Thursday, July 3, 2008

Barocci’s Eight-Step Program

Old masters developed a thorough working method that helped them visualize scenes from history and mythology. Sixteenth century painter Federico Barocci (1528-1612) planned his paintings with a series of eight steps, according to his biographer, Bellori.

1. After deciding on his idea for a picture, Barocci made dozens of loose sketches to work out the gesture and arrangement of the figures.

2. He then made studies in charcoal or pastel from live models.

3. Next he sculpted miniature figurines in wax or clay, each draped in tiny costumes to see how they would look under various lighting arrangements.

4. He proceeded with a compositional study in gouache or oil, considering the overall pattern of light and shade.

5. With that completed he produced a full-size tonal study or “cartoon” in pastels or charcoal and powdered gesso.

6. He then transferred this drawing to the canvas.

7. But before proceeding with the painting he produced small oil studies to establish the color relationships “so that all the colours should be concordant and unified among themselves without hurting each other.”

8. Then he went ahead with the finished painting.

Barocci may have been more meticulous than some of his contemporaries, but his process was not unusual, and virtually every artist followed at least some of these steps. He was a big inspiration to Rubens and many others who followed after.

These basic steps have been followed all through the history of imaginative picturemaking, right down to William Bouguereau, Norman Rockwell, and Dean Cornwell.
Wikipedia entry on Barocci, link.
Computer wallpaper, link.


Anonymous said...

And today many artists, including myself, follow a similar procedure, but most of the initial steps are done on a computer before the final oil painting is begun.

Shane White said...

Is that why his figures look so posed?

There's a saturation point where you kill the inspiration and gut level instinct by putting all those steps in the way.

If he would have just hired costumed people to pose in the correct light and done his color study from that...well he'd be a few steps in the right direction and closer to life.

Isn't this essentially equal to the efforts of today's fantasy painters?

I still think Todd Lockwood gets bigger props for making more lively scenes with less effort. :)


Unknown said...

They sure did their homework. I know that you make macquettes of your buildings and some characters. One of these days I'm going to make Andar and Mystic Yak macquettes.

Steven K said...

Another great post, Jim. I suspect the "posed" look has more to do with the figurative conventions of his time. Barocci's patrons and audience required their painter's figures to express religious and metaphorical themes, and the painters developed an elaborate visual language to do so - one which we no longer use, so we see the figures as "posed," while his audience would hail them as "expressive" and "thematic." Barocci's process is actually remarkably similar to Cornwell's, Rockwell's, and Lovell's, with the substitution of photography for the wax figurine. Jim, have any of the figurines survived? I'd be curious to see how far he took them.

Anonymous said...

"I still think Todd Lockwood gets bigger props for making more lively scenes with less effort. :)"

And Beethoven just can't rock like Slayer?

Hayden said...

I had no idea! Knowing little abt art I assumed folks just took paint and canvas and began.... this makes it much more comprehensible...

John Valente said...

a great post on one of my favourite renaissance artists whom I had the great pleasure to see in 2010 in Rome and Florence. Thank you for this insightful info!