Bologna 1529 - Bologna 1592


Thought to be a student of the architect Jacopo Vignola, Bartolomeo Passarotti (or Passerotti) spent his early years in Rome, arriving there around 1551. There he worked with the painter Taddeo Zuccaro, with whom he also shared a home. Indeed, among his earliest known works are a series of etchings reproducing drawings by Taddeo, as well as further prints after the work of other artists that the young Passarotti would have seen in Rome in the early 1550s. However, no securely datable paintings and hardly any drawings by the artist survive from this formative Roman period. His first documented paintings – notably the high altar of the Bolognese church of San Giacomo Maggiore - date from the middle of the 1560s, when he was already in his mid-thirties, and several years after his return to Bologna from Rome. Passarotti worked mainly as a portrait painter and soon established a reputation as the pre-eminent artist in this field in Bologna. Twice summoned to Rome to paint the portraits of Popes Pius V and Gregory XIII, he counted other members of the papal court among his sitters. In Bologna, Passarotti joined the local guild, the Compagnia delle Quattro Arti, and was awarded several important public commissions, including the altarpieces for the churches of San Petronio and San Giacomo Maggiore. By the 1570s he was recognized as the leading painter in Bologna, although he never seems to have worked in fresco. He also painted a number of kitchen or genre scenes which, like some of his religious pictures, are often signed with his symbol of a passero, or sparrow. As a printmaker, Passarotti produced a handful of etchings, mostly after the work of other artists; this was probably in keeping with his own interests as a collector of paintings, prints, drawings and sculptures. Instrumental in the establishment of an artist’s guild in Bologna, Passarotti supervised a large and active studio, and his students included not only his four children, but also Agostino Carracci, who studied with him in the 1570s. In his lifetime, Passarotti was particularly admired for his drawings, many of which were done as finished, independent works. His bold draughtsmanship was praised by such connoisseurs as the 17th century art historian Carlo Cesare Malvasia (‘la sua penna...fu delle più brave che mai si vedesse...che di qualche disegno di Passarotti non andasse vago e curioso’), and his biographers note that his drawings were highly regarded by his contemporaries as well as by later collectors. The 16th century priest and writer Ignazio Danti, whose portrait was painted by the artist, described Passarotti as ‘one of the most splendid luminaries that the art of Drawing had ever known, for in the handling of his pen he surpassed not only the artists of his own age, but everyone who has come down to us in recent memory. [He is] among those who deserve eternal praise, since it is impossible to attain such excellence without much studying and many a sleepless night.’ As a draughtsman, Passarotti produced compositional and figure studies for his paintings, anatomical studies and drawings of animals; all executed with bravura penmanship. He also drew a series of elaborate and highly finished portraits and studies of heads, in thick, dark strokes of pen and ink, that were probably intended to be sold to collectors as works of art in their own right.