Beyond the Canvas
Masterpieces of Bologna's Pinacoteca Nazionale: Ludovico Carracci's San Pietro Toma Crocifisso, 1613
Updated: Sep 24, 2022
Compared to other Italian painters of the 17th century, I find that the Carracci (brothers Annibale and Agostino and their cousin Ludovico) are shamefully unknown outside of Italy. As a fellow Bolognese, I'm now in the process of getting reacquainted with the many gems of our wonderful pinacoteca and I feel compelled to address this great injustice.
The son of a butcher, Ludovico Carracci (1555-1619) trained in Bologna under the Renaissance painter Prospero Fontana, and was later influenced by the work of Andrea del Sarto, Correggio and Titian. He interpreted the stringent ideals of the Counter-Reformation by applying naturalistic canons to religious painting, filling his characters with profound humanity. Departing from the excesses of Mannerism in favour of a greater adherence to natural truth, his religious compositions were enriched with dazzling light effects to communicate a sense of mystery and intense spiritual emotion.
Now, I'm looking at this extraordinary painting and, to be completely honest, I'm struggling to see much natural truth in it. What we have here is a depiction of Saint Peter who's been tied to a cross and yet seems to be floating mid air and dancing on his toes without a care in the world. The billowing cloak against a blue sky with fluffy clouds suggests a lightness that is in sharp contrast with the drama of the event. With an arrow firmly stuck in his chest, Saint Peter stretches his arms outwards and turns his eyes to the sky seeking divine mercy, but there is not a single drop of blood to be seen.
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San Pietro Toma Crocifisso, 1613
Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna