What better way of spending World Happiness Day than going to an art exhibition of stunning beautiful paintings by one of the greatest artists of the Late Renaissance? Well, apart from laughing all day. I’m surprised that the newspapers didn’t just report good news today but I guess that’s never going to happen.
Federico Barocci was an amazing artist. He painted mainly religious altarpieces in the Duchy of Urbino, Italy. One of his most famous is the Rest on the Flight into Egypt (below). The painting depicts the unhurried rest taken by Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus as they ‘hurried’ to escape the slaughter of the innocents by Herod.
[I should state that the images in this post are scans of postcards (photography is obviously not allowed of these fragile objects). Because of this, the full power of Barocci’s work is not necessarily obvious. The actual works are very big and therefore much more powerful.]
A lot of artists painted this scene (even my favourite artist, Caravaggio) but Barocci’s has a heavenly feel about it. The group exudes a ‘safeness’, almost as if they are protected by some heavenly spirit. Hungry and tired, they rest, peacefully beneath a date palm. Even the donkey seems to be smiling.
Barocci was one of those very lucky artists to have a generous, art loving sponsor. He was Francesco Maria II della Rovere, duke of Urbino and Barocci painted a brilliant portrait of him which has to be one of the most wonderful portraits I have ever seen.
The most wonderful thing about the exhibition is the inclusion of Barocci’s preparatory sketches of his figures before creating his paintings. They show hands, feet, draping of clothing and faces. They also include naked male studio assistants which would then be changed into female with a widening of the hips, a slight swelling of the abdomen and breasts. I can only assume this is because of the lack of female nude models.
There was also some wonderful examples of complete oil paintings of head studies from the large items. No one is really sure why he painted these but it is conjectured that they may have been either samples which the artist could take around to prospective clients or smaller and more affordable paintings for poorer clients. Whatever they were intended for, they are equally beautiful. The painting below is one of these. It is a head study from his Entombment altarpiece.
Barocci almost exclusively painted religious paintings, mainly because his patron was rather keen on the Virgin Mary but my favourite piece in the exhibition was of a Greek story relating to Aeneas fleeing burning Troy (1598). The mood in the piece changes from face to face. It’s beautiful and very emotional.
All in all, the National Gallery Barocci exhibition (Brilliance and Grace) was fantastic and thoroughly enjoyable. My only complaints are my usual one about an affordable, small guide book and the fact that it was very warm in the gallery…though the latter is probably unavoidable.
A very interesting fact I discovered…in the painting Holy Family, Barocci has put a goldfinch in the hand of the infant St John the Baptist which he is holding high in front of a rather attentive cat. I thought this was a bit callous for someone like St John but have discovered that the gold finch (because it eats thistle seeds) is symbolic of the crucifixion and, when a Biblical character is depicted with one, it implies a foreknowledge of the eventual death of Christ. Reading religious art is so dependent on knowing your symbolism!