Federico Barocci (1528–1612) was an
Italian Renaissance painter and printmaker. His original name was
Federico Fiori, and he was nicknamed Il Baroccio, which still in
northwestern Italian dialects means a two wheel cart drawn by oxen.
His work fills an oft-overlooked period of art; while in his day his
work was highly esteemed and influential.
He was born at Urbino, Italy, and
received his earliest apprenticeship with his father, Ambrogio
Barocci, a sculptor of some local eminence. He was then apprenticed
with the painter Battista Franco in Urbino. He accompanied his
uncle, Bartolomeo Genga to Pesaro, then in 1548 to Rome, where he
was worked in the pre-eminent studio of the day, that of the
Mannerist painters, Taddeo and Federico Zuccari.
After passing four years at Rome,
he returned to his native city, where his first work was a St.
Margaret executed for the Confraternity of the Holy Sacrament. He
was invited back to Rome by Pope Pius IV to assist in the decoration
of the Vatican Belvedere Palace at Rome, where he painted the Virgin
Mary and infant, with several Saints and a ceiling in fresco,
representing the Annunciation.
During this second soujourn, while
completing the decorations for the Vatican, Barocci fell ill with
intestinal complaints and feared he had been poisoned by jealous
rivals. Fearing his illness was terminal, he left Rome in 1563; four
years later he was said to experience a partial remission after
prayers to the Virgin. Barocci for henceforth, often complained of
frail health, though he remained productive for nearly four decades
more. While he is described by contemporaries as personally somewhat
morose and hypochondriacal, his paintings are lively and brilliant.
Barocci, while he continued to have major altarpiece commissions
from afar, he never returned to Rome, and was mainly patronized in
his native city by Francesco Maria II della Rovere, duke of Urbino.
The Ducal Palace can be seen in the background of his paintings,
rendered in a forced perspective that seems a holdover from
While Barocci was removed from
Rome, the fulcrum of artistic fame and influence, he continued to
innovate in his style. At some point he may have seen colored
chalk/pastel drawings by Correggio, but Barocci's remarkable pastel
studies are the earliest examples of the technique to survive. In
pastels and in oil sketches (another technique he pioneered)
Barocci's soft, opalescent renderings evoke the ethereal. Such
studies were part of a complex process Barocci used to complete his
altarpieces. An organized series of steps leading up to the final
product ensured its speed and success in execution. Barocci did
innummerable sketches: gestural, compositional, figural studies
(using models), lighting studies (using clay models), perspective
studies, color studies, nature studies, etc. Today, over 2,000
drawings by him are extant. Every detail of his subsequent cartoons
for canvases was worked out in this way. A good example is his famed
Madonna del Popolo (Uffizi). It is a vortex of color and vitality,
made possible by the great variety of people, poses, perspectives,
natural details, colors, lighting and atmospheric effects. There are
many surviving drawings for the Madonna del Popolo, from initial
sketches to color studies of heads, to the final full size cartoon.
Despite this painstaking process, Barocci's genius kept the
brushstrokes passionate and liberated. More should be written about
the singular radiance of the master's painting technique, in which a
spiritual light seems to flicker as a jewel across faces, hands,
drapery, and sky.
Barocci's embrace of the Counter
Reformation would shape his long and fruitful career. By 1566, he
joined a lay order of Capuchins, an offshoot of Franciscans. He may
have been influenced by Saint Philip Neri, whose Oratorians sought
to reconnect the spiritual realm with the lives of everyday people.
Neri, who was somewhat ambivalent about the accumulating richness of
his Santa Maria in Vallicella, commissioned two completed works from
Barocci, the pre-eminent artists of these large pious altarpieces:
The Visitation (1583-6) and Presentation of the Virgin (1593-94).
Neri is said to have been moved to ecstasy by Barocci's
accomplishment in the former painting, which shows the Virgin and
Elizabeth greeting each other.
In Urbino, where he painted a
Descent from the Cross for the cathedral of San Lorenzo at Perugia.
He again visited Rome during the papacy of Gregory XIII when he
painted two admirable pictures for the Chiesa Nuova, representing
the Visitation of the Virgin Mary to Elisabeth and the Presentation
in the Temple, and for the Chiesa della Minerva, a Last Supper.