Head of Saint Joseph

The present study is for the head of Saint Joseph in Federico Barocci's monumental altarpiece The Visitation, for the Chiesa Nuova, Rome. Extremely close to the head in the final painting, in which there are added wrinkles on Joseph's forehead, the sheet particularly explores the subtle interaction between color and light, while the lower chest and drapery dissolve into darkness. The use of this type of study, painted in oil on paper, was rare amongst the artist's contemporaries, but seems to have played a role in Federico's practice as he neared the completion of his paintings. The inventory made on his death records forty-two such studies ("pezzi di carte colorite a olio") of which fourteen were heads and the others landscapes and animals.

Forty-five preparatory studies and bozzetti survive for the Visitation altarpiece, showing that the composition went through considerable refinement; they also document Barocci's obsessive specific process for each figure, including ten surviving studies for Saint Joseph's hands.

The painting, nearly three meters high, was finally delivered in 1586. Great admiration followed its installation; a queue lasting three days is said to have formed outside the church, and Saint Philip Neri performed his devotions before it. This altarpiece, along with Barocci's second commission for the church, The Presentation of the Virgin (1590-1603) are among the artist's most acclaimed works.

Oil on paper laid down on canvas (about 1586)

by Federico Barocci (Italian, about 1535-1612)

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