In 1582, Bolognese cousins and painters Agostino, Annibale and Ludovico Carracci founded an artist’s studio called the Accademia degli Incamminati (roughly, the Progressive Academy). As the seat of the oldest university in Europe, Bologna was an academic town, and the ambitious Carracci school, which included history, anatomy, natural science and classical art, taught by Agostino, with practical painting and drawing lessons provided by Annibale, fit right in. The liberal arts curriculum offered aspiring painters with an alternative to a purely artisanal apprenticeship in a established painter’s workshop.
The Carracci disapproval of the artificiality and stylization of Mannerism and support for the Council of Trent’s reform of religious images informed every aspect of the academy’s pedagogy. Those concerns were addressed by an emphasis on the direct study and initiation of nature, the human body and classical sculpture, all of which was achieved through drawing. Annibale, one of the greatest draughtsman of the long Italian Renaissance, encouraged students to work outside the studio, drawing landscapes and nature studies directly, and to draw the human body from live models.
Within a very short period of time, the highly-successful Incamminati attracted promising young artists from Bologna, including Guido Reni, Domenichino and Lanfranco. When Annibale and Agostino were called to Rome to fresco the palace, designed by Michelangelo, of Cardinal Odoardo Farnese in 1595, they brought their students with them to work as assistant, leaving Ludovico behind to supervise family business. The academy ceased operations at this point, its personnel and principles having been transferred from Bologna to Rome.
The spectacular reception of the Palazzo Farnese frescoes in 1600, for which Annibale composed hundreds of preparatory drawings, catapulted the Bolognese artists to highest levels of artistic renown and patronage. Their success was such that the straightforward, naturalistic, Counter-Reformation values of a quirky, provincial art school effectively became the universally-admired and imitated Roman Baroque.