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Carlo Maratti: A Personal Appreciation

By Ian Kennedy - 18. October 2017
An intimate lecture on Carlo Maratti, 'one of the most understudied of Italian Baroque artists.'
“For several generations of painters from the 1670s to the end of the eighteenth century, Maratti was the embodiment of the ideal classical artist and the chief exemplar of the tradition of Roman painting that began with Raphael.”
Pete Bowron

Maratti is one of the most understudied of Italian Baroque artists. This situation will soon be remedied by the publication of Stella Rudolph’s monograph, but a brief and apposite summary of his achievement is provided by Pete Bowron in his catalog essay for the exhibition Art in Rome in the Eighteenth Century held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2000: ‘It is difficult today to appreciate adequately’ he writes, ‘the authority that Maratti, this modern “Apelles of Rome”, exercised on the European artistic imagination in the early decades of the eighteenth century. For several generations of painters from the 1670s to the end of the eighteenth century, Maratti was the embodiment of the ideal classical artist and the chief exemplar of the tradition of Roman painting that began with Raphael. Nearly every painter that encountered Maratti’s work was affected profoundly and subtly reoriented his art thereafter toward new ideals of formal dignity, nobility, purity of contour and silhouette, and compositional clarity.’

Before the lecture on Maratti by Ian Kennedy at Nicholas Hall, October 2017

Maratti was born in Camerano in 1625 near Ancona in the Papal States and died in Rome at a great age in 1713. His first master of any consequence was Andrea Sacchi. Sacchi was a leading light in the trend of baroque classicism, derived from the Carracci, which favored few but tellingly delineated figures that clearly expressed the narrative, as opposed to the so-called High Baroque artist Pietro da Cortona who believed that a larger number of figures allowed for the development of subsidiary themes. Over time, this juste milieu style became a paradigm for a courtly internationalism that was widely embraced by artists from Madrid to Vienna. Maratti’s early style is well exemplified in The Marytrdom of Saint Andrew in the Wemyss Collection, Gosford House (see catalogue). The figures here echo the lithe Hellenistic manner of Sacchi, perhaps most memorably demonstrated not by Sacchi himself but by Poussin in his Realm of Flora in Dresden. Thereafter, Maratti’s style became crisper and more rhetorical, always in a disciplined way. Above all, it was highly eclectic. To call a work of art eclectic has become somewhat of a put-down as a result of the premium on originality insistently promoted by anti-academic trends in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The term was actually coined by Wincklemann in the mid-eighteenth century to describe the art of the Carracci but had a precedent in a long- established tradition going back to antiquity which recommended selecting the best elements from a variety of sources to produce an ideal whole. In Maratti’s day, such a policy of judicious choice was regarded as a perfectly acceptable expression of cultural reverence and respect for the great achievements of the remoter and recent past, from Antiquity to the Renaissance and Baroque. Thus, in Maratti’s oeuvre, one can readily detect the example of many of his most distinguished predecessors and contemporaries from Raphael and Correggio to the Carracci, Domenichino, Guido Reni, Albani, Lanfranco, and Pietro da Cortona.


Maratti established his reputation with a series of altarpieces for Roman churches which, since displayed in public spaces, were equivalent to exhibition pieces in Salons of later generations. Patrons in time- honored fashion included members of leading Roman dynasties and reigning popes and their relatives. Maratti also attained fame with his Madonnas and pictures for private devotion. One of the best is the Christ Child Sleeping Surrounded by Music-Making Angels in the Louvre which reads like a more relaxed and domestic take on the Madonnas of Raphael. Among his altarpieces, a particularly felicitous example is the Virgin Appearing to Saint Philip Neri today in the Pitti Palace in Florence (fig. 1). Here the Virgin has the poise and grace of a Guido Reni and the relationship between her and the adoring saint is discreetly and harmoniously supported by the subsidiary figures. Harmony is indeed the essence of this picture, achieved by clarity and controlled energy. It is far from experimental but reassuring and beguiling in its good manners and attractive palette. There is also a nervous energy in the draperies which recalls the work of his principle Roman rival Giovanni Battista Gaulli, called Baciccio, who might be rather crudely described as Bernini in paint. In that respect, Gaulli is representative of the more extrovert side of Roman Baroque painting, triumphantly displayed in his illusionistic ceiling of the Triumph of the Name of Jesus in the church of the Gesù. There the effect is almost explosive as the bad guys are expelled from the heavenly realm and tumble out of the frame into the spectator’s space.

Fig. 1 Carlo Maratti, Virgin Appearing to St. Philip Neri, ca. 1675, oil on canvas, 343 x 197 cm. Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti, Florence. © Scala / Art Resource, NY.
Fig. 2 Carlo Maratti, The Triumph of Clemency (detail), 1672–73, . The Triumph of Clemency, 1672–73. Fresco. © Palazzo Altieri, Rome, Italy/Bridgeman Images
Fig. 3 Carlo Maratti, Disputation over the Immaculate Conception, 1686. Rome, Cybo Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo. © Creative Commons

The Gesù ceiling contrasts markedly with Maratti’s nearly contemporary ceiling of the Triumph of Clemency in the Altieri Palace (fig. 2), the family residence of Pope Clement X. Though impressive and weighty when seen in the flesh, it is much less exciting than Gaulli’s fresco, more sculptural in the figures and less illusionistic in presentation. Maratti did no other quite such ambitious decorations, perhaps realizing that this sort of thing was not his forte. However, in keeping with his wide-ranging vision, Maratti’s Martyrdom of San Biagio in the Basilica of Santa Maria di Carignano in Genoa displays an unusual amount of energy, bringing him closer to the ambient of Bernini and Baciccio. This can perhaps be seen as a response to the Correggesque late Baroque of Genoa itself. Maratta is often site specific, for example, in his Disputation over the Immaculate Conception in the Roman church of Santa Maria del Popolo (fig. 3), where the monolithic detached figures acknowledge the density and weight of Annibale Carracci’s Assumption of the Virgin in the same building. Perhaps Maratti’s best altarpiece is not in Rome but in his native region, his Madonna and Child with Three Saints, painted for the church of San Niccolò, Ancona and today, in the museum there (fig. 4). This painting has exceptional intensity and grandeur which, along with the rich golden light, reflects a natural admiration for Titian’s Gozzi altarpiece painted for the church of San Francesco, Ancona and now also in the Ancona Museum.

Fig. 4 Carlo Maratti, Madonna and Child with Three Saints, 1687, Pinacoteca civica Francesco Podesti, Ancona
Pallavicini was a banker and rather nouveaux riche, so the Maratti is emblematic of both aristocratic and plutocratic patronage which was to burgeon throughout Europe in the eighteenth century.

Maratti’s reputation soon became international. His painting of Augustus Ordering the Closure of the Doors of the Janus Temple (Palais des Beaux Arts, Lille) was commissioned by a French patron Louis de la Vrillière for his hotel in Paris built by François Mansart. There it had to compete with other scenes from Roman History by Guido Reni, Pietro da Cortona, Guercino, and Poussin. In keeping with the theme, the painting has a strong classical bias perhaps inspired by the reliefs on the Augustan Ara Pacis in Rome. His most celebrated French commission was the Apollo Chasing Daphne painted for Louis XIV and now in the Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels. The subject is taken from Ovid’s Metamorphosisand was lauded by Maratti’s biographer Bellori as the perfect example of the Horatian tag ut pictura poesis, that is that a painting can achieve all that poetry can do in eloquently telling a story. The French King at the time was under the influence of the austere Madame de Maintenon. He apparently disapproved of the painting as showing too much naked flesh and so assigned it to the Dauphin.

Maratti was appreciated in Germany, Austria, and Spain but also in England which notably lacked a native tradition of history painting. After the dispersal of Charles I’s collection during the Commonwealth, the English were just beginning to accumulate that vast store of continental works of art so meticulously recorded by Gustav Waagen almost 200 years later.The first serious British Grand Tourist, the 5th Earl of Exeter, bought a number of Marattis for his refurbished Burghley House where they still remain. Lord Exeter was more interested in acquiring contemporary Italian art than antiquities so Maratti’s studio in Rome was a first port of call. There was also a Maratti room in the Walpole collection at Houghton. These and other Italian Baroque paintings from there were later sold to Catherine the Great, but were fairly recently reinstalled in their former setting in a memorable loan exhibition from the Hermitage. At Stourhead is to be found one of Maratti’s most magnificent if pretentious compositions the Marchese Niccolò Maria Pallavicini (1650–1714) Guided to the Temple of Virtue by Apollo with a Self-Portrait of the Artist. Pallavicini was a banker and rather nouveaux riche, so the Maratti is emblematic of both aristocratic and plutocratic patronage which was to burgeon throughout Europe in the eighteenth century. The painting also gives an idea of Maratti’s princely status and clout in the Roman art world. Here artist and patron are equals.

Fig. 5 Carlo Maratti, Portrait of Pope Clement IX, 1669, oil on canvas, 123 x 170 cm. The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg © HIP / Art Resource, N Y.

Like many other history painters of his time, Maratti readily turned his hand to portraiture. One of his best is the Portrait of Pope Clement IX, today in the Hermitage (fig. 5). Also painted for the Marchese Pallavicini, it is obviously inspired by the canonical papal portraits of Raphael and Velázquez but is more conventional in its corporate presentation of the sitter, saluting the rank rather than the man, as it were. Maratti also had English sitters, notably the early Grand Tourist Sir Thomas Isham, whose portrait is still with the family of the sitter at Lamport Hall. Maratti’s interpretation is decidedly international and the painting’s elegant formality may reflect the influence of contemporary French portraiture.

After the end of the seventeenth century, Maratti painted less and devoted more of his time to restoration, particularly of the Raphael Stanze in the Vatican. He was twice elected as principle, later in perpetuity, of the Roman Academy di San Luke, founded in the late sixteenth century and the prototype for all later artistic academies. He was also involved in the art market as a dealer and appraiser as were many of the more influential artists in Rome. His work fetched high prices so he was able to accumulate a large private collection, notably of the Bolognese and Roman school, including landscapes by Dughet and Grimaldi as well as figure paintings. After his death, the paintings inherited by his daughter were sold to the King of Spain. Through the medium of his pupils, of whom the most faithful were Niccolò Berrettoni and Giuseppe Chiari, Maratti’s style dominated Roman painting until the rise of Neoclassicism and is still detectable in a celebrated fresco by the neo-classicist Mengs in the Villa Albani. Maratti’s judicious middle-of-the-road style between classicism and Baroque supported Rome’s role in the Academy of Europe and as an essential training ground for artists, even from America like Benjamin West.

Francesco Solimena, the leading artist in Naples and considered one of the greatest painters of his day, changed his style after a spell in Rome from the plump dynamic manner of Luca Giordano to something crisper and more Marattesque. However, he mobilized his conventionally academic figures with a flickering chiaroscuro, perhaps in deference to the Caravaggesque tradition which persisted in Naples longer than in another Italian centers. Maratti’s late Baroque classicism also proved very compatible with French taste, which oscillated between the poles of Rubens and Poussin, and thus was important for artists sojourning at the French Academy in Rome.

As long as Grand Tour ideals prevailed, which they did especially in England well into the nineteenth century, Maratti was still a significant, if diminishing, presence. When the Baroque fell from favor later in the nineteenth century he was forgotten until reappraisal of the style in the mid-twentieth century. However, there has still never been a Maratti exhibition and though his drawings are ubiquitous, few of his major paintings can be found in public collections outside Italy. Among the best in America are the Bob Jones’ Saint Andrew, a version of the Gosford House painting, and the Rebecca and Eliezer at the Well in the Indianapolis Museum of Art. There are no Maratti paintings in the National Gallery in Washington nor the Metropolitan in New York, though the latter has a faithfully Marattesque Bathsheba by Chiari. It is to be hoped that the appearance of Stella Rudolph’s monograph will stimulate renewed awareness of Maratti’s work and perhaps restore his reputation, at least among connoisseurs, to something approaching that which he enjoyed in his lifetime.❖

Ian Kennedy
October 2017

Ian Kennedy is the curator emeritus at the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City.
Ian Kennedy lectures on Carlo Maratti at Nicholas Hall, October 2017
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