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Federico Barocci

about 1533 - 1612

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.

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.


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.

Master draughtsman

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.