The Galeria Farnese in print

I have just finished cataloguing a very beautiful book previously owned by William Hanbury of Kelmarsh Hall, Northamptonshire. Judging by the bookplate, this may be the William Hanbury who rebuilt Kelmarsh in 1732 to a design by James Gibbs, producing a house which Pevsner describes as being ‘in an impeccable taste’.   Hanbury’s interest in Italian architecture and art is certainly manifest in his ownership of this engraved volume.


Published in 1657, its thirty plates show Annibale Carracci’s painted ceiling in the galleria of the Palazzo Farnese in Rome, executed 1597-1601. Carracci’s ceiling is a triumph of illusion, using trompe l’oeil to continue the gallery walls with mounted framed pictures, and creating layers of fictitious reality using a combination of ‘stone’, ‘bronze’, ‘painted’ and ‘living’ figures.  Many of these tricks are lost in Carlo Cesi’s 17th century engraved copies, but he does succeed in capturing the superb moulding of the figures, and the interplay between paintings, sculptural figures and architectural detail.  The beauty of the plates is enhanced by their having been printed in a chalk red, rather than black.


By Lucy Gwynn, Deputy Librarian