Town mouse on Barocci

Barocci: is it a brand of chocolates or an aftershave? It turns out to be a painter. The National Gallery has put on a show of his works, many of which are still to be seen above the Italian altars for which they were painted. Napoleon didn’t think them worth carting off to the Louvre, and I’m afraid one has to see why.

They have the sweetness of a pear drop, in the pastel colours of Edinburgh rock. I wish I could have liked them more. In life, Federico Barocci seems to have been an admirable fellow. Hard-working, pious, struggling against illness-not the sort of person who would have broken Michelangelo’s nose or had to sleep fully clothed, with weapons by his side, like Caravaggio. He hardly left Urbino, where he was a big friend of the Duke.

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I wish I could have liked the exhibition more, too. It’s a thoroughly scholarly effort, which doesn’t attempt to pull in big crowds. Bravo! I felt it would have been better suited to a classy West End dealer, wanting to boost the market standing of a minor master, than an august national institution. Contemporaries called the artist Il Baroccio: a two-wheeled ox cart. Pretty, but rustic and plodding. Have I missed something?

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