Giovanni Baglione

Giovanni Baglione (1566 – Dec 30, 1643) was an Italian Late Mannerist and Early Baroque painter and art historian. He is best remembered for his acrimonious and damaging involvement with the slightly younger artist Caravaggio and his important collection of biographies of the other artists working in Rome in his lifetime, although there are many works of his in Roman churches and galleries and elsewhere.

He published two books, The nine churches of Rome (Le nove chiese di Roma 1639), and The Lives of Painters, Sculptors, Architects and Engravers, active from 1572–1642 (Le Vite de’ Pittori, scultori, architetti, ed Intagliatori dal Pontificato di Gregorio XII del 1572. fino a’ tempi de Papa Urbano VIII. nel 1642). The latter is still seen as an important historical source for artists living in Rome during the lifetime of Baglione. His first book was an artistic guide to Rome`s nine major pilgrimage churches, which is notable for its period in taking an interest in the works of all periods, and remains useful to scholars as an account of these churches at a point before many subsequent alterations. It “marks a watershed in the guidebook literature of Rome-the turning point between the older tradition of devotional guidebooks … and the modern tradition of artistic guides”.

His biographies cover over two hundred artists in various media, all of whom had worked in Rome and were dead by the time he published. Relatively few other sources, other than contracts and the like, exist for most of these figures, and Baglione’s work often remains the basis for their biographies, being drawn on extensively by Bellori, Passeri and others, as well as modern writers. Baglione had known a large number of his subjects personally and his attributions and basic factual information is considered generally reliable, although like Vasari and most intervening biographers of artists, he sometimes repeats anecdotes uncritically. He carefully notes information about the social status and progress of his subjects, and is often very quick to criticise and moralize over human failings and bad habits. He “”recorded all signs of social status, including houses, dress, collections, permission to wear a sword, splendid funerals, and tombs.” Similarly, he never failed to mention if an artist was a member of his beloved Academy of St. Luke, had been elected to the Virtuosi del Pantheon, had been knighted, had been well paid for his work, or had been employed by noble patrons. And the corollary to this is Baglione`s delight in recognizing artists as virtuosi, not simply as an expression of their artistic ability but in reference to their possessing literary, musical, or dramaturgical skills. Running throughout Le vite, in other words, is an abiding concern with the honor of the profession-with the elevated status and nobilta of the artist as gentleman.” As far as possible, his descriptions of works concentrated on those accessible to the public.

He was mainly a painter of religious subjects, reflecting the Roman market, but also painted several mythological subjects, including an “astonishing” Venus whipped by Love (1620s) with an unusually suggestive pose, accentuated by strong chiaroscuro, for the plump goddess, who is viewed foreshortened from behind as she lies on a bed.

He was employed in many of the considerable numbers of church commissions in Rome during the pontificates of Clement VIII, Paul V and Urban VIII in the early years of the new century, from which the Caravaggisti were largely excluded. The two largest churches being filled with paintings at this period were St. Peter’s Basilica, where his Saint Peter Raising Tabitha from the Dead (1607) earned his knighthood from Paul V, and Santa Maria Maggiore, where his frescoes can be seen in the Cappella Borghese. For the church of Santa Maria dell’Orto he painted a number of works in both fresco and oils, including a fresco cycle of scenes from the Life of the Virgin, a Saint Sebastian and other saints. A Last Supper is in San Nicola in Carcere. There is a Saint Stephen in the Cathedral at Perugia, and in that of Loreto a Saint Catherine. The Giustizia (Justice) hall at the Rocca dei Rossi was completely frescoed by Baglione. A series of paintings of Apollo and the Muses is in Arras.