Warmth and the Occasional Cat: Barocci

Federico Barocci, Madonna del Popolo (Madonna ...

Barocci: Brilliance and Grace. National Gallery London until 19 May 2013.

 

With so many wonderful exhibitions currently in London, it seems the Barocci show at the National Gallery is unfortunately overshadowed by more famous artists. I visited the Barocci show this past weekend and I can tell you it is a brilliant exhibition.

Preliminary sketches and paintings, often of the same detail with only minor revisions, are shown with the finished work. In one case  Barocci removed a sketch of the devil after the Pope was displeased and for a number of his works Barocci experimented with reversing images and having people face other directions. One of my favourites, the painting of St Francis receiving the stigmata, originally had the observer walking away in the distance rather than lounging under the tree.The impression I formed of Barocci was that he was an incredibly methodical perfectionist living a rather reclusive life. Most of his work was created for churches and patrons in his hometown of Urbino, Italy. His confinement to the Urbino area has no doubt affected his popularity and fame right to this day. His earnest approach to his work is clearly seen in the piercing gaze of his self portrait.

Walking through the exhibition, I quickly noticed the warmth emanating from his paintings. Barocci mainly produced religious scenes but the personal and human elements he included makes his work stand out from his contemporaries. Joseph’s smile fills his eyes with happiness in Madonna of the Cat. Many believe the cat to be Barocci’s own and this not the only painting to include the feline.

Barocci also had a talent for adding a frame of behind the scenes action in his paintings. His version of The Last Supper shows the servants at work. An original take on the manger scene with Joseph greeting the shepherds at the door also highlights the use of diagonal lines Barocci is famous for. Finally, I was astounded with how beautiful some of Barocci’s portraits were. Much to my surprise, the most astonishing works were the ones where the face was turned away at an angle. Barocci’s famous image of John the Evangelist is being used to promote the show. However, my breath was also taken away by the stunning image of Mary Magdalene.

My advice to anyone considering visiting a London exhibition in the coming months: don’t miss this! It is a perfect afternoon treat in this bleak weather.

 

 

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