The Roman School of Painting was a School of Italian painting of importance from the mid-15th to the late 19th century.
Both Michelangelo and Raphael worked in Rome, making it the centre of High Renaissance; in the 17th century it was the centre of the Baroque movement represented by Bernini and Pietro da Cortona. From the 17th century the presence of classical remains drew artists from all over Europe including Poussin, Claude Lorrain, Piranesi, Pannini and Mengs.
In the 17th century Italian art was diffused mainly from Rome, the indisputable centre of the Baroque.
Roman Mannerism, spread abroad by the prolific work of Federico and Taddeo Zuccari, was continued by Roncalli, called Pomarancio and especially by Giuseppe Cesari, called Cavaliere d’Arpino, whose reputation was immense. The reaction against Mannerism engendered two different movements, which were sometimes linked together: one was realist with Caravaggio, the other eclectic and decorative with the Carracci.
Caravaggio brought about the greatest pictorial revolution of the century. His imposing compositions, deliberately simplified, are remarkable for their rigorous sense of reality and for the contrasting light falling from one side that accentuates the volumes. He changed from small paintings of genre and still-life, clear in light and cool in colour, to harsh realism, strongly modelled volumes and dramatic light and shade. His work, like his life, caused much scandal and excited international admiration.
Among the Italian disciples of Caravaggio Carlo Saraceni was the only direct Venetian follower. Bartolomeo Manfredi imitated Caravaggio’s genre paintings; Orazio Gentileschi and his daughter Artemisia Gentileschi showed a marked realism. Caravaggio’s biographer and enemy, Giovanni Baglione underwent his influence.
Decorative art, after the Carracci and stimulated by them, flourished extensively. Sometimes it followed their style and that of Correggio, e.g. Giovanni Lanfranco, lavish decorator of churches in Rome and Naples. Sometimes the Carracci influence was combined with an admiration for Raphael, e.g. Andrea Sacchi who taught Carlo Maratti, a fine portraitist whose religious paintings inspired a number of artists. Maratti’s importance as religious painter was equalled by the importance of Pietro da Cortona as a decorator. His masterpiece was the ceiling of the Gran Salone, Palazzo Barberini; his decorations in the Pitti Palace, Florence, with their combination of fresco and high relief, were influential in the formation of the Louis XIV style. They were conveyed to Paris by the heavier Giovanni Francesco Romanelli. Other artists of similar style were Giacinto Gimignani, Pietro Testa and Ciro Ferri. Cortona’s illusionistic effects were taken to the extremes by the religious decorators of the second half of the 17th century. The most successful were Baciccia in the church of Il Gesù, Rome, and Andrea Pozzo in San Ignazio, Rome.
Genre painting, thanks to Caravaggesque realists and Dutch and Flemish influences, had a great success with, in particular, Pieter van Laer (see Bambocciati).
In the first half of the 18th century Rome remained the artistic centre to which painters were drawn. From Gaeta came Sebastiano Conca, who trained in Naples under Solimena. He lived in Rome from 1706 to 1759, and founded a famous workshop. The paintings of ruins, made fashionable by Flemish and Dutch artists, was revived by Giovanni Paolo Pannini. He was born in Piacenza but lived in Rome where he acquired great fame. His sense of light and pictorial values lends charm to his architectural fantasies and to his chronicles.