IDLE SPECULATIONS: Monsignor Agucchi

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Monsignor Agucchi


Annibale Carracci (1560 - 1609)
Monsignor Agucchi
1603 - 1604
Oil on canvas 60 x 46 cm
York Art Gallery, York, England





This painting was previously attributed to Domenichino, but now has been attributed to Annibale Carracci

Monsignor Agucchi (1570-1632) was a friend of the Bolognese painters: Ludovico, Agostino and Annibale Carracci as well as Domenichino (1581-1641). Through his friendship he helped to strongly influence the character of Baroque painting from his time onwards.

Agucchi was a nephew of Cardinal Sega, Bishop of Piacenza and special Papal legate and a strong supporter of the reforms promulgated by the Council of Trent.

He was secretary to Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini. While in his service he compiled an important inventory of the works of art of the Aldobrandi`s family ownership in 1603. The inventory is an important source of art history in tracing the provenance of paintings and other works of art.

Agucchi was a Papal diplomat and curial high flyer. He accompanied the Cardinal on important diplomatic missions. His diary includes a presentation of the political circumstances of the diplomatic legation of the cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini for the wedding of Maria de Medicis to the King of France Henry IV by proxy in Florence, followed by the marriage festivities in Lyons and the diplomatic negotiations for the peace treaty between France and the Duchy of Savoy.

Eventually Agucchi reached the position of private secretary to Pope Gregory XV in 1621

He was also a friend and supporter of Galileo and wrote a number of astronomic works based on his own private observations.

However due to Professor Denis Mahon (Studies in Seicento Art and Theory, 1947) he is now probably known better as an art theorist and historian and friend and patron of Domenichino as well as a major influence on the Carraccis.

There was a crisis in art in the wake of the Council of Trent. Clarity, intelligibility and stimulation of piety became the declared objectives of art. Art became highly artificial, dominated by unnatural colours and unrealistic perspectives. Painting became pedantic: heavy-handed accounts of holy stories. Or extremely distant, arid, recondite and incomprehensible to the average viewer. The Bologna School aimed to restore a popular art which inspired religious devotion and contemplation.

Agucchi was a member of the Accademia dei Gelati in Bologna. He and Annibale Carracci consulted frequently about the portrayal of sacred subjects, A new style and a new school was born: the Accademia of the Incamminati.(Academy of the Progressives)

As regards art history and theory we have two of Agucchi`s works. First, the Trattato della Pittura written between 1603 and 1610 and only published posthumously under a pseudonym in 1646 . Second, the Idea della bellezza, written between 1607 and 1615, which comes to us in fragmentary form, published as the introduction of Simon Guillain`s Etchings after Drawings by Annibale Carracci in 1646.

In the Trattato della pittura for the first time Italian regional schools – Lombard, Venetian, Tuscan, and Roman – were identified on the basis of style. Even while basing himself on schemes of interpretation derived from the tradition of classical rhetoric and historiography (mainly Cicero and Pliny), Agucchi was able to outline accurately the stylistic and formal identities of each local tradition.

At the same time, he made clear the reintegration on a national, Italian level that Annibale and his pupils achieved. This was in fact a history, albeit a cursory one, of Italian art, seen through the eyes of the Carracci.

In the Idea della Bellezza, Agucchi propounds a theory on Beauty which is a fusion of ancient and modern ideas based on the ideas of Aristotle and Alberti. Basing himself on Aristotle’s Poetics, Agucchi concludes that just as in poetry, vulgarity and the highest art are incompatible in painting. The highest form of art is idealised imitation, in which the artist treats the subject as it ought to be. The model for art should be the most beautiful real objects that one can find in Nature not just any ordinary every day objects.

Agucchi’s description of the Carracci’s experience of ancient and modern artists seems Neoplatonic when he uses the term Idea, but is based firmly in his interpretation of Aristotle`s idealized imitation:


«As soon as they saw the statues of Rome, and the paintings of Raphael and Michelangelo, and as they especially reflected upon those of Raphael, they confessed that they found themselves in the presence of higher understanding and greater delicacy of disegno than in the works of Lombardy; and they decided that to establish a manner of sovereign perfection, it would be fitting to unite the beauty of Lombard colorito with the extremely subtle Roman disegno.

And since they soon perceived the kind of study Raphael had made of antique things, from which he had found out how to conceive the Idea of that beauty which is not found in nature, if not in the manner that we were speaking about before; the Carracci put themselves to studying the most celebrated and famous statues of Rome; and given that they were already great masters, in a short time they showed that they had taken great profit from it.»

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