The Renaissance was, to put it mildly, not lacking in superb painters — Da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian and Botticelli, to name just five. But what are we to make of the National Gallery’s claim that they’ve discovered another Italian master in Barocci, and should he take a place beside these greats?
Barocci was struck down by an illness at a young age that persisted for the rest of his life. Rumours still abound that he was poisoned by a jealous rival. This illness meant he was forced to work at a slow pace, creating few paintings throughout his career. He seldom travelled. But is his art as intriguing as his personal life?
His work is a portfolio of the transition from Renaissance to Baroque art, with his ‘Immaculate Conception’ creating a sense of movement that would eventually be taken forward by later painters such as Murillo. Highlighting his versatility is a sensational painting of the Nativity where his excellent use of Chiaroscuro rivals the works of Caravaggio.
There are many studies in this exhibition, hinting at Barocci’s slow and methodical approach. Though most are only mildly interesting, there are a few that are great works in their own right. A study of the head of St Joseph is so impeccably detailed that it surpasses the final version in ‘The Visitation’.
Not all of the paintings on display here should be heralded as masterpieces, but there are many excellent works, such as the Annunciation, that mark Barocci as a great painter. Whether he should be considered one of the chief Italian Renaissance artists is debatable, but his finest works definitely place him in contention.
Barocci: Brilliance and Grace is on at the National Gallery until 19 May. Tickets are £12, concessions available.
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