Around the time that he painted The Butcher’s Shop, in about 1582, Annibale Carracci joined his older cousin Ludovico and his brother Agostino to found the Carracci Academy in Bologna. This teaching academy trained the next generation of Bolognese painters and altered the future course of Italian art. Stressing the direct observation of nature, Annibale led a “reform” of painting that swept away the then current Mannerism. Aiming at a more honest, emotional expression of reality, he drew incessantly from life. In 1594, he went to Rome to work for the powerful Farnese family, developing a grand and classicizing style that drew upon his study of antiquity, as well as the Renaissance masters of Venice and central Italy.
The Butcher’s Shop, which was painted in the early, formative period of Annibale’s career, employs a limited palette of earthen colors unlike the unnatural hues of the prevailing Mannerist style. He applied the paint directly and spontaneously, developing the composition as he worked, so that some forms––most significantly the man at the left––were painted on top of completed passages. Annibale’s natural treatment of light, casting shadows across the floor and beams, lends a palpable sense of reality to the scene.
Also notable is Annibale’s forthright portrayal of the tradesmen, with their sober, ceremonious demeanor and clean white aprons. Such sympathetic treatment distinguishes The Butcher’s Shop from earlier, more humorous, low-life subjects. Annibale’s uncle and cousins were butchers, and he would have been intimately familiar with the trade. He painted another, larger picture of a butcher’s shop that is now in Christ Church, Oxford.
Adult: The Butcher's Shop
John Campbell Hamilton-Gordon, 7th Earl and 1st Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair, and Earl of Haddo [1847-1934], Haddo House, Ellon, Aberdeenshire, Scotland;
by descent to his grandson, Maj. David George Ian Alexander Gordon, 4th Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair [1908-74], Haddo House, Aberdeenshire, England, by 1961;
(sold on behalf of The Haddo House Endowment by The National Trust for Scotland, Christie’s, London, 7 July 1978, no. 138);
(Thomas Agnew and Son, Ltd., London, to 1980);
purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth,1980.