Annibale Carracci (Italian, Bolognese, 1560–1609)
Pen and black ink, brush and gray and brown wash
11 7/16 x 9 3/16 in. (29 x 23.3 cm)
Purchase, Mrs. Vincent Astor and Mrs. Charles Payson Gifts, Harris Brisbane Dick and Rogers Funds, 1972 (1972.133.2)
This tenderly observed scene of family life, with a mother warming her child's nightgown before a small fire in the hearth of their home while her two children and cat look on, probably dates from the early 1580s. The mood of quiet intimacy is a striking characteristic in the revolutionary genre studies and paintings by Ludovico and Annibale Carracci. Here, Annibale's quick, inspired handling of the watery pale washes, which run on the white surface of the paper "in the form of a stain" (to borrow the apt phrase of sixteenth-century Italian art theorists who admired this type of virtuoso sketching), leads to magical effects of tone. The light emanating from the fire is a key protagonist in the composition. The artist's use of wash to define form must rank among the most daring exercises of draftsmanship, for his self-confidence was such that he apparently improvised the drawing without any underdrawing whatsoever. Pen and ink with wash cannot easily be erased.