My knowledge of this intriguing artist was almost nil a fact which has thankfully now been redressed.
The exhibition leaves you with the impression of a man that sought to understand everything, whether it was the different mediums he worked in; paint, drawing materials, pastels and even etching and engravings. Or his evident fascination with human anatomy and his (sometimes unsucessful) attempts to represent it in his paintings.
He carefully observes even the smallest details in his work such as the delicate reflection of the Madonna's thumb from 'The Rest on the Flight to Egypt', the instruments of Christ's crucifixion from 'The Entombment' or the carefully rendered donkey's head in 'The Visitation'.
It is not just in the details that Barocci comes up trumps. His use of light to strenghten his painting's spiritual impact is phenomenal. In 'The last supper', the largest work included, this is done to fascinating effect.
Barocci The Last Supper shown in the exhibition image from The Times
We are shown two very different systems of lighting. In the centre Christ is bathed in a cool and pure light which emanates from the space above him and bathes him in a heavenly glow. On the right of the scene and in the two doorways shown in the background we see a very different lighting. This can only be described as worldly. It is warmer, hazy and much more earthy. This light is used to illuminate the figures surrounding the event who are oblivious of the ecclesiastical significance of the moment. The figures tending the fire, the mother and child in the doorway or the group peering out of the other doorway all carry on with their everyday tasks. In placing these elements alongside Christ and his disciples Barocci situates the last supper in a world and a surrounding which the contemporary viewers could understand.
Barocci's colours sing out from his painted surfaces with an extraordinary array of hues and tones and his subtle blending of these in his painting of flesh.
But he is not simply a gifted colorist and his drawings almost steal the show. They allow us an insight into a mind that was constantly seeking new approaches to a problem experimenting with different poses and angles and falls of drapery.
The beauty of putting together an exhibition on an artist who has received such little critical acclaim is presumably that other galleries and churches are far happier to lend out the works. And as a result the exhibition draws together works from across the globe allowing us a rich picture of the artist. Including work from different points in his life carried out in Rome and Urbino and as I mentioned often brought together with their preparatory drawings.
On exiting the exhibition I was gutted to find out that all of the softback exhibition catalogues had sold out as I was already reaching for my purse! I might just have to save up a bit for the hardback copy (£45 a pop) as I simply have to have it!!!