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Barbara Longhi (1552 - 1638)

Barbara Longhi
(1552 - 1638)
      Art Work
Name: Barbara Longhi
Gender: Female
Place of Birth: Ravenna, Italy
Birth: 1552
Death: 1638
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A trace of sadness lies on the soft, idealized features of the Madonna. Her eyelids are lowered, her head tilted gracefully. Held in her lap, the boy Jesus turns affectionately towards the young St John, who holds a reed cross in reference to the fact that he will one day baptize Christ in the waters of the River Jordan Mary places her arms protectively around the two boys. She knows that Christ will sacrifice himself on the Cross, and the painting encourages the viewer to reflect on this. Everything is redolent of clarity and harmony: the gently curving lines, the soft roundness of the bodies, the colors and the equilateral triangle underlying the composition. Mary and Jesus are set off against a dark curtain, draped behind them as a symbol of their special status. This contrasts with the distant view of a landscape behind St John, its river recalling the Jordan.

This type of image was invented in the fifteenth century. Renaissance artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael had infused their pictures of the Virgin and Child with an idealized beauty and a harmony based on geometry, and their works became models for generation upon generation of painters, including that of Barbara Longhi. Madonnas were her specialty: twelve of her fifteen surviving works depict the Virgin and Child. Devotional images of this kind were extremely popular as a result of the revival of the cult of the Virgin promoted in the Counter-Reformation.

Evidently, neither the artist nor her patrons were much concerned with stylistic innovation. Longhi spent her entire life in her provincial hometown of Ravenna in northern Italy, far removed from the artistic centre of Rome, Florence and Bologna, where the style of the High Renaissance had already given way to Mannerism. Yet Giorgio Vasari, painter and historian of the art of his day, took note of the artist during a visit to Ravenna and. in 1568, included her in the second edition of his biographies of famous artists. She was only sixteen years old at the time. 'Maestro Luca de" Longhi, of Ravenna, has painted many beautiful pictures in oil, with numerous portraits from the life, in his native city and its neighbourhood... Nor will I omit to mention that a daughter of his, called Barbara, still but a little child, draws very well, and has begun to paint also in a very good manner and with much grace '

We know next to nothing about Longhi's life. Like her elder brother Francesco, she learned the art of painting from her father, Luca, and was subsequently a member of his workshop. Barbara's paintings are difficult to distinguish from those of Luca, but she did at least inscribe some of them with the letters BLF', standing for Barbara Longhi fecit' (made by Barbara Longhi). Her Madonnas are especially notable for their aura of deep calm. Although her portraits were much admired by contemporaries, very few have survived. Neither do we possess a self-portrait by her. Perhaps, however, she immortalized her features in those of St Catharine or St Barbara, in the way that her male counterparts sometimes depicted themselves in the guise of saints.

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