The date MDLXXXVIIII appears beneath the bipartite crest of the Leoni-Bentivoglio family on the embroidered brocade laid over the table the lady is resting her hand on. However, before the recent lining, the painting originally bore the words “Sig.ra Lucretia Bentivogli Consorte del si.r Girolamo/ Leoni morse l’anno 1592 et nello XXX della / Sua ettà ” (“Signora Lucretia Bentivogli, Wife of Signor Girolamo Leoni, died in the year 1592, in her XXX year”). Unanimously ascribed by critics to Ludovico Carracci, the portrait is a perfect example of the magnificent, highly cultured talent of the artist who, with his cousins Agostino and the even greater Annibale, led the way in reforming and transforming Italian art in the late Cinquecento. It is of great significance among Carracci’s works not only for its high quality but also as it ventures into a subject area which was relatively neglected by the painter, and because it bears a most significant date. At the close of an extremely intense decade, in which he had created some truly memorable works which were destined to change the future of painting, wrote Luigi Lanzi, who analysed the story of the school of the Carraccis and their followers at the end of the 18th century, “it is almost as though it were writing the entire history of Italian painting of the last 200 years” (Storia pittorica, 1789, ed. Bassano, 1809, III). The decade included frescoes with Stories of Jason in Palazzo Fava, and the work the cousins and their pupils prepared for the creation of the cycle of Stories of Romulus and Remus in Palazzo Magnani (c. 1590), which was to become a model for future generations, and sensational paintings such as the Fall of St Paul, now in the Pinacoteca in Bologna, which can be dated to 1588, the Flagellation of Christ now in Douai but made, in the first half of this decade, for Ravenna (Biagi Maino 1997, II), a stunningly modern work, as extraordinary as the great Bargellini altar painting, the Madonna and Child Enthroned and Saints (Bologna, Pinacoteca). Signed and dated 1588, the Bentivoglio portrait gives an excellent indication of the level of maturity reached by the artist, the undisputed leader of the school also in the field of portraiture.
Donatella Biagi Maino