Domenico Zampieri (or Domenichino; October 21, 1581 – April 6, 1641) was an Italian Baroque painter of the Bolognese School, or Carracci School, of painters.
Domenichino was born at Bologna, son of a shoemaker, and there initially studied under Denis Calvaert. After quarreling with Calvaert, he left to work in the Accademia degli Incamminati of the Carracci where, because of his small stature, he was nicknamed Domenichino, meaning “little Domenico” in Italian. He left Bologna for Rome in 1602 and became one of the most talented apprentices to emerge from Annibale Carracci’s supervision. As a young artist in Rome he lived with his slightly older Bolognese colleagues Albani and Guido Reni, and worked alongside Lanfranco, who later would become a chief rival.
In addition to assisting Annibale with completion of his frescoes in the Galleria Farnese, including A Virgin with a Unicorn (c. 1604–05), he painted three of his own frescoes in the Loggia del Giardino of the Palazzo Farnese c. 1603–04. With the support of Monsignor Giovanni Battista Agucchi, the maggiordomo to Cardinal Aldobrandini and later Gregory XV, and Giovanni’s brother Cardinal Girolamo Agucchi, Domenichino obtained further commissions in Rome.
His most important project of the first decade was decoration of the Cappella dei Santissimi Fondatori in the medieval basilica of the Abbey of Grottaferrata (1608–10), some 20 kilometers outside Rome, where Odoardo Farnese was the titular abbot. Meanwhile he had completed frescoes c. 1604–05 in the church of Sant’Onofrio, feigned stucco decoration of 1606–07 in the Palazzo Mattei, a large scene of The Flagellation of St. Andrew at San Gregorio Magno, painted in competition with a fresco by Reni that faces it, and a ceiling with Scenes from the Life of Diana, 1609, in the Villa Odescalchi at Bassano di Sutri (today Bassano Romano).
Following Annibale Carracci’s death in 1609, Annibale’s Bolognese pupils, foremost Domenichino, Albani, Reni and Lanfranco, became the leading painters in Rome (Caravaggio had left Rome in 1606 and his followers there did not compete successfully with the Bolognese for fresco or altarpiece commissions). One of Domenichino’s masterpieces, his frescoes of Scenes of the Life of Saint Cecilia in the Polet Chapel of San Luigi dei Francesi, was commissioned in 1612 and completed in 1615. Concurrently he painted his first, and most celebrated, altarpiece, The Last Communion of St. Jerome for the church of San Girolamo della Carità (signed and dated, 1614).
Domenichino’s work, developed principally from Raphael’s and the Carracci’s examples, mirrors the theoretical ideas of G. B. Agucchi, with whom the painter collaborated on a Treatise on Painting (Domenichino’s portrait of Agucchi in York occasionally has been attributed to Annibale Carracci).
In addition to his interest in the theory of painting (he was well educated and bookish), Domenichino was devoted to music, not as a performer but to the invention of instruments suited to the stile moderno or to what Monteverdi dubbed the seconda pratica. Like Domenichino’s paintings, its sources were in ancient models and aimed at clarity of expression capable of moving its audience. As the Florentine composer Giulio Caccini held and Domenichino surely believed, the aim of the composer/artist was to “move the passion of the mind”. To achieve that goal, Domenichino paid particular attention to expressive gestures. Some 1750 drawings in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle attest to the assiduous study underlying Domenichino’s work—figural, architectural, decorative, landscape, even caricature—and to the painter’s brilliance as a draftsman.
In Roger de Piles’ Balance of 1708, an effort to quantify and compare the greatness of painters in four categories (no artist ever achieved a score above 18 in any category), the French critic awarded Domenichino 17 points for drawing (dessein), 17 for expression, 15 for composition, yet only 9 as a colorist. Domenichino’s composite score of 58 nonetheless was surpassed only by Raphael and Rubens, and it equalled that of the Carracci.
Let’s now enjoy his most celebrated works:
In spite of his activity in Rome, Domenichino decided to leave the city in 1631 to take up the most prestigious, and very lucrative, commission in Naples, the decoration of the Cappella del Tesoro di San Gennaro of the Naples Cathedral. His Scenes from the Life of San Gennaro occupied him for the rest of his life. He painted four large lunettes, four pendentives, and twelve scenes in the soffits of the arches, all in fresco, plus three large altarpieces in oil on copper. He died, perhaps by poison at the hands of the jealous Neapolitan painters, before completing the fourth altarpiece or the cupola, which was subsequently frescoed by Lanfranco.