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The Dramatic Image: Baroque Prints of the 17th Century

The Farnese Ceiling

Odoardo Farnese, nephew of Pope Paul III, commissioned Annibale Carracci and his workshop to paint the barrel vault of the gallery in the family palace. The Loves of the Gods is a riotous cycle of paintings based on the amorous adventures of the Ancient Roman deities. The ceiling of the gallery (painted 1597–1608) is composed of seemingly separately framed paintings, suspended, along with decorative elements, sculpture, and human figures, above the viewer (see illustration). However, the entire ceiling is in fact painted in fresco and all the elements that look three-dimensional are flat. The Latin term for the illusionistic effect is quadro riportato, or “transported painting.” There was a real attempt in Baroque art and design to break new ground—and to have fun doing it. Whimsy, fantasy, and the seemingly impossible (illusion) were Baroque devices to gain and retain an audience and patrons.The frescoes were immensely popular and influential, their fame spread in part by printmaker Carlo Cesio (about 1622–about 1682), who was the first to make a complete set of prints illustrating them. A selection of these prints is presented in the following pages.

Galleria Farnese in the Palazzo Farnese, Rome. Annibale Carracci and workshop, fresco, 1597–1608.