1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Domenichino Zampieri

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DOMENICHINO (or Domenico), ZAMPIERI (1581–1641), Italian painter, born at Bologna, on the 21st of October 1581, was the son of a shoemaker. The diminutive form of Christian name by which he is constantly known indicates his short stature. He was placed, when young, under the tuition of Denis Calvart; but having been treated with great severity by that master, he left him, and became a pupil in the academy of the Caracci, under Agostino. Towards the beginning of the 17th century he went to Rome, at the invitation of his fellow-pupil and intimate Albani, and prosecuted his studies under Annibale Caracci. The faculty of Domenichino was slow in its development. He was at first timid and distrustful of his powers; while his studious, unready and reserved manners were misunderstood by his companions for dulness, and he obtained the nickname of the “Ox” (Bue). But Annibale Caracci, who observed his faculties with more attention, predicted that the apparent slowness of Domenichino’s genius would in time produce what would be an honour to the art of painting. When his early productions had brought him into notice, he studied with extreme application, and made such advance as to raise his works into a comparison with those of the most admired masters of the time. From his acting as a continual censor of his own works, he became distinguished amongst his fellow-pupils as an accurate and expressive designer; his colours were the truest to nature; Mengs, indeed, found nothing to desire in his works, except a somewhat larger proportion of elegance. That he might devote his whole powers to the art, Domenichino shunned all society; or, if he occasionally sought it in the public theatres and walks, this was in order better to observe the play of the passions in the features of the people—those of joy, anger, grief, terror and every affection of the mind—and to commit them vividly to his tablets; thus, says Bellori, it was that he succeeded in delineating the soul, in colouring life, and calling forth heartfelt emotions, at which all his works aim. In personal character he is credited with temperance and modesty; but, besides his want of sociability, he became somewhat suspicious, and jealous of his master.

In Rome, Domenichino obtained employment from Cardinals Borghese, Farnese and Aldobrandini, for all of whom he painted works in fresco. The distinguished reputation which he had acquired excited the envy of some of his contemporaries. Lanfranco in particular, one of his most inveterate enemies, asserted that his celebrated “Communion of St Jerome” (painted for the church of La Carità towards 1614, for a pittance of about ten guineas, now in the Vatican Gallery, and ordinarily, but most irrationally, spoken of as the second or third best oil picture in the world) was an imitation from Agostino Caracci; and he procured an engraving of this master’s picture of the same subject (now in the Gallery of Bologna), copies of which were circulated for the purpose of proving that Domenichino was a plagiarist. There is in truth a very marked resemblance between the two compositions. The pictures which Zampieri painted immediately afterwards, representing subjects from the life of St Cecilia, only increased the alarm of his competitors, and redoubled their injustice and malignity. Disgusted with these cabals, he left Rome for Bologna, where he remained until he was recalled by Pope Gregory XV., who appointed him principal painter and architect to the pontifical palace. In this architectural post he seems to have done little or nothing, although he was not inexpert in the art. He designed in great part the Villa di Belvedere at Frascati, and the whole of the Villa Ludovisi, and some other edifices. From 1630 onwards Domenichino was engaged in Naples, chiefly on a series of frescoes (never wholly completed) of the life of St Januarius in the Cappella del Tesoro. He settled in that city with his family, and opened a school. There the persecution against him became far more shameful than in any previous instance. The notorious so-called “Cabal of Naples”—the painters Corenzio, Ribera and Caracciolo—leagued together as they were to exclude all alien competition, plagued and decried the Bolognese artist in all possible ways; for instance, on returning in the morning to his fresco work, he would find not infrequently that someone had rubbed out the performance of the previous day. Perpetual worry is believed to have brought the life of Domenichino to a close; contemporary suspicion did not scruple to speak broadly of poison, but this has remained unconfirmed. He died in Naples, after two days’ illness, on the 15th of April 1641.

Domenichino, in correctness of design, expression of the passions, and simplicity and variety in the airs of his heads, has been considered little inferior to Raphael; but in fact there is the greatest gulf fixed between the two. Critics of the 18th century adulated the Bolognese beyond all reason or toleration; he is now regarded as commonplace in mind and invention, lacking any innate ideality, though undoubtedly a forcible, resolute and learned executant. “We must,” says Lanzi, “despair to find paintings exhibiting richer or more varied draperies, details of costume more beautifully adapted, or more majestic mantles. The figures are finely disposed both in place and action, conducing to the general effect; whilst a light pervades the whole which seems to rejoice the spirit, growing brighter and brighter in the aspect of the best countenances, whence they first attract the eye and heart of the beholder. The persons delineated could not tell their tale to the ear more plainly than they speak it to the eye. The ‘Scourging of St Andrew,’ which he executed in competition with Guido Reni at Rome (a fresco in the church of San Gregorio), is a powerful illustration of this truthful expression. Of the two works of these masters, Annibale Caracci preferred that of Domenichino. It is said that in painting one of the executioners the artist actually wrought himself into a passion, using threatening words and actions, and that Annibale Caracci, surprising him at that moment, embraced him, exclaiming with joy, ‘To-day, my dear Domenichino, thou art teaching me.’ So novel, and at the same time so natural, it appeared to him that the artist, like the orator, should feel within himself all that he is representing to others.” Domenichino is esteemed the most distinguished disciple of the Caracci, or second only to Guido Reni. Algarotti preferred him to the greatest masters; and Nicolas Poussin considered the painter of the “Communion of St Jerome” to be the first after Raphael. His pictures of “Adam and Eve,” and the “Martyrdom of St Agnes,” in the Gallery of Bologna, are amongst his leading works. Others of superior interest are his first known picture, a fresco of the “Death of Adonis,” in the Loggia of the Giardino Farnese, Rome; the “Martyrdom of St Sebastian,” in Santa Maria degli Angeli; the “Four Evangelists,” in Sant’ Andrea della Valle; “Diana and her Nymphs,” in the Borghese gallery; the “Assumption of the Virgin,” in Santa Maria di Trastevere; and frescoes in the neighbouring abbey of Grotta Ferrata, lives of SS. Nilus and Bartholomew. His portraits are also highly reputed. It is admitted that in his compositions he often borrowed figures and arrangements from previous painters. Domenichino was potent in fresco. He excelled also in landscape painting. In that style (in which he was one of the earliest practitioners) the natural elegance of his scenery, his trees, his well-broken grounds, the character and expression of his figures, gained him as much public admiration as any of his other performances.

See Bolognini, Life of Domenichino (1839); C. Landon, Works of Domenichino, with a Memoir (1823).  (W. M. R.)