Barocci: Brilliance and Grace

This event was held from 27 February 2013 to 19 May 2013

Date and time

27 February – 19 May 2013

Sainsbury Wing

Admission charge


'It’s intoxicating stuff. An inspired show'
Waldemar Januszczak, The Sunday Times 

Experience the charm and sensitivity of Barocci’s masterpieces – never before seen outside Italy.

Federico Barocci (about 1533–1612) is celebrated as one of the most talented artists of late 16th century Italy. Fascinated by the human form, he fused charm and compositional harmony with an unparalleled sensitivity to colour.

The exhibition will showcase Federico Barocci’s most spectacular altarpieces, including his famous 'Entombment' from Senigallia and 'Last Supper' from Urbino Cathedral, thanks to the cooperation of the Soprintendenze delle Marche.

The display assembles the majority of Barocci’s greatest altarpieces and paintings, together with sequences of dazzling preparatory drawings, allowing visitors to understand how each picture evolved and revealing the fertility of Barocci’s imagination, the diversity of his working methods and the sheer beauty and grace of his art.

View an accessible version of this slideshow

About the artist

'For exquisite and original colour harmonies, for tenderness of sentiment, for compelling and vertiginous compositions, Barocci has never been surpassed. He rendered the sacred both divinely beautiful and irresistibly human'
Director of the National Gallery, Dr Nicholas Penny

Barocci’s works, drawn from life and inspired by the people and animals that surrounded him, are characterised by a warmth and humanity that transform his religious subjects into themes with which all can identify.

He was an incessant and even obsessive draughtsman, preparing every composition with prolific studies in every conceivable medium.

Highly revered by his patrons during his lifetime, Barocci combined the beauty of the High Renaissance with the dynamism of what was to become known as the Baroque, a genre he was instrumental in pioneering. When he died in 1612, he was not only among the highest paid painters in Italy, but also one of the most influential. 

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Hear about the life and times of Federico Barocci

Exhibition insight
Federico Barocci: The Life
6 mins 16 secs

Nicholas Penny: Federico Barocci was definitely one of the most highly regarded painters working in Italy towards the end of the 16th and in the very first years of the 17th century.

Carol Plazzotta: Nobody's ever heard of him, and yet he is one of the world's greatest colourists and one of the greatest draughtsmen that there have ever been in the history of Italian painting.

Judith Mann: He was a wonderful innovator and he always has an original take on things. So they’re really beautiful and they’re very intellectually interesting, as well.

Federico Barocci was born around 1533 in Urbino, a north-eastern city not far from Venice. Urbino had been a major court centre under the Montefeltro family. It really flourished and became a real centre for erudition, for mathematics, for major artists that came to that court. So by the time he was in his twenties, he had had exposure to a number of artists in the tradition of Raphael and the tradition of Titian.

Federico Barocci certainly had an affection for the Duke Francesco Maria della Rovere.

Carol Plazzotta: The Duke was a very pious and intellectual man. He amassed a vast library in his later life and also wrote deeply.

Judith Mann: He went to Rome in the 50s and he went again in the 1560s. But, according to his biographer, he was poisoned. There are various interpretations as to whether he was actually poisoned. I personally think he probably was.

He retreated, and so from the mid-1560s till the end of his life, 1612, he lived and worked in Urbino.

Carol Plazzotta: Barocci and his family lived in the heart of Urbino. Visible from the top windows of his own house, Barocci could see the Palazzo Ducale.

He often included that view in the background of his pictures.

Judith Mann: When Barocci returned from Rome, he made his first real altarpiece, his 'Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian'. The palette is dazzling. It is a dynamic altarpiece. It certainly involves you as you go in and you see the archers there and their dynamic poses and to me that’s one of the great things that Barocci does. There is such inherent dynamism in so many of his figures that it really does point toward that explosive drama of the 17th century that we call Baroque.

Nicholas Penny: He’s a painter who’s very, very interested in making things real. His concern is to make things more graceful without departing from real anatomy, the structure of the human body and a plausible pictorial space. And he does this both by the flutter of drapery, the compositional lines, and he does it by colour. Colour, I think, is largely something which he invents and he thinks of in, if you like, musical terms.

Judith Mann: As we go on in his career, Barocci experiments more and more with the use of illumination. He does it in his 'Stigmatization of Saint Francis', where he hones in on the idea of the flooding of light, almost palpable light, that washes over the figure of Saint Francis, and you can almost feel it.

Nicholas Penny: With his altarpieces, he really did want people to be transported out of themselves. He would have been very pleased by the idea of people actually forgetting themselves completely, as they did with certain types of divine music, in front of his pictures. The idea of transport, of you being enraptured, that is absolutely what Barocci is about.

Generously supported by The Joseph F. McCrindle Foundation, with additional support from Ugo and Chiara Pierucci and others who wish to remain anonymous.

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Image at top: Detail from Federico Barocci, 'Head Study for St. John the Evangelist'
Image courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington
Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund 1979.11.1