The Salon Advent Calendar: Day Twenty Three

It is difficult to know the extent of Barbara Longhi’s surviving oeuvre, given that she rarely signed her paintings as her own. The reason if this is lost, although it is difficult to imagine a male artist not attached to a studio who might do the same. Longhi painted a great many versions of the Madonna and Child theme, concentrating on producing devotional pictures that highlighted the human detail of both mother and baby, in Counter-Reformational style. Indeed, twelve of the verified fifteen of her paintings still extant are on this theme. She was also known as a portraitist, although only one of these is still with us - the wonderful painting of the serene Camadolese monk. Serenity seems to be a characteristic of Longhi’s style. This self portrait of herself as St Catherine of Alexandria shows a calm face gazing at the artist, hands at rest. The muted colours contribute to the calm demeanour.


Overlapping Longhi’s life by nearly two decades, the other Barbara, Barbara Strozzi, was also Italian, and also encouraged in her creativity by her father. She started her musical life as a singer, eventually producing a prolific output of mainly secular vocal compositions. As approximately three-quarters of her works are for solo soprano, it is easy imagine Strozzi herself performing them. At least the first of these, a series of madrigals, were settings of poetry by her father; many of the texts of the following works were by anonymous authors. L'Eraclito amoroso is one such anonymous text. It fiercely bewails the death of the singer’s faith in love, the constancy of her tears - “Every sadness assaults me/Every eternal grief.”