of Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini’s collection in January 1603, another magnificentt Landscape with a Palazzo and  a Boating Party  that evidently dates from the Agucchi period, has surfaced (published by this writer for an exhibition at Pienza Museo Diocesano, 2012). While we read that it was a subterfuge by his brother of the painting of the Liberation of St Peter (now known only from the copy in its original location in San Pietro in Vincoli) that revealed the excellence of there young Domenichino to Gerolamo Agucchi, it does seem that the elder brother had quite a lot to do with him from the start, and the January 1603 Aldobrandini inventory was in reality drawn up by him in his role as maggiordomo to Cardinal Pietro, and it was probably he who was the Monsignor Agocchi that Mancini referred to.

Instead of mere staffage he represented figures in action, boatmen poling, fishermen pulling nets, washerwomen kneeling at their laundry in the stream, hunters shooting, a horseman tending his mount, huntsmen with dogs. One of the first must be the painting in the Ackland Art Centre, Chapel Hill, which is first recorded in the collection of the Earl of Bridgewater in the eighteenth century, and must have been one of the genuine Domenichinos (as opposed to the many imitations) that came to England in the ages of Gavin Hamilton and the Rev. Holwell Carr. Although the composition is dominated by a hill  with fortified buildings, in the distance, the framing motif is not the tree at the right side of the Louvre Landscape with Washerwomen, but an escarpment on the left, with the tree placed off centre in the near foreground, an arrangement that is a common denominator in many Domenichinesque landscapes.  The figures are all strenuously occupied with various tasks, and are in at least six planes, from the washerwomen in the foreground to the riders with dogs hunting deer in the far background.  The figures are all doing tasks that are challenging to represent – from the couple crossing the stream, the man lending his arm in support of the woman balanced on the plank the fishermen pulling in their nets, their helpers on land pulling them to shore, the woodsman chopping with his axe, the washerwomen passing their load while the other is kneeling to wash the clothes in the stream. All are united with a carefully thought out perspective., with the central water feature being reinforced with a secondary pool in the background, and recurring banks so that some of the figures, and the donkey, are placed strategically behind into to convey recession. The building across the water was almost a trademark of this new classical landscape, and gave a far more familiar keynote than the alpine views and elaborate port scenes that Northern competitors made fashionable, using features that were essentially fantastical.   Domenichino is here a pioneer in the framework of a landscape with figures, and it was a discipline that had immediate success – with artists because they got to see how perspective could be applied to natural features, and with patrons like the Agucchi brothers who could relate to the narrative of a figure subject in a natural setting.  His landscape structure here is usually essentially similar, as the fresco he painted in the Casino Ludovisi in 1621, just as the Landscape with a Fortified Building now in the National Gallery is an echo of the Aldobrandini lunette of the Flight into Egypt.

Domenichino Paesaggio con Fortificazioni

Domenichino was however more interested in becoming a successful figure painter, and although the discipline that he elaborated was a very successful part of ‘Bolognese’ decoration in Rome, he was  more impressed with his own success as a history painter and was content to share the creative landscape speciality with others among the Bolognese contingent in Rome. But just as the apprentice in the sixteenth century learnt to draw anatomy from life so that when he came to create a painting he had no need for a model, being able to work entirely from his imagination, so Domenichino worked on the complete poses of many figures in movement so that he could essentially represent any narrative without any need to study them further. Bleary summed it up when praising his viva efficacia di esprimere gli affetti che fù suo  proprio , destando i moti e movendo i sensi (1672, p. 290).  The Ackland painting is almost a demonstration piece, animating the people in the landscape who might otherwise, in saleroom parlance, be seen as ‘passing the time of day’. But it is interesting that the accentuated musculature is such a recognisable characteristic in this painting, as it will also be in works like the kneeling Narcissus in the Palazzetto Farnese fresco, the bystanders moved to take their shirts off in the Landscape with the Baptism in the Jordan (Zurich, Kunsthaus),

Domenichino Paesaggio con il Battesimo di Cristo (part.) Zurigo, Kunsthaus

the same subject in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, or the bather on the left of the little landscape in the Prado. It is interesting that Richard Spear regarded the Ackland painting as the copy, preferring the version at Christchurch,  maybe because he was impressed also with the more suffused character of the Oberlin Flight into Egypt, that the museum bought on his advice in the 1970s. The Oxford painting is equally much more in character with the later imitations of Domenichino’s early landscapes, and no-one was better placed to produce them than Grimaldi who a generation later saw himself as the true successor of the ‘Bolognee’ landscape genre, and sought out early examples  at a time when his French patrons were determined to secure examples of what had become a trendy decoration.

Domenichino Paesaggio con la Fuga in Egitto (part.)

The Ackland painting is also key to understanding the authorship by Domenichino of the little Landscape with the Rest on the Flight into Egypt formerly in the collection of the late Mrs T.G. Winter, which has often been called Annibale (it was loaned to the 1962 Ideale Classico show in Bologna), and whose oldest history dates back to William Young Ottley who bought it from the Corsini collection in Rome.

Instead of a watery prospect, the subject figures are here the centre of a landscape that alternates from one side to the other, with lesser figures like the man lading the horse, the two men partly behind a bank in the middle distance, as well as the grazing donkey being close to their counterparts in the Ackland painting. They are scattered too in one of the most famous of Domenichino’s early landscapes, the Ford (Il Guado) in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj. which has a measured prospect over the water, punctuated by figures in boats leading the eye to the picturesque buildings in the background.

Domenichino Il Guado Roma, Galleria Doria Pamphili
Domenichino Paesaggio con la Sacra Famiglia in inverno

It is right to see a correspondence in these details, as also in the buildings that are painted identically in the Louvre Landscape with Washerwomen., and the straining oarsmen who people these streams (or the one that is clearer in profile in the Palazzetto Farnese Death of Adonis). Although this is generally dated much later, it seems to me that that the Doria picture may well also be quite early, and actually correspond with the other landscape that is listed in the Aldobrandini inventory of 1603.  The arrangement of the figures is a classic Agostino device, the diagonal placement on each side drawing the eye toward the rest of the landscape, whose harmonious recession is as carefully orchestrated as the view behind the Holy Family in the Winter picture, or the two Palazzetto Farnese frescoes.

The panel Paesaggio con palazzo e festa in barca (52 by 71 cm, Private Collection, England) ) which I published on the occasion of its exhibition at the Museo Diocesano in Pienza in 2012, is another of the genre of paese con figure piccole, most likely one of those that Mancini recalled when he said ‘e nel medesimo tempo (when he was staying with the Agucchis) fece in casa alcuni paesaggi  a olio di grande vaghezza a perfettione, che in simile sort di pittura veramente eccedeva’.

It is worth saying that these small paintings are of a different destination to the larger compositions that Domenichino and others did as members of the Carracci school in Rome, for more decorative destinations, and they were obviously regarded as something special. Like the Kimbell Landscape with Abraham about to Sacrifice Isaac, this is painted with meticulous attention to detail, and one can almost  hear Giovanni Battista Agucchi asking, as he did in the context of the Erminia and the Shepherds,

‘ E per far il paese al più naturale, che fosse possible, sarebbe ben di mettersi delle palme de platani, sicomori, lentische, serrebenti, genebri, ole qualcheduno di più domestici. che ulivi, alori, quercie, e frassano, e pomo, e fichi, ma perché non potrebbero ne discernersi tutti basteria più facili da riconoscersi, come le Palme, i Platani, e pieni  i Olivi, e Alori’ [3].

The passage is testimony to Agucchi’s ability as a landscape gardener, and indeed the palazzo itself is reminiscent of the Villa Aldobrandini at Frascati, where he worked with his patron Pietro Aldobrandini to direct the lavish fountains at the Teatro delle Acque that were being installed in 1603 by Ippolito Buzzi. The landscape background, finely defined with a crenellated castle in the middle distance, is closely comparable to that of the Kimbell painting, which we know was painted in 1602, and the figures are characteristically full of movement and life. The figure leaning against the foreground wall recalls one of Agostino’s pen and ink drawing in Stockholm [4], while the fishing net once again recalls Agucchi’s request for such a feature in the Erminia and the Shepherds he wanted ‘et apogiata ad un’ degli alberi stasse una rete da pescare’. As for the boating party that is evidently reminiscent of the well-known drawing [5] in Cleveland, (traditionally called Annibale) which was used again by Domenichino for the same feature in the ex- Mahon River Landscape now in Bologna, Pinacoteca Nazionale. As I will argue in a forthcoming article on Agostino Carracci, this is a characteristic work of this artist, and it demonstrates how close the young Domenichino remained to the work of his teacher in the early years in Rome.

Domenichino Paesaggio con il sacrificio d’Isacco (part.) Kimbell Ar Museum, Fort Worth

But Domenichino makes the figures his own, all with things to do, like the child running towards its mother, the gardener saluting as he emerges from the pergola, the fisherman about to launch his net, the musicians playing as they reach the dock. The little boy Isaac in the Kimbell painting is a close companion of the figures with their backs to us leaning against the wall. The figures are all carefully studied, and have rightly been compared with those of the Landscape with a Boating Party, from the Mahon collection and mow in the Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna. This  also has a central perspective, but provided by the the river on which the boats are set in alternate distances, and we can appreciate the care with which each of the figure groups, set diagonally in relation to the central vanishing point, are proportioned so that it is a fascinating combination of human activities in a natural setting. This was what Passeri described when he said that the artist

‘procurò d’erudirsi della perfetione della buona symmetry dell’ Ottica e della prospettiva, tanto necessaria a chi desidera collocare saggiamente e a suo luogo le figure in un copioso componimento e saperlo distribuire regolatamente in un piano’.

The Agucchis will have admired the variety of foliage, and the reflections in the water, the banks covered with rushes and bushes seen against the lighter setting of the water ‘le ripe coperte di frasca, e verde erbetta con qualche cespuglio, overo arboscello, come Tamarisco, Saliceneri, e canne‘ as Giovanni Battista wrote in his programme for Erminia and the Shepherds. The art of composing these sophisticated landscapes was elaborated by Domenichino from his original lessons he had from Agostino in Bologna, and would form the basis of a tradition taken up with particular attention by other Bolognese hands, but especially by Nicolas Poussin after he arrived in Rome. It was not an apprenticeship in the traditional sense, but a skill that required the knowledge that was inherent in this new genre.

Although there are relatively few of these landscapes with small figures, which clearly launched Domenichino to favour with the intellectual patrons who sustained him through his career, there are a few others that make a solid foundation to his early career, like the companion to the Mahon landscaper, Landscape with Hunters, now also in Bologna, Pinacoteca Nazionale, the pair formerly in the Colonna collection of Tobias and the Angel, (National Gallery, London)  Moses and the Burning Bush (Metropolitan Museum, New York); the Landscape with the Calling of Peter and Andrew  (on loan to Princeton University Art Museum) and its companion Christ and the Woman of Samaria (Wellesley College),  the well-known Landscape with a Ford (Il Guado) in the Doria Pamphlilj Gallery in Rome,  and the Landscape with the Baptism in the Jordan formerly in the Cook collection and now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge,  not to mention the fresco over the door of the Farnese Gallery with the Virgin and the Unicorn. These were the intense masterpieces with which he launched himself on the Roman scene, and they precede the single contribution he made, as I have already argued, to the series of the Aldobrandini lunettes, painted for the upper segments of the chapel in the Corso from 1605 onwards.

Annibale Carracci (e Domenichino?) Paesaggio con la Fuga in Egitto Roma Galleria Doria Pamphili

The Landscape with the Flight into Egypt is the single most successful design of the series, and although it was still a minor element in an obscure location, its adoption as a final work of Annibale Carracci, who no longer had the energy nor the inclination to devote himself to such a controlled design has deprived its real author of the credit for such a successful management of figures and their natural setting, while introducing a wholly uncharacteristic side of a personality who himself actually came to recognise the virtues of a genre that was quite at odds with his own genius. In many ways the lunette of the Flight into Egypt is a pivotal work, for although it is such a successful design, it was part of a decorative interior and as such it was a contribution to a genre where collaboration was the norm. Although there is no indication that the Doria picture itself is a work of collaboration, as Domenichimo became more successful and was in demand to undertake commissions for important patrons, Scipione Borghese who had him paint the fresco with the Flagellation of St Andrew for the Oratory of St Andrew at San Gregorio al Celio (1608) Vincenzo Giustiniani at Bassano Romano  (1609) and Odoardo Farnese at the Abbazia di San Nilo at Grottaferrata, (1609/12)  the major altarpiece of the Last Communion of St Jerome for S. Giroamo della Carità (1611/14), he was obviously more inclined to collaborate with other colleagues when it came to what was still considered a minor genre. For him it was the figures that really counted, and so even if the background landscape could be materially executed by others, the paintings maintained the attribution to the master who had contributed these important elements. And it can be said that the collaboration with his colleague Giovanni Battista Viola, who had come to Rome at the same period with his mentor Albani, was a most successful one, and he would have a really meaningful role to play in the development of the new landscape. But it was the early demonstration of little landscapes ‘di grande vaghezza e perfettione’ by Domenichino that Mancini admired chez the Agucchis that really started the tradition, and this is the point of this note.

The landscape decoration that the Bolognese brought to Rome was associated by all with the Carracci, and as Annibale survived after his brother, he claimed responsibility for this and for all the tremendous innovations represented principally by what his family business had done for the Farnese.

The history of the Louvre Landscape with Washerwomen, that had belonged to Annibale himself but would be downgraded to Grimaldi and sent to the provinces, shows how difficult it was to recognise the real pioneers of Bolognese painting, and indeed most of the Carraccis that reached the French Royal collection were also far from being by the hands that they were sold for.

It was in any case difficult to see who had done which part, as the activity had always been characterised by a joint approach, where there was a great deal of interchange and substitution. Landscape painting by itself was not a genre that was high on the artistic scale, however, and so designs could be filled in by lesser members of the workshop, and indeed the basic compositional devices that characterise Bolognese landscape had already been invented. And although Annibale demonstrated how much he was at ease with landscape detail, which after all did not place demands of academic subject-matter, and like his early genre pictures could be the product of free invention, he was not the author of the compositional patterns that made up the blueprint of Carraccesque landscape in Rome. The names whose work is associated with this innovative streak – Domenichino, Albani, Guido Reni, Viola – came to town not just with a smattering of how to go about the decorative elements in the Farnese commissions, but with a range of compositions and devices that made for a product that had a character beyond that of the individual painter. Much depended on the experience they had had in Bologna, where their teacher had been Agostino Carracci worked consistently not only on the iconography of the subjects to be painted, but also on the compositions and framework. While he was always regarded as less of a painter than his younger brother, whose miraculous talents were legendary, he was necessarily a minder for a man who had huge talent but who needed shepherding in the real world. And if Annibale had done wonderful landscape decorations in Bologna, they were a distant memory for the new generation, who knew him before they became painters, as he had left their home town in 1595.

It was a genre that was usually characterised by collaboration, partly because  this was the nature of the business, and no-one regarded it as a self-sufficient form of painting, because it was as yet seen mainly in the context of the decorative idiom practised by pittori doratori or decorators. It is fortunate that there a a number of references to early works by Domenichino that confirm his specialisation in this field, and are the basis for recognising his establishment of a genre of history paintings with small figures; but recognising originals from imitations was difficult from the start especially as the Carracci came to be thought of as a kind of generic style where no-one knew who had done what. While it is clear that the compositional framework of these pictures owes a lot to Agostino Carracci’s examples, particularly in the drawings that were obviously frequently brought out as examples to follow, the emphasis on narrative on a small scale was clearly one for which Domenichino gained a reputation, and which gave his early works appeal to new patrons. There are several instances of pictures that he did that display activities, both narrative stories and figures performing even strenuous motions, which we can associate with his earliest period in Rome. He was persistent and even obstinate in this chosen creative vein, and the association of figures with landscape features, watery prospects with buildings,  crenellated castles, sailing boats. If we are right to see the muscular poses as stemming from his guidance from Ludovico Carracci in the Accademia degli Incanninati in Bologna where he received his training, we should look for the origins of formal landscape composition in that of Agostino. Works like the Flagellation at Douai, the series of painting of the Flight into Egypt done for Senator Bonfiglioli, demonstrate Ludovico’s concern with understanding movement in the human form. Domenichino of all  the pupils to come out of the Accademia degli Incamminati in Bologna had application, and contemporary references speak of his slow but determined character. For the composition of his landscapes we can see that the example of Agostino’s drawings was a key source, they  show him  as a teacher aiming to provide a complete composition, usually entered around a figure subject.

Domenichino arrived in Rome in 1602, and we have a useful range of landscapes painted by him from the very earliest moment. Perhaps the first is the small copper, now in Fort Worth, of Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac, which is included in the January 1603 inventory of the Aldobrandini collection, drawn up by Gerolamo Agucchi. We also know the painting that he did of a Landscape with Washerwomen, that was bought by Annibale Carracci himself, and he declared (according to Mancini) that he had not paid even the price of the stream coloured by the wine the child had spilt. In recent years the Rondanini Landscape with Fishermen and a Boy bitten by a Crab that Mancini described among his early works has re=appeared; we also know the landscapes that he painted in the Palazzetto Farnese in 1604/05, including the figure of Narcissus looking at his reflection in the pool.

Domenichino Narciso Roma Palazzo Franese

These paintings, and the reception we know he had with Giovanni Battista Agucchi, who appreciated the efforts he made to paint paesi con figure piccole, give us an appreciation of how he tried to make a new genre for clients like this, one that had a considerable vogue both as decoration and aa expression of stories that satisfied a new range of patrons who cultivated imagery that illustrated some of the narratives they encountered in a literary realm. These paintings are all early works, done in the first years in Rome, and while it seemed logical to date others to later in Domenichino’s career, we have not taken sufficient account of two important factors, ones that both stem from the comparatively lowly status of the speciality that he embarked upon as soon as he arrived in Rome. The first is a consideration that these paintings do indeed date from the early stay in Rome, because he was unwilling later to devote his energies to what was considered a humble genre of painting after he achieved critical success; and the second is the presence of a colleague who, though he had no training as a painter, had an instinct for landscape detail that he could rely to complement his figures. This was his Bolognese compatriot Giovanni Battista Viola, who had come to Rome in the same period, in the company of his close friend Francesco Albani, who could be counted upon to do landscape detail even in important commissions, and who added a new dimension to Domenichino’s (and others’) subject paintings. But because of the highly individual nature of his figures at the early stage of his career, we can now recognise a few other landscapes that were not included in Richard Spear’s monumental catalogue of his work. Because the latter also introduced one or two extraneous examples, excluded others because of their incompatibility with them, and distributed his landscapes in a chronology that failed to take account of his own collaborations and preference for more important subject-matter, it became difficult to see what had happened to a genre that in retrospect was much more important than it was regarded in its own time.  As a result also from the very haphazard survival of accurate attributions in a field that was early on dominated by the popularity of the Bolognese landscape idiom abroad, it became difficult to appreciate not only the key role Domenichino played in the development of the kind of painting that enjoyed such success in his own century and the following one, but also to see the personal contributions of other artists like Viola, who although secondary in role nonetheless made a great difference to the tradition that was passed on to the next generation, of Bonzi, Pietro da Cortona, Grimaldi, Poussin, Gaspard and Claude Lorrain.

When decorative schemes were broken up – and there was a tremendous appetite for their purchase particularly by foreigners – there was no appreciation of who had done which part, so no opportunity for celebrating one or other of the members of team that had undertaken the paintings.  The references in the biographers as to  who in this school of painting did  landscapes are all unspecific – mainly because it was not so important in the general scheme of things, but they would nonetheless be seized upon as testimony for the attribution of works that had now been isolated from their original context. At best it was the artist who had done the figure subject, but as we shall see, this was not always the same as the landscapist. Even in modern times a decorative scheme – the Aldobrandini lunettes – gained mythical status as the work of Annibale Carracci, when it actually had nothing to do with his handiwork. As usual, this kind of celebration of a star performance does not add to the reputation of this truly great painter, but it has made it more difficult to see its very different kind of creativity. For now it may be possible to recognise the idiosyncrasies of Domenichino’s hand, and see why he was key figure in the Bolognese landscape as it emerged in Rome in the early years of the Seicento. But we should also be prepared to recognise that while he was such a model for people who followed in his wake, much of his work was also participated in by others like his contemporary Viola, who made a special contribution to the genre, but whose efforts were largely subsumed by the enthusiasm for the main name.

Apart from the subject-matter, which has to do with what Bellori would call azzione, Domenichino’s early landscapes have a variety of compositional devices, with a link between foreground and background being achieved through a continuous prospect like a water feature, a castle or other building in the middle distance, figures with careful proportions depending on their distance from the foreground, a framing tree or cliff, and sometimes a central tree. The Ackland painting also has a waterfall bringing a stream to the foreground, a feature that is frequently introduced in later landscapes (and which Agostino had used in his Landscape with Diana and Callisto (Duke of Sutherland, Mertoun) that was in all probability a Farnese commission, done before Agostino’s abrupt departure from Rome in 1600.

Agostino Carracci Paesaggio co Diana e Callisto

We can appreciate how important the designs of Agostino’s drawn landscapes were to Domenichino when we compare the Landscape with St Jerome among the drawings at the Louvre, with the little painting of the same subject now at Glasgow.

Agostino Carracci Agostino Louvre Fonds des dessins et miniatures
Domenichino Paesaggio con san Girolamo Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum

It is the exaggerated musculature of the protagonists in these pictures, like the one in the foreground of the large Landscape with Hunters, formerly in the Orléans collection and now in a private collection in Italy, that show Domenichino’s emphasis on figure painting. It is not accidental that this figure attaching a lead to his dog is close to Narcissus in the fresco Domenichino painted for one of the little rooms in the Palazzetto Farnese. These are figures that belong to the same gym as the energetic figure lifting his shirt in the Baptism in the Jordan in the Kunsthaus Zurich, or the similar participant in the Baptism in the Jordan in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.   But the little figures in the Ackland Art Centre painting are exemplary in showing a whole range of activities; while artists in the Cinquecento studied hard from life in order to be able to evoke any kind of gesture and expression, Domenichino takes it further in illustrating many different poses and tasks so that each could be part of an invented narrative. The same concern with figures in motion is present in the Landscape with a Boating Party, among the pictures from the Mahon collection now in the Pinacoteca, Bologna, and the energetic  gondolier is again found in Domenichino’s fresco of the Calling of Peter and Andrew in the apse of S. Andrea della Valle, painted long after his early dalliance with landscape painting.

In reality the period when Domenichino was staying with the Agucchi was an especially fruitful one in terms of this genre of painting. Apart from the little Abraham and Isaac now at Fort Worth, painted doubtless through their agency for Cardinal Aldobrandini, he must also have done the panel with a Landscape with a Boating Party  and Loggia  in a private collection in Rome, which has a number of features that recall Agucchi’s literary programme for an Erminia and the Shepherds. . The figures leaning against the retaining wall of the lake recall those of Agostino’s drawing in Stockholm, and I am now inclined to think that the well-known pen-and-ink drawing in Cleveland of a Boating Party, which has been related to others among Domenichino’s landscapes, is actually also by Annibale’s elder brother. The landscape in the distance of the panel has such close parallels with the background of the Fort Worth Abraham and Isaac that they cannot be far apart, and indeed this is the moment when the Agucchi brothers evidently sheltered the young arrival from Bologna, and encouraged him in this speciality.

These are little paintings that were not out of place in a gallery or private house, and it is clear that Domenichino aimed to please a patrons like Agucchi who had appreciation of literary themes, natural features and actual landscape design. Most of the Carraccesque landscapes that were painted in Rome were however part of larger decorative schemes, nearly all of which were dismantled and dispersed without much account of what they looked like or who undertook them. There were important decorative schemes at Palazzo di Montecavallo, done for Scipione Borghese, others at Vincenzo Giustiniani’s villa at Bassano Romano, doubtless others at the residences of Cardinal Aldobrandini at Montemagnanapoli and at Frascati. The lunettes from the chapel at Palazzo Aldobrandini on the Corso were completed by several different hands under the direction of Albani, and they were only completed after eight years. So the Carraccesque landscape as it became more fashionable in Rome was the result of the use of more naturalistic detail, arranged in compositions that could centre around figure subjects, but which could and were painted by alternate specialists, including people who only painted foliage, clouds or watery vistas, in which the compositional organisation that Agostino Carracci had introduced among the pupils of the Accademia degli Incamminati were what held the appearance of the prospects together

It is unfortunate that we have so little information about the decorations of the Palazzetto Farnese, where the principal group of Carraccesque landscapes done in Rome were. We some hints that the Agostino painting of Diana and Callisto hung there, but some of the wall paintings were evidently moved from other parts of the complex, and we have only sketchy information of the nineteen landscapes with a painting of Apollo in the middle, arranged in a flat ceiling, can have been. The paintings whose descriptions tally so far include the Landscape with a Bridge now in Berlin (called Annibale and with various quite implausible dates suggested in the literature) and two other paintings, one of a Landscape with Bathers now in Rhode Island, and a Landscape with Latona and the Lycian Peasants which I came across a number of years ago. These are all of approximately the same dimensions. This important decorative scheme must have included some of the other paintings we know, and I think that it is the most plausible origin of the two large landscapes formerly in the Orléans collection, the Landscape with Hunters and the Landscape with Fishermen. Knowing other smaller paintings of similar subject-matter, I have no problem in seeing the latter work as by Domenichino; it is perhaps the most ambitious  of the early landscapes, with figures that continue to show how much his interest was in portraying activity, giving such a central role to the muscular oarsman poling his craft. But while the huntsman  tying a leash to his dog in the companion Landscape with Hunters is clearly  by the same hand as the kneeling Narcissus in the fresco Domenchino did in another room in the Palazzetto Farnese, much of the background seems to be by another hand and this is arguably  that of Giovanni Battista Viola.

For Domenichino was not averse to collaboration, particularly after he had achieved renown as a figure painter, and even in the Orléans pair of painting we can see that there was another hand. The Landscape with Fishermen is to my mind quite convincing as a Domenichino of the period of the Palazzetto Farnese decorations (and it might well have come from there) while the background of the companion Landscape with a Hunting Party  is quite clearly by the ingenious hand of Viola.

Domenico Zampieri, called Domenichino

BOLOGNA 1581 – 1641 NAPLES


oil on canvas 23 by 29 ½ in.; 58.4 by 74.9 cm.


Possibly Natale Rondinini (1540-1627), Rome, and by descent to his son; Alessandro Rondinini (died 1631), by whom bequeathed to his wife; Felice Zacchia Rondinini (1593-1667), in whose 1662 inventory the painting is listed (“Un paese largo palmi tre, alto due dicesi di mano del Domenichino’), and thence by descent to her grandson; Alessandro Rondinini (1660-1740), Villa delle Terme di Diocleziano, Rome, (noted in his posthumous inventory of 1741: “Un Quadro in Tela di tre p.mi p. traverso rapp.te Paese con Veduta di Fiume Cornice dorata mano del Domenichino”) thence by descent to; Giuseppe Rondinini (1725-1801); Miss Moore, The Vicarage, Claggate, Surrey; Sale: Christie’s London, 28 January, 1882, lot 96, as “Carracci”, sold for £1 15 s. to “J.B.”; Anonymous sale, Bonham’s London, 5 July, 2006, lot 69 (as “Circle of Domenicio Zampieri, il Domenichino”).


San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor,  February 2009- December 2012.


G.P. Bellori, Nota delli musei, librerie, galerie, et ornamenti di statue e pitture ne’ palazzi, nelle case, e ne’ giardini di Roma, Rome 1664, p. 48 (where noted it belonged to “Felice Rondenini”, “paesi di Domenichino”);
G.P. Bellori, Le vite de’ pittori, scultori e architetti moderni, Rome 1672, pp. 356-7 (see note);
  1. Salerno, Palazzo Rondinini, Rome 1965, p. 279;
R.E. Spear, Domenichino, New Haven and London 1982, vol I, no. 17, pp. 139-40 (as location unknown);
  1. Sutherland Harris, review of “Domenichino by Richard E. Spear,” in The Burlington Magazine, CXXVI, no. 972, March 1984, p. 167, note 4;
R.E. Spear, “Domenichino addenda,” in The Burlington Magazine, CXXXI, January 1989, p. 15, no. 17 (as location unknown).


In his vita of the painter, Bellori noted the particular talent that Domenichino demonstrated for the depiction of landscape:

“Domenico was highly studied in his representation of landscapes and prospects, with his choices and with the appropriateness of his views, drawing and painting them with a superior genius, and he made jokes in these [paintings] with the usual depictions of his figures.”1

Bellori then goes on to describe some of the artist’s best examples of such works, and begins with one in particular:

 “In the Rondenini [sic] house there is a little canvas by his hand on which is depicted a small river with a boatman who is coming to shore, where there is a woman with a basket of crabs, who is kneeling on the ground, pointing to a crying boy, bitten by one of those crabs, which is hanging from his hand.  Behind her is a fisherman holding an eel who is about ready to dangle it down her back, and with a finger raised to his mouth hushes a Lady, who with her husband, has come to stroll by the river.”2

 One of only about twenty such landscape paintings by Domenichino, the River Landscape with a Boatman and Fishermen is amongst the best documented of the artist’s works in the genre.3 Not only does Bellori describe it in great detail in his biography (see above), but it was also engraved by Giovanni Francesco Grimaldi (with slight alterations, Bartsch 49). It is first recorded in 1662, when it is mentioned in the inventory of Felice Zacchia, the widow of Alessandro Rondinini.  Most of the paintings in the celebrated Rondinini collection had been acquired by Alessandro’s father, Natale, who very possibly commissioned the present painting from the artist, or bought it soon after it was painted.  The collection included a number of famous works (for example the collaborative Saint Cecilia by Gentileschi and Lanfranco, now National Gallery, Washington, DC, inv.  1961.9.73), and was comprised solely of pictures by artists who were active no later than circa 1630.  Thus, the Rondinini collection in effect represents in crystallized form Roman aristocratic taste of the early years of the seicento, and the Landscape’s inclusion in it is indicative of the respect in which the artist and his landscapes were held.4  The Landscape then enjoys an unbroken provenance until the beginning of 19th century, when the last of the Rondinini family died without issue. After that, except for a brief appearance in an 1882 sale in England (see provenance), the painting disappeared, and was only known through Grimaldi’s print and an old copy, formerly in the Bonsal collection, Albany, NY (see Spear 1982 op. cit., vol. I, under cat. no. 17, p. 139, reproduced, vol. II, plate 31). Only in 2006 did the painting reappear on the London art market, although misattributed (see provenance), and a subsequent cleaning revealed its fully autograph status, recognized as the lost Rondinini painting and accepted as such by Richard Spear (reconfirmed in a private communication to the current owner dated 27 March, 2009, see footnote 3).

The Landscape with a Boatman and Fishermen can be dated to circa 1605, soon after Domenichino’s arrival in Rome in 1602.  Once there, the artist became a close protégé of Annibale Carracci, who no doubt encouraged the younger painter’s foray into landscape painting both by example and by direct exhortation.5  Annibale’s Landscape with Fishermen of circa 1596 (Paris, Musée du Louvre), shares many of the same elements as the present canvas: elegant figures along a shore coming to inspect the day’s catch; the boatman straining at his oar; the recession of the water into the landscape, interrupted by trees, hills and fortifications.  Other touches, however, seem to be Domenichino’s own; while Annibale’s canvas in the Louvre presents an overall somber and decorous image, the present picture by Domenichino is more lively and lighthearted, not least by the inclusion of the antics of the fisherfolk which Bellori described in such detail.  Within Domenichino’s own corpus, perhaps the closest parallel is the Riverscape with a Ford in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilij, Rome (Spear 1982 op. cit., cat. no. 16) which can be dated to about the same moment and which also features many of the same compositional techniques, as well as also displaying a similar interest in narrative content.  Domenichino’s careful approach to landscape as described by Bellori is further attested to by the existence of two preliminary drawings for the painting.  One for the boy at the extreme lower right of the composition is at Windsor6; the other, working out elements of the right hand part of the composition, was formerly in the collection of Janos Scholz.7  In his final composition, Domenichino also made slight adjustments and corrections, most notably seen in a pentiment in the upraised arm of the boatman.

  1. “Fù Domenico studiosissimo nel rappresentare paesi, e vedute, con elettione scelta e proprietà de’ siti, disegnandoli e dipingendoli con sopranità di genio; e scherzava in essi con la solita espressione delle figure.” Bellori 1672 op. cit., p. 356.
  2. “In casa Rondenini [sic] sopra una picciola tela di sua mano è finto un fiumicello, col Barcaiuolo, che spinge à riva, dov’ è una donna con una cestella di granchi, la quale piegata à terra, addita un fanciullo piangente, morso da uno di quei granchi, che gli pende dalla mano. Dietro di essa un pescatore tiene un’anguilla per fargliela guizzar frà le spalle, e col ditto alla bocca, accena silentio ad una Signora, che col marito, viene à diporta al fiume.” Bellori, 1672 op. cit. pp. 356-7.
  3. In a private communication to the current owner from Richard Spear, 27 March, 2009.
  4. For a description of the Rondinini collection, its formation and history, please see L. Salerno op. cit.
  5. Annibale literally “put his money where his mouth is”; Bellori noted that Carracci fell so in love with one of Domenichino’s landscapes that he bought it, and felt he had a good bargain in doing so (see Bellori, 1672 op. cit., p. 357).
  6. See J. Pope-Hennessy, Domenichino Drawings in the Royal Library at Windor Castle, London 1948, p. 38, cat. no 125).
  7. See Italienische Meisterzeichnungen von 14. bis zum 18 Jahrhundert aus amerikanischem Besitz, Die Sammlung Janos Scholz, exhibition catalogue, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne, 1963, cat. no. 47, pl. 46).
[1] Panel , 44 by 59,6 cm, Bequeathed by Archibald McClellan, 1856.
[2]  St Jerome writes: ‘Alas, how often, when living in the desert, in that dreary sunburnt loneliness, which serves as an habitation to the monks, did I believe myself revelling in the pleasures of Rome. I sat lonely, my soul filled with affliction, clothed in wretched rags, my skin sunburnt like an Ethiopian’s. No day passed without tears and sighs, and when sleep overcame me I had to lie on the naked ground. I do not mention eating and drinking for the monks drink, even if sick, only water, and regard cooking as a luxury, And I, who had condemned myself  from fear of hell to such a life, without any other society than scorpions and wild beasts, often imaging myself as surrounded by dancing girls, my face was  pale from fasting, but in the cold body the soul was burning with desires, and in a man whose flesh was dead the flames of lust were kindled’ (Jerome’s letter to Eustochia, in Paul Carus, The History of the Devil and the Idea of Evil, Chicago 1900 (Dover reprint)
[3] G.B. Agucchi, quoted in C. Whitfield, ‘A Programme for Erminia and the Shepherds by G.B. Agucchi, in Storia dell’ Arte, 19, 1973, p. 219
[4] exh
[5] The drawing formerly in the Ellesmere collection, Cleveland Museum of Art, pen and ink, 223 by 405 mm.