The Most Important Police Sketch Of All Time

Annibale Carracci, a famous Bolognese painter of the late sixteenth century, was once the victim of an attempted burglary; his father’s house robbed by thieves.  Carracci was so skilled at depicting the realistic features of humans in his work,  his own sketches of the robbers led to their eventual identification and arrest.

While impressive in its own right, this anecdote also serves as a brilliant symbol for the artistic revolution started by Carracci and his family in Bologna, Italy during the late sixteenth to early eighteenth centuries, which focused on enriching the dramas of Renaissance paintings with the naturalistic details of real life.  Forty-three of these works, by Carracci and many others, can be found on display at The Getty Center until May 3under the apt title of “Captured Emotions: Baroque Paintings in Bologna, 1575-1725.”  The exhibition is co-organized by the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery) in Dresden, who contributed twenty-seven of the pieces, a lot of which have never been seen before in North America.

What separates the Bolognese works, by painters such as Guido Reni, Guercino, and Giuseppe Maria Crespi, from their Renaissance-era predecessors is not the subject matter.  They mostly all stick to the traditional and biblical scenes of ages past—the Virgin Mary and her child, Christ on the cross, angels and saints, etc.—but they are markedly more ‘fleshed out,’ both literally and figuratively.  The artists, all influenced by the skill of Carracci and Co., add intricate color and texture to the surfaces of their subjects, while simultaneously imbuing them with greater depth and emotion.

What Carracci likely discovered when he sketched out the faces of his own robbers is that same connection between naturalism and emotion; that the realities of exterior life can bring forth deep, melodramatic sentiments, and vice versa.  And whether he knew it or not, he lit fire to a debate about the tenets of realism in art that still goes on today.

- By Josh Morrison

“Captured Emotions: Baroque Paintings in Bologna, 1575-1725” can be viewed at The Getty Center located at 1200 Getty Center Drive until May 3.  For more information on the exhibit, along with directions, hours, and much, much more, please visit or call (310) 440-7300.

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