Five star Barocci

February 27 2013

Image of Five star Barocci

Picture: BG

I got back from New York yesterday morning, and just had time to dash round the preview (above) of the new Barocci exhibition at the National Gallery. It's an excellent show, enjoyable, informative, and even revelatory. But don't just take my word for it - Richard Dorment in The Telegraph gives it five stars, and although we're only in February, says:

All I can do is plead with you to go. This is the exhibition of the year, and the way things are going we won’t see anything like it for a long time to come.

Most of us will be familiar with Barocci's work from books, and the occasional painting seen in the flesh. But this exhibition is one of those rare moments when you finally get to see a mass of paintings by an artist whose work you thought you knew, and realise that you had no idea just good they were. It's sad that Barocci has been significantly under-appreciated by art history, but wonderful that the National Gallery has made such an effort to correct this. Not many leading galleries would give an artist like Barocci such a big exhibition, and if this is a reflection of Nicholas Penny's new academic focus, then we have a great deal to look forward to during his directorship.

Barocci's head studies (which he relied on due to an illness that it made it tiring to paint large pictures without full preparation) are amongst the finest in Western art. That said, in some of Barocci's larger pictures, like the Last Supper, the overall composition suffers from the fact that so many brilliantly observed head studies have been directly translated onto the larger canvas, for they all shine out at you, and the eye doesn't know quite where to look. I went round the exhibition thinking that Barocci would have made a great portraitist, and happily in the last gallery the exhibition includes a sublime c.1571/2 portrait of Francesco Maria II della Rovere.

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