Federico Barocci was born in the humanist centre of Urbino, in central eastern Italy, around 1533.
The son of a watchmaker, he flourished in a town that had become one of the great cultural centres of the Renaissance, producing artists such as Raphael.
Thanks to the collections that had been formed by the Montefeltro and Della Rovere families, as well as the paintings that adorned local churches, Barocci was afforded early and intimate contact with the works of renowned painters such as the Venetian master Titian, whose paintings formed a major portion of the renowned ducal art collections.
Barocci emerged as a promising young painter in the Mannerist style of the era, and in the 1550s he moved to Rome for further study.
During a second trip to Rome in the 1560s, Barocci lived and worked with a number of Rome’s leading painters. After participating in a fresco project for Pope Pius IV in the Vatican, he was allegedly poisoned by jealous rivals during a picnic. Suffering severely and in need of recuperation, Barocci returned to Urbino in 1563, where he remained for the rest of his career.
Return to Urbino
Though chronically ill and unable to work for long periods, Barocci continued to produce beautiful altarpieces, lyrical domestic paintings and portraits.
Many prominent patrons, including Pope Clement VIII, King Philip of Spain, and the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, waited years to acquire one of the artist’s coveted pieces. Collectors also sought his remarkable head studies, which he completed in both pastels and oils.
Inspired by a wide range of Renaissance masters, including Raphael, Correggio, Jacopo Tintoretto, and Titian, Barocci developed a unique style that combined extraordinary colour with figures in dynamic and dramatic poses. His visionary works are characterised by warmth of feeling and profound spirituality.
A dedicated draughtsman, Barocci adopted entirely new approaches to drawing, which allowed him to develop some unusual painterly techniques. Because of his love of colour, he drew in a range of tones and textures, being the first Italian artist to systematically use coloured pastels and oils as part of the preparatory process.
He produced elaborate compositional studies, a wide variety of sketches of posed studio models, and drawings based on observations of the surrounding landscape. During his time these studies also began to gain recognition as works of art in their own right.
Legacy and influence
When Barocci died in 1612, he was not only among the highest paid painters in Italy, but also one of the most influential. Many artists, including Rubens, Annibale Carracci and Guido Reni, were inspired by his example. Yet today he is barely known. This is because many of his works have hung in their original locations, in remote Marchigian churches, for over four hundred years.
Barocci's obsession with drawing means that more than 1500 of his drawings survive today, but these are concealed in drawings cabinets and rarely displayed.
Barocci: Brilliance and Grace
The National Gallery exhibition Barocci: Brilliance and Grace, conceived in collaboration with the Saint Louis Art Museum, is the first monographic showing of Barocci’s paintings outside Italy. Each picture is reunited with its related preparatory drawings, enabling the public to rediscover the magic of Barocci’s characteristic brilliance and grace.