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Carlo Maratta

Maratta SP
Self-portrait, ca. 1640-1713

Born either on May 13 or 15, (depending on whether you read the Italian or English entry on Wikipedia) Carlo Maratta—sometimes written as Maratti— was born in 1625. At the age of 11 he entered the studio of Andrea Sacchi where his training was heavily influenced by the Bolognese school and the teachings of Annibale Carracci. Here Maratta also learned the fundamentals of draftsmanship from Sacchi, who was incredibly skilled at drawing figure studies, something that Maratta maintained throughout his life. In fact, this concept of drawing, or disegno encompassed a way of seeing and working in art that involved choice and discretion or "prudence", not merely copying reality as Caravaggio had done but contemplating nature and reworking it to one's artistic ideals. This idea was also carried by Maratta's friend and contemporary Giovanni Pietro Bellori, who would write his own biography of the artists alla Vasari but with this philosophy of art.

Carlo Maratta - A Young Man - WGA14053
A Young Man, 1663

This is one of my favourite portraits from the Baroque. Here we see a style that appears Flemish with the ornate jabot yet Maratta suffuses the sitter in a warm, intense light that leaves the "short" side of the face in shadow. Maratta makes no effort to separate him from the background which is also warm, but only to have the face emerge, with the bright catchlight in the right eye to focus our attention and intensify the portrait. Hiding the hands is also interesting here. The pyramidal composition creates a sense of authority and solemn power, yet with a real sensitivity to the expression of the face. Mysterious and emotional, Maratta creates a portrait that conjures Van Dyck but with a unique Italian sensibility.

Carlo Maratta - Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels and Saints - WGA14047
Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels and Saints, ca.1680-1690

Maratta's use of chiaroscuro and color, bathed again in a warm light, appears straightforward but upon closer inspection we see a clever use of figures. The figure on the right holding the book and pointing to Madonna is a portrait in itself, and his twisting body reminds us of Mannerism but in a more realistic way. Note the black and white robes, possibly saying something about the Church. The cardinal looking up at Madonna with open hands, again in twisting fashion, seems to be gesturing about his representation of religion to the viewer. The angels above show two facing each other and two looking down upon Madonna but in different directions...these four angels form a straight diagonal line yet are dynamic by their head and body positioning. The angel to the right of Madonna is standing contraposto with the leg pointing toward her, yet subtly appearing to nearly kick the cardinal in the back of the head! Look at the way the baby angel on the floor pointing to the sign is painted...a perfect Classical figure.

Maratta may have been a "minor" painter of the Baroque but there is nothing minor about his style or technique. In future posts I will be doing some examples of drawing both from Sacchi and Maratta to illustrate their incredible draftsmanship.


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