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On Sunday I joined family members and friend’s for a special guided tour of the Saint Louis Art Museum’s current special exhibit FEDERICO BAROCCI RENAISSANCE MASTER. This will be the last major exhibition in the Museum’s original Cass Gilbert Palace of  the Fine Arts built for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exhibition. After this exhibit moves on to London’s National Museum in January, the space reserved for major exhibits will be reconfigured into major galleries for the European Collection. Future major exhibits will be held in the museum’s  expansion building that will officially open on June 29.

Rest on the Return from Egypt 1570-73 (Vatican Museums, Vatican City)

Barocci born in Urbino, Italy in 1533 is regarded as one of the preeminent  artists of the 16th century. His work is noted for its brilliant coloring and detailing. Check the dress fabric on Mary’s right arm. He is recognized as one of the most prolific and influential draftsmen in history and more than 1,500 studies made in preparation for his paintings survive today. And many of these studies are on display next to the paintings for which they were made in this exhibit.

The exhibition which is the first major show of Barocci’s work was organized by the Saint Louis Art Museum in association with the National Gallery, London. Paintings, drawings and sketches on view are part of more than a half dozen European collections.

Nativity, 1597 (Museo Nacional Del Prado, Madrid, Spain

Study of the Christ Child — chalk with pastel on blue paper

(The Royal Collection, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II)

Annunciation 1582-84 (Vatican Museums, Vatican City)

Study for the head of the Virgin Mary – chalk and pastel on blue paper

(The Royal Collection, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II)

Portrait of Francesco Maria II della Rovere the Duke of Urbino , 1571-72 / Barocci’s patron

(Uffizi in Florence)

Barocci was one of the most highly paid artists specializing in creating and painting altarpieces for Roman churches. Except for two trips to Rome, he lived and worked most of his career in Urbino. On his last trip to Rome he was invited to a picnic where he was supposedly poisoned by rivals who envied his close relationship with Michelangelo. He left Rome and never returned.

Our tour of the exhibit was very impressive and the presentation of the artwork was outstanding. I should point out that since many of the works in the exhibit were alterpieces to be shown in a church, they were much larger than the usual painting you see in a museum. They ranged in size from six to twelve feet tall, and required several years to be completed.

Interesting note, only male models posed for the figures seen in Barocci’s artwork. In some of his preliminary sketches you can see the progression in stages from the male nude figure to the female figure that would be in the final painting. While the finished paintings are striking, the early sketches show what an extraordinary artist Barocci was. Here’s my favorite sketch … it is for the head of Saint John, the Evangelist in the painting THE ENTOMBMENT. According to tradition John was the youngest of the apostles and Barocci painted him as a youth. In his gospel John refers to himself as the disciple Jesus loved. He is also the only apostle to die of old age at the start of the second century A.D.

(Oil on paper mounted on linen – 1580) National Gallery Of Art, Washington, D.C.