Federico Barocci Immaculate Conception


National Gallery of the Marche




1500 x 2220 mm



historical period


Exhibit Artwork

Artwork Details

Federico Barocci painted the work around 1575 for the altar of the Compagnia della Concezione in the Church of San Francesco in Urbino, managed by the order of the Friars of Minori Conventuali. The work was removed during the Unification of Italy (1861) and it was transferred to the Institute of Fine Arts and in 1912 to the National Gallery of Marche. There is also a preparatory cartoon of the work at the Urbino Museum where the outlines are so consumed that is difficult to tell with certainty the origin of the underlying composition. However, the drawing is interesting for understanding the meditation of the work which Barocci originally thought of as Madonna of Mercy. In the cartoon, we can see the Virgin who covers the people with her mantle according to the traditional iconography of this type of Madonna, which was popular in the 15th century in particular. However, this element was deleted in the final version where the artist kept the crescent moon at Mary’s feet, which is an attribute linked to the iconography of the Madonna of Mercy. The artist’s original idea is evidenced also by another drawing in which the crowned Virgin wraps young people, women, and children under her mantle. The drawing is kept in the Uffizi Galleries (Drawings and Prints Department, inv. n. 11446F) where there is also a preparatory drawing for the drapery in charcoal and white lead, and a study for the hands in a prayer of a little girl in the foreground. The iconography chosen by Barocci completely renews the traditional figuration of the Immaculate Conception which was officially proclaimed by the Church only in 1854 by Pope Pius XI. The usual image presented the Virgin in heaven with her foot resting on the crescent moon, a dragon, and a head with a crown of twelve stars – partly deriving from the Apocalypse (12,1) - whereas the artist chose to create direct contact between the Immaculate Madonna, who dominates the scene, and the people who are perhaps members of the Confraternity that had commissioned the work. The Virgin is represented standing, wrapped in soft clouds, and surrounded by little angels with only wings, chubby faces, and rebellious curls. Mary is wearing her characteristic red dress covered by a large blue cloak, colors that are attributed to her, and she is elegantly opening her arms as if to welcome and embrace her devotees. The young Virgin turns her sweet gaze towards the people standing below her, some of them portrayed with great intensity, creating an intimate dialogue with them. The devotees seem amazed and absorbed by the miraculous vision, so close that they can almost touch her, and they turn their gaze upwards at her, while the man in the foreground has taken off his hat and brought his hands to his chest. An elegantly dressed woman is embracing a little girl as if to encourage her to overcome fear and to look at the sacred and miraculous presence. The scene is dominated by an intimate and poetic aura that reflects the painter’s spiritual closeness to the Franciscan order. This can be seen in the dynamic scene, and in the movement that is accentuated by the Virgin’s flowing robes, and it makes the painting engaging and something that the people could immediately connect with by identifying themselves as the devotees represented in the painting. In this sense, the artwork perfectly responds to the needs of the Counter-Reformation which demanded the humanization of sacred items, and with its compositional clarity and simplicity, it was easier for people to understand the message of the religious painting. The rich colors were typical of Barocci, as seen in the elegant fabrics that are executed with great refinement. This embellishes the work, which, according to historical sources, was repainted in oil by the artist in his later years. Originally the work was painted in gouache.

Artist Details

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Federico Barocci was born in Urbino to a family of Lombard origins. He initially studied with Battista Franco around 1549, then he was sent to Pesaro where his uncle Bartolomeo Genga was the architect of Duke Guidobaldo Maria II Della Rovere. With him, he studied geometry and perspective and the masterpieces in the collection of the Ducal Palace, in particular the works of Venetian masters. Back in Urbino, Barocci painted a now lost St. Margaret for the Oratory of Corpus Domini but soon he moved to Rome where he stayed for a while and returned to his hometown in 1557. During this period the artist worked on various altarpieces such as the Martyrdom of San Sebastian for the Cathedral of Urbino. In 1560 Barocci returned to Rome to decorate the Casino of Pope Pius IV in the Vatican Gardens. He became close to Taddeo Zuccari who drew his attention to Raphael's examples and the Counter-Reformation's influence. In 1576 he was struck by an intestinal disease which convinced him that he had been poisoned by a jealous rival and he left Rome for good and returned to Urbino, where he was welcomed under the protection of Duke Francesco Maria II Della Rovere. Francesco painted a portrait of him, which is now preserved in the Uffizi Galleries in Florence. He also painted the Rest on the Flight into Egypt in 1579, now preserved in the Vatican Museums, and the portrait of Prince Francesco Maria, his close friend who had just returned from the battle of Lepanto, which dates back to 1572. Even though Barocci felt a bit isolated in Urbino, where he didn’t have his important Roman contacts anymore, he managed to work on significant altarpieces, such as the Madonna of St. John and the Crucifixion for the church of Crocifisso Miracoloso and the Madonna of St. Simon, as well as the Deposition for the cathedral of Perugia, all works dating back to the mid-sixties of the 16th century (Urbino, Galleria Nazionale Delle Marche). Barocci was also a prolific and skilled designer of charming pastel and oil sketches which are influenced by Leonardo’s sfumato effect and Correggio’s works. These were often preparatory studies for the paintings that helped him speed up the slow and creative painting process in large format and on the final work. The artist applied a complex coating that gave it the particular aspect that still characterizes his works today. Many of his sketches still exist today, and they focus not only on the composition but also on the colors, gestures, expressions of the figures, and the use of light. Despite the slow creative process, in which nothing is done by chance, also due to practical needs, as his poor health prevented him from working for a long time which led him to many delays, Barocci’s works are characterized by a strong and fresh vivacity, especially in the colors spread with free brushstrokes which influenced Peter Paul Rubens for a long time, and in the atmospheric and surrounding light. These characteristics can be seen in his Madonna del Popolo (Florence, Uffizi Galleries) of which there are sixty-five preparatory drawings or Beata Michelina Malatesta (Vatican Museums) that was painted for the church of St. Francis in Pesaro, with an ecstatic expression and a dress that seems to be in constant movement which anticipates the vitality of the Baroque. Between 1580 and 1600 Barocci received important commissions, such as the Deposition in 1582 for the church of Santa Croce in Senigallia, and the Visitation, painted between 1583 and 1586 for the Chapel of the Visitation in the new Church in Rome, founded by Filippo Neri, who greatly appreciated the work. In the same church, Barocci painted the Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple in 1593. The self-portrait of the Uffizi Galleries and the Institution of the Eucharist (Rome, Aldobrandini Chapel, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva) commissioned by Pope Clement VII date back to the early 17th century and they demonstrate that despite he moved to Urbino, the artist never completely lost relations with the high-status Roman client. Barocci was also an innovator in the field of engraving, especially in the etching technique for replicating works. He is known for free brushstrokes and joyful colors, an artist whose figures express a sweet and serene devotion, but inside, he was depressed. He was tormented by this, and as it emerges from the letters to Duke Francesco, he was melancholic, solitary, and had a strong temperament. His friend convinced him to stay at the Duke’s Palace, but he soon decided to leave and go live alone with his depression. Despite his illness, he had a long life. He died on 30 September 1612 at the age of 77.

Collection Details

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National Gallery of the Marche