Barbara Longhi – Combining Human Warmth and Brilliance of Colors in Art

Barbara Longhi was born in Ravenna, Italy, in 1552. Her father, Luca Longhi was a Miniaturist and painter. Barbara was one of the few women artists from the Renaissance Era who gained prominence on the account of their significant cultural shifts, particularly to Humanism, in the period. Very less details are available about her life and works. Professionally, she helped her father in creating huge altarpieces. Most of her works had a lot of resemblance with that of her father. Out of her 15 paintings, 12 have Madonna and Child as the concept. A famous Italian painter and biographer Giorgio Vasari praised Barbara’s works for their “purity of line and soft brilliance of color.” Fond warmth between Madonna and the infant significantly characterize these compositions. At that time, the artist, though well known locally, did not gain any recognition outside her native place.

Most of the early works of Longhi were simple artworks that laid more emphasis on linearity than modeling. She painted ‘St Catherine of Alexandria’ (1589) for the Monastery of Classe, Ravenna. This painting is considered as Barbara’s self-portrait. In the following years, she began to use colors that were more brilliant. Additionally, she started using a technique that was borrowed from painters such as Correggio and Parmigianino, in which a curtain was draped around a column with the sky or landscape in the backdrop. This is clearly seen in one of her paintings called the ‘Virgin and Child with St John the Baptist’ (1595-1600). This gave the artist’s works a unique identity.

The painter also used pyramidal composition as well as the Sfumato Technique in her artworks, which offer the glimpses of the styles of Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. After 1600, Barbara Longhi shifted her focus to painting religious and devotional scenes in the place of full-figure artworks set in an architectural setup. This new style was a reflection of the strong religious ideas of the Counter Reformation process happening in society then. One of her most significant devotional creations that is also an expression of the ideas of the Counter Reformation is ‘The Virgin with Sleeping Child’ (1600-05). This painting focused on the close relation between the viewer and the depicted figures, instead of Mannerism. Commenting on Barbara’s paintings, Germaine Greer said, “Her output was considerable, and her pictures, all small, are remarkable for their purity of line and soft brilliance of color intensity and feeling that is captured in these paintings.” Barbara Longhi died in the year 1638 but not before, she had created a niche for herself through her unique style and paintings.