Skip to main content

Focus on: Barocci

Explore Barocci's personal and artistic life with our experts.
Exhibition insight
Federico Barocci: The Life

Exhibition insight

Federico Barocci: The Life

About the video:


The road to rapture: Hear about the life and times of Federico Barocci. 


Find out about his brush with death in Rome as the curators of the exhibition Barocci: Brilliance and Grace trace the artist's journey from his birth in Urbino through to his return home, and the creation of the masterpieces that have placed him firmly within the canon of art history today.

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.

More from Focus on: Barocci (4 videos)