By Costanza Beltrami

The exhibition “Raffaello, Parmigianino, Barocci: Dialectic of the Gaze and Metaphors of Vision” (2 October 2015–10 January 2016) opened today at the Capitoline Museums in Rome.

The exhibition centers on drawings and prints by the late Renaissance artists Parmigianino (Parma, 11 January 1503-Casalmaggiore, 24 August 1540), and Federico Barocci(Urbino, 1526–1612). Both artists were extremely successful in their own lifetime, when contemporaries considered them as skilled as Raphael, the high Renaissance genius.

Undoubtedly, Parmigianino and Barocci were very interested in Raphael’s work, and studied it closely. Many of their compositions contain direct quotations from the master’s work. For example, the Foolish Virgins painted by Parmigianino on the vault of the Church of the Steccata in Parma are inspired by the woman carrying a vase in Raphael’s Fire in the Borgo in the Vatican Stanze. Similarly, Barocci used the figure of Mercury painted by Raphael in the Loggia of Psyche at the Villa Farnesina as a model in many of his paintings. He evoked it in the figure of Christ in the painting Vision of St Francis, where he also imitated the stark juxtaposition of human and divine reality seen in Raphael’s Transfiguration. Encouraged by the antiquarian and critic Giovanni Pietro Bellori, Barocci also imitated Raphael’s habit of developing multi-figure compositions from individual life studies of studio assistants and errand boys.

Despite their deep knowledge and continuous reference to Raphael’s oeuvre, the two sixteenth-century painters developed unique styles, suggesting a dialectic of learning and competition, which visitors can explore at the Capitoline Museums’ exhibition.

References: David Ekserdjian. “Parmigianino.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press,;Edmund P. Pillsbury. “Barocci, Federico.” Grove art Online. Oxford art Online. Oxford University Press,

Raphael, Self Portrait, 1504–1506, oil on board. Florence: Uffizi.

Parmigianino, Self Portrait with a Red Hat, c. 1540, oil on paper. Parma: Galleria Nazionale.

Federico Barocci, Self Portrait, 1570-75, oil on canvas. Florence: Uffizi. 

Parmigianino, Three Foolish Virgins Flanked by Moses and Adam, 1531-39, fresco, Madonna della Steccata, Parma. Photo credit: Web Gallery of Art.  

Raphael, The Fire in the Borgo, 1514, fresco, Vatican Stanze, Pontifical Palace, Vatican City. Photo credit: Web Gallery of Art.

Raphael, Mercury, 1517-18, fresco, Loggia of Psyche, Villa Farnesina, Rome. Photo credit: Web gallery of Art.

Federico Barocci, The Vision of St Francis, c. 1575, oil on canvas, Church of Saint Francis, Urbino.

Raphael, Transfiguration, 1516-20, tempera on panel. Vatican City: Pinacoteca Vaticana.

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