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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Federico Barocci

Descent from the Cross, 1567-69, Federico Barocci
Federico Barocci Self-portrait,
ca. 1600 
Very often art historians write disparagingly of those artists who followed the Renaissance greats, whom they dump ignominiously into what has been termed the Mannerist era. And, indeed, there are those from this period who deserve all the negativity and even ridicule leveled at them. It's not that these artists were incompetent. From a technical standpoint, they invariably excelled. Their downfall all too often involved a penchant for trying to surpass their artistic influences and instructional masters (a natural inclination). However, in doing so, they frequently jettisoned the compositional clarity and proportional excellence of their Renaissance masters in favor of showmanship or inappropriate elegance. Moreover, being sandwiched between the classicism of the Renaissance and the theatrical brilliance of the Baroque, these artist, in effect, get "squished." Federico Barocci was no exception in this regard. However, in discussing these interim painters, we must also remember that they were the teaching masters responsible for the incredible painting and sculptural achievements of the early Baroque era.
Last Supper, 1599, Federico Barocci. Though painted toward the latter part of
his career, when Barocci lapsed into the then-popular mannerist mode, he could
easily be as pointlessly colorful, as flagrantly melodramatic, and as aimlessly
convoluted as the worst of them.
Though a few of his works bear a few of the worst hallmarks of Mannerism (above), Barocci's influence upon the next generation of artists should not to be understated. Peter Paul Rubens saw his Martyrdom of St. Vitale (now apparently lost), even going so far as to make color sketches from it, the results of which can be seen in Rubens' Martyrdom of St. Livinus. Likewise, Bellini and the sculptor, Bernini, are among a dozen or more artists Barocci is said to have influenced during his career of some 65 years. (Born in 1526, he lived to be 86 years old.)

Francesco della Rovere, 1572, Federico Barocci
Despite having lived well into old age, even by today's standards, Barocci was quite the hypochondriac--perhaps not without good reason. Working in Rome in the early 1560s decorating the Vatican for Pope Pius IV, Barocci came down with a stomach ailment he blamed on having been poisoned by jealous peers (it was a salad, probably just unsanitary lettuce). In any case. fearing his imminent demise, Barocci fled Rome, leaving a papal ceiling unfinished. He never returned. Instead, Barocci set up shop in his native city of Urbino where he came under the patronage of the wealthy Duke of Urbino, Francesco della Rovere, whom he painted in 1572 (above). There he found all the work he could handle, mainly painting numerous altarpieces.

A colored chalk study for the hands of Barocci's Virgin of the Annunciation (below).
Barocci was not the most prolific artist to ever move paint from palette to canvas. Personally rather morose and constantly complaining of ill health, Barocci was, however, nothing if not thorough. Clients often complained as to the length of time he took and his tardiness in delivering finished paintings. Before ever starting, Barocci did dozens of color sketches (as above, in colored chalk) and even went so far as to make clay models of his figures to study the effects of various lighting configurations much as artists today use photographs. Though persistent, the sizable body of his work which survives is more a tribute to his having survived so long himself...despite some bad salad greens.

Virgin of the Annunciation, 1592-96, Federico Barocci


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