Bartolomeo PASSAROTTI (Bologna, 1529 - Bologna, 1592)


A student of the architect Jacopo Vignola, Bartolomeo Passarotti (or Passerotti) was in Rome by 1551, where he is said to have lived and worked with Taddeo Zuccaro. (Indeed, among his earliest works are a series of etchings reproducing drawings by Taddeo). Back in Bologna by 1555, he worked as a portrait painter, soon establishing a reputation as the pre-eminent artist in this field. 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 was awarded several important public commissions, including altarpieces for the churches of San Petronio and San Giacomo Maggiore. He also produced a number of kitchen or genre scenes which, like 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. His students included not only his four children, but also Agostino Carracci.

Passarotti was particularly admired as a draughtsman in his lifetime. His bold draughtsmanship was praised by connoisseurs such as 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 and by later collectors. Much of Passarotti’s drawn oeuvre is made up of boldly drawn anatomical studies, in which the influence of Michelangelo’s pen drawings, with their strong crosshatching, is paramount. Another contemporary writer, Raffaello Borghini, noted that Passarotti compiled an album of his anatomical drawings; these were intended both as exercises and as studies for paintings (‘Fa un libro di notomie d’ossature e di carne, in cui vuol mostrare come si dee apprendere l'arte del disegno per metterlo in opra.’). Many of Passarotti’s drawings – notably a series of elaborate portraits and studies of heads, drawn in pen and ink - are highly finished, and were probably intended to be sold to collectors as works of art in their own right.