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FRIDAY ART CAT: Federico Barocci (1535-1612)


Federico Barocci (1535-1612)

I was so lucky in 2012 to visit an exhibition at the National Gallery in London about Barocci, and I now have a cushion on my sofa with this on :-

Study of a Cat Sleeping

I think Barocci has perfectly captured the attitude of the cat sleeping – the head looks heavy on the surface, with the cat deep in sleep.  He has used red and black chalk on paper, rendering a soft powdery effect so good at depicting a cat.

About Barocci:

Highly revered by his patrons during his lifetime, Barocci combined the beauty of the High Renaissance with the dynamism of what was to become known as the Baroque, a genre he was instrumental in pioneering. From his earliest creations of the 1550s, he began to challenge pictorial convention by positioning his figures in dynamic spatial arrangements, anticipating by almost half a century the innovations of Baroque art.  He was an incessant and even obsessive draughtsman, preparing every composition with prolific studies in every conceivable medium.  Fascinated and inspired by people and animals, he infused his harmonious compositions with infectious charm and an unparalleled sensitivity to colour.

Spiritually attuned by nature, Barocci was predominantly a painter of religious subjects, his approach epitomising the clarity and accessibility required by a Catholic church, then in crisis.  Barocci’s unique warmth and humanity transformed familiar gospel stories and more unusual visions into transcendent archetypes with universal appeal.

Born in the Marchigian town of Urbino, Federico Barocci was one of the most talented and innovative artists of late 16th-century Italy. He flourished in a town that had become one of the great cultural centres of the Renaissance, and had also been the birthplace of his famous predecessor Raphael, by whom he was much influenced.  He emerged as a promising young painter and, in the 1550s, moved to Rome for further study.  During a second trip to Rome in the 1560s, Barocci lived and worked with a number of Rome’s leading painters.  After participating in a fresco project for Pope Pius IV in the Vatican, he was allegedly poisoned by jealous rivals during a picnic. Suffering severely and in need of recuperation, Barocci returned to Urbino in 1563, where he remained for the rest of his career.  When he died in 1612, he was not only among the highest paid painters in Italy, but also one of the most influential.

Many of Barocci’s most accomplished works remain in his home region of the Marches, Italy, on the altars for which they were made.  Consequently, his name has not acquired the broad recognition of distinguished predecessors such as Raphael and Michelangelo, or successors such as Rubens, who, with other Baroque artists, drew inspiration from his sumptuous colour palette, expressive compositions and innovative techniques.

The Madonna of the Cat, 1575

The Holy Family is represented with unusual informality and liveliness. John the Baptist holds a goldfinch, a traditional symbol of Christ’s Passion, teasing the cat shown in the left foreground. His reed cross rests against the wall. The Virgin appears prominently in the centre suckling the Child, while Saint Joseph stoops forward to observe the scene.  One theory on the meaning of this is that through the Baptist’s innocent game, the child becomes aware of mankind’s expulsion from Paradise, thus comprehending his future role as redeemer.  The cat, often wrongly associated with evil, is not specifically malevolent in this situation, but its reaction to the bird epitomises the disruption of the natural harmony that had reigned in God’s creation.

Detail of the Cat from “The Annunciation”

Studies of Cats

Inspired by Barocci:

I have made a 15 minute sketch of my Bengal cat, Pandora, in sepia black and white charcoal.  The main aim was not to ‘overdo’ the work, but to try and get the same ‘spare’ feeling of the Barocci’s study.


“Federico Barocci, Inspiration and Innovation in Early Modern Italy” edited by Judith W. Mann

Sara Day

I am an artist who makes work of animals and people.

Three cats live with me – Maine coon Orlando, Bengal Pandora and black moggy Rio.

Commissions, and indeed any enquiries – welcomed.

Instagram: Sardine.Art

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FRIDAY ART CAT: Federico Barocci (1535-1612)


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