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DISEGNO IV: Annibale Carracci

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.


DISEGNO II: Pisanello

At the 15th century courts of Mantua, Cesena, Ferrara, Rimini, and Naples, Antonio di Puccio Pisano, better known as il Pisanello, was primarily known for his cast-bronze portrait medals, a Roman genre he revived to make honorific images for his patrons. As an artist in the employ of the courts, he was also expected to fresco the walls of palazzi, paint portraits and design costumes and festivals, and make religious images, which also augmented his artistic reputation. Pisanello’s official duties did not include the meticulous drawing of carefully-observed natural subjects, the part of the artist’s œuvre most admired today, nor did drawings enhance his stature.

Most of Pisanello’s peers and patrons would have not have had the opportunity to see, let alone revere, his drawings, because they constituted the bulk of his studio’s model book, which only circulated within his workshop, providing models, guides, and templates for his assistants. Model books were jealously-guarded secrets in medieval and Renaissance workshops, and they were heavily used; as a result, very few survive. In the case of Pisanello, however, his extensive, nearly-complete model book, the so-called Codex Vallardi, miraculously survives, largely due to an error.

In 1856, the Louvre purchased an album of 317 drawings, from the Milanese antiquarian Giuseppe Vallardi for the hefty sum of 35,000 francs. At the time, the drawings were thought to be by Leonardo da Vinci, which explains both the high price and why they were carefully preserved over the centuries. It was later determined that several of the drawings were from Leonardo’s workshop, one was by Hans Holbein the Younger, while the majority were attributed to Pisanello.

Continue reading DISEGNO II: Pisanello

DISEGNO I: Jacopo Pontormo


Disegno means both drawing and design—it signifies the ability to make the drawing and the intellectual capacity to invent its design.

Disegno…having its origin in the intellect, draws out from many single things a general judgment, it is like a form or idea of all the objects in nature.

—Giorgio Vasari, On Technique (1550).

Thus construed, drawing is the essential artistic skill upon which all others depend and, for that reason, it was the foundation of artistic education from the 15th through the early 20th centuries.

This is the first of five posts on disegno, light on commentary, the emphasis being on the images, which speak for themselves.

JACOPO CARUCCI, called PONTORMO (1494 – 1557) was the son of a painter and an apprentice to Leonardo da Vinci. Although he is was a celebrated practitioner of la maniera, or Mannerism, Pontormo’s superb chalk drawings show the profound influence of his friend Michelangelo in their sculptural approach to depicting anatomy.