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Federico Barocci’s Move Into the Baroque

February 14, 2011










Federico Barocci 1583-1586.

Santa Maria in Vallicella (Chiesa Nuova), Rome.

One of the two altarpieces Barocci painted for the main church of the Oratorians was the Visitation.  This is one of Barocci’s first paintings in which evidence of his shift toward the Early Baroque style can be seen.

The steps in the foreground lead up to the central figures.  This invites the viewer to step into the painting.  The figure at the bottom left leans into our space, as if the two spheres are interchangeable.  There is also a distinct diagonal movement about the picture, as opposed to a swirling jumble in Barocci’s earlier pieces.

Although the multiple planes of figures and the space beyond the doorway indicate depth, the background is non-descript.  This keeps the viewer focused on the foreground.  A man (probably Joseph) sweeps in from a doorway to the right indicating that there is more going on that we can see, yet all we need to see is in front of us.

The two central figures make eye contact.  They have a strong emotional connection.  Two other figures in the composition are looking at them, too.  This creates emphasis on the emotion of all involved and forces the viewer to participate in the action by looking at the center as well.









Presentation of the Virgin

Federico Barocci 1593-1603.

Santa Maria in Vallicella (Chiesa Nuova), Rome.

The other altarpiece Barocci painted for the church of the Oratorians was Presentation of the Virgin.

Barocci continued to use devices in color, composition, and light that foretold of the Baroque.  With so many figures involved, the scene is quite orderly, arranged in layers of picture planes.  This is the depth which Baroque artists found to appealing.  Again, the steps in the middle ground lead the viewer in, further invited by repoussoir figures.  Other figures are cropped at the edge of the frame, signaling that there is more than meets the eye.

Barocci’s use of Genre details move this miraculous scene into the realm of the real world.  There are everyday activities occurring in the Presentation along with the not-so-everyday event of Mary coming to the temple to begin her life as a Holy Person.









St. Jerome in Prayer

Federico Barocci 1590.

Borghese Gallery, Rome.

In this picture of penitence, it is evident that Barocci’s palette is becoming darker, but what color remains is magnificent.  This is also an opportunity for Barocci to depict a nocturnal scene still with brilliant light.

Imagery of the various powers the cross holds was important to Catholics during Barocci’s time.  It was the time of the Counter-Reformation, a reaction against the Protestants’ attacks on Catholicism and its imagery.  This along with the Protestants’ resistance to accept Penance as a sacrament was motivation for such devotional pieces such as St. Jerome (Hall 272).

Barocci’s ability to capture emotions so exquisitely was key to the portrayal of Jerome in penitence.  One could almost feel his agony.

The motif, carried through many period styles besides Baroque, of memento mori is ever present in this painting.  The skull and hourglass make it most obvious, but also the tense moment which Jerome is residing in.  He is about to beat his breast with a rock for what could be the first time or maybe the last time.  He looks upon a crucifix, a final jab to Protestants who question the Catholic Faith.

Witnessing Jerome’s intense emotion could move the viewer himself to penitence.

Hall, Marcia. After Raphael. Cambridge University Press. 1999.









St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata

Federico Barocci 1594.

Barocci’s palette continued to get darker as time went on.  However, he never lost his exceptional sense of color.  In St. Francis, Barocci emulated almost every tone of brown, from a deep muddy tone to bright gold.  There are a few instances of natural color in Francis’s skin – Barocci’s forte.

As opposed to the dense setting and punctuated glimpses of background in of St. Jerome, Barocci’s St. Francis is set in an extensive, cavernous location.  Beyond the walls of this setting rays of light are all that is to be seen.  This suggests an infinite world beyond what we see, not just more of the same setting.

St. Francis is positioned diagonally to the picture plane – a far cry from Barocci’s Mannerists beginnings.  It is impressive to see such a shift from Barocci’s planar, almost relief-like compositions to this Early Baroque diagonal defiance of the picture plane.

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