Federico Barocci (1526-1612)
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Federico Barocci (also spelled Baroccio or Barrocio) was one of the greatest and most individual Old Masters of the central Italian school in the late 16th century. Active mostly in Urbino and the surrounding small towns, his painting comprises mostly Christian art, combining the influence of Correggio, Raphael and Titian in an elegant and sensitive manner. A highly sought-after painter of altarpieces and devotional compositions for local churches, religious orders and patrons like the Duke of Urbino, he also produced works for Pope Pius VI, the Emperor Rudolf II, and the cathedrals of Genoa and Perugia. Giovanni Bellori (1613-96), the great historian of Baroque painting, regarded Barocci as the finest artist of the generation that succeeded High Renaissance stars like Michelangelo and Raphael. In fact his authoritative study of 17th century art "Le Vite de' Pittori, Scultori et Architetti Moderni" (1672) considers only nine major painters: Barocci, Caravaggio, Agostino and Annibale Carracci, Poussin, Domenichino, Lanfranco, Rubens and Van Dyck. Barocci's emotive brushwork, use of colour and dramatic shadow serves as a link between the contrived distortions of Mannerism and the dynamic directness of Baroque art, and was a key influence on Rubens (1577-1640), Bernini (1598-1680) and others. Masterpieces by Barocci include Madonna del Popolo (1579, Uffizi Gallery, Florence) and Nativity (1597, Museo del Prado, Madrid), as well as his sublime Self-portrait (1600, Residenzgalerie, Salzburg), with its echoes of El Greco (1541-1614).
Federico Fiori, nicknamed "Il Baroccio", was born in the hilltop city of Urbino, birthplace of Raphael, where he trained first under his father, Ambrogio Barocci, a sculptor, before being apprenticed to Giovanni Battista Franco (1498-1561), a follower of Michelangelo. Baroccio also studied the paintings of Correggio and Titian, absorbing both the former's sentimentality and sunny grace, and the latter's sense of colorito, as well as his delicate sfumato, which made defining lines seem to dissolve into smoky mists. From the earliest days Barocci enjoyed indulging his own warm taste for Venetian colour. (For more about colorito in Venice, see: Titian and Venetian Colour Painting.) In about 1550 he accompanied his uncle on a brief visit to Rome in order to study the High Renaissance painting of his fellow Urbino-ite Raphael (1483-1520), after which he returned to his native town.
In 1560, Barocci was invited back to Rome by Pope Pius IV to help with the murals in the Vatican Belvedere Palace. He painted a Madonna and Child and an Annunciation. He also produced a number of fresco paintings for Pope Pius's Casino in the Vatican Gardens. According to his biographer Bellori, while in Rome Barocci met the legendary Michelangelo, whose encouragement of the Urbino artist prompted great jealousy among other students who then attempted to poison Barocci at a picnic. True or not, from that day on he suffered debilitating stomach problems for the rest of his life and could paint for a maximum of only two hours a day. And so, just as his reputation was starting to grow, he left Rome and returned to Urbino. Aside from brief forays to Arezzo, Perugia and Florence, he stayed in his native city for the remainder of his life, pleading ill-health to avoid the summonses of Philip II of Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, both of whom invited him to join their respective royal courts. Instead he began working for Francesco Maria II della Rovere (1549-1631) the last Duke of Urbino, who supported him during recurrent bouts of illness.
It was during this time that the Council of Trent (1545-63) - an important Catholic conference convened in response to the ideological threat posed by the Protestant Reformation and its brand of Protestant Art - laid down new guidelines for painters. Henceforth, Catholic Counter-Reformation Art (that is, art paid for by Catholic bodies) was to convey a clear message intended to inspire the viewer to contemplation and penance. Such an instruction suited the pious Barocci perfectly. Apart from a limited amount of portrait art, like the portrait of Francesco Maria II della Rovere (1572, Uffizi Gallery), he focused almost exclusively on Biblical art, including murals and single altarpieces as well as triptychs and polyptychs.
Barocci's belief in naturalism,
added to the fact that he was permanently nauseous and therefore could
only paint for about 2 hours a day, led him to develop a highly unusual
working practice. Every detail of his painting was meticulously worked
out in advance using a series of preparatory drawings
and sketchings. In his Last Supper
(1590-99, Urbino Cathedral), for instance, there are 31 heads and he produced
a study for every one of them. This approach - which included figure
drawing, lighting studies with clay models, perspective studies, colour
studies and the like - not only minimized his time in front of the canvas,
it also lent his brushwork extra spontaneity and allowed him to incorporate
a wide range of faces and positions of interest. He would spot people
in the street, with interesting features for instance, take them to his
studio and draw them. Or he would ask his pupils to adopt the poses he
had chosen for his figures, to see if they were comfortable. In the process
of all this preparation, he became one of the first painters to make extensive
use of pastel drawings and
oil sketches, as well as the more customary chalk
Despite his digestive ailments, Barocci enjoyed a long and productive career and continued painting into his eighties.
Barocci's swirling compositions, with their diagonal lines and opalescent colours, as well as their emphasis on the spiritual and emotional are clear stepping stones towards the drama and impact of Rubens. And in the simple piety, floating drapery and heavenward gaze of his Beata Michelina (Michelina da Pesaro) (1606, Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome) we can see the basis for Bernini's High Baroque masterpiece Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1647-52, Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome).
Of Barocci's 80 finished paintings, the vast majority remain in Urbino, which has more than France, Spain, Britain and America combined. Many of his altarpieces are still in the churches for which they were commissioned. Here is a short selection of works by Barocci other than those cited above.
- Martyrdom of St Sebastian (1557) Urbino
Naples was a major centre of Baroque art: see, Painting in Naples (1600-1700) and Neapolitan Baroque Painting (c.1650-1700). Meanwhile, for Baroque works in Venice, see: Venetian Painting (c.1450-1800). For the evolution of Baroque arts outside Italy, see: Flemish Baroque (c.1600-80), Dutch Baroque (c.1600-80) and Spanish Baroque (1600-1700). For plastic art, see: Baroque Sculpture (c.1600-1700).
Paintings by Federico Barocci can be seen in many of the best art museums throughout the world.
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF OLD MASTER