Federico Barocci (about 1535-1612)
The Visitation of Mary 1583-1586
Oil on Canvas 285 x 187 cm
Altarpiece: The Chapel of the Visitation, Santa Maria in Vallicella, Rome
Barocci (about 1535-1612) was one of the greatest Italian painters of the second half of the sixteenth century.
He was active during Italy’s Religious Counter Reformation
He stuck exactly to the Counter-Reformation's tenets on religious art drawn up at the Council of Trent. Barocci's ability to clearly represent a holy scene while using vivid colour to excite the senses and emotions, earned him the title among art historians of the first Counter-Reformation painter.
He was notorious for working very slowly, carrying out numerous preparatory drawings and only working a few hours a day due to ill health.
Gian Pietro Bellori (1613 – 1696), the pre-eminent biographer of the Baroque age, considered him the finest Italian painter of his period and lamented that he had `languished in Urbino'.
In conformity with the Council of Trent, both Jesuits and Oratorians exerted a new control over interior church design, conceiving their decoration as a program. The altar dedications were fixed, and had to be accepted by the patron.
In 1582, Francesco Pizzomiglio bought the rights to the Chapel of the Visitation of the Chiesa Nuova, Rome.
The Oratorian Fathers gave the family a choice of two painters for the Visitation, Girolamo Muziano and Barocci. They chose Barocci.
The result can be seen above. It was regarded as having set a new standard.
It would appear from the Beatification and Canonisation Process that St Francis Neri himself was taken with the painting.
Witnesses reported seeing him in the chapel, where he performed miracles or was seen in ecstasy. He was said to perform his own personal devotions before it, sometimes spending hours lost in rapture. Father Bacci recorded Neri's preference for the painting and his raptures there in his biography of 1622, recalling how "he would stay in the chapel of the Visitation where he pleasurably and willingly contemplated the image of Barocci."
The story was also repeated by Bellori