Triton Sounding a Conch Shell

Artist: Annibale Carracci (Italian, Bologna 1560–1609 Rome)

Date: ca. 1597–1602

Medium: Charcoal or soft black chalk on blue-gray paper; traces of framing outlines in pen and black ink and black chalk

Dimensions: Sheet: 15 1/4 x 9 9/16 in. (38.8 x 24.3 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1970

Accession Number: 1970.15


This study is dazzling for the energy of its drawing, economy of means, and monumentality of expression. It was preparatory for a triton that appears at the extreme left of a large oblong fresco Thetis Carried to the Bridal Chamber of Peleus (The Triumph of Galatea) on the ceiling of the gallery of the Palazzo Farnese, Rome, a project begun in 1597. Annibale invented most of the robust figures in the gigantic Farnese Gallery fresco cycle - nearly ninety of his drawings for it are extant -- exploring their poses from live nude models in numerous large-scale studies executed with the technique seen here. Many of the cartoons (full-scale drawings) and a few scenes of the finished frescoes, including Thetis Carried to the Bridal Chamber, however, were the work of his elder brother, Agostino. In this vigorous drawing by Annibale, the repeated, undulating contours of the Triton seem an expression of his aqueous nature. This drawing is a study for one of the figures decorating the vault of a gallery in Rome's Palazzo Farnese, Annibale's most important and influential fresco cycle. Although the fresco in which this figure appears was executed by Annibale's brother Agostino, Annibale clearly intervened in its design. Famed for reviving the art of painting at the beginning of the seventeenth century, Annibale was guided by the example of Raphael, whose work he studied assiduously. Certainly the Tritons of Raphael's Galatea, shown at left in an engraving by Marcantonio, were in his mind when he created this figure study.