July 23, 2004


The Venetian painter and graphic artist Jacopo de’Barbari was born sometime in the mid-15th Century. Almost nothing is documented of his early life, and estimates of his year of birth vary from 1440 to 1470. It is thought that de’Barbari met Albrecht Dürer during the latter’s first trip to Venice in 1495: it is presumed that the Venetian was a well-established painter and engraver by this time. A famous portrait of the mathematician Luca Pacioli, dating from 1495, has been attributed to de’Barbari, but the styling of the figures in this composition strikes me as quite unlike that in the artist’s better-attested works. Another remarkable work credited to ‘Meister Jakob’ (as Dürer sometimes referred to him), is an elaborate map from an aerial perspective of the city of Venice, dating from about 1500.

'Triton and Nereid', engraving by Jacopo de'Barbari, ca. 1500-10.


'Victory Reclining amid Trophies', engraving by Jacopo de'Barbari, ca. 1500-10.

De’Barbari’s fame had evidently spread as far as Germany, as, in 1500, he was summoned to the Court of the Emperor Maximilian I. Thereafter, he lived in Nuremberg for at least a year, before moving on to Torgau, Naumburg, Wittenberg and Weimar. Dürer and de’Barbari renewed their acquaintance during the latter’s German sojourn, and the Venetian also came into contact with Lucas Cranach the Elder. It is thought that many of the artist’s surviving engravings date from his time in Germany. Also from this period, de’Barbari’s Still-Life with Pheasant and Iron Gloves is the earliest known signed & dated pure still-life painting. Note that this canvas bears both de’Barbari’s name, and the sign of the caduceus: on the engravings, this symbol takes the place of a signature.

'The Man with the Cradle', engraving by Jacopo de'Barbari, ca. 1500-10.

In 1510 de’Barbari is mentioned as painter to the Duchess Margaret, Regent of the Netherlands. The following year, the Duchess granted him a generous pension. He died sometime between 1511 and 1516. Of his work, a few dozen engravings and a small number of paintings and woodcuts survive. Besides the still-life mentioned above, there is a painting of a Sparrowhawk (thought to be a detail cut from a larger canvas) by his hand at the National Gallery in London; a Madonna and Child (Between St John the Baptist and St Anthony) at the Louvre; and a striking Portrait of Christ at Weimar.

'A Satyr Playing the Fiddle', engraving by Jacopo de'Barbari, ca. 1500-10.


'A Satyr with a Wine-Skin', engraving by Jacopo de'Barbari, ca. 1500-10.

In his book Four Early Italian Engravers (my source for the present images), Tancred Borenius describes the figures in de’Barbari’s engravings as having ‘drooping attitudes’ and ‘langorous expressions’ with ‘long, softly gliding curves that seem an echo of Gothic art.’

'A Centaur Pursued by Dragons', engraving by Jacopo de'Barbari, ca. 1500-10.

Although most of the images I’ve chosen to present here have subjects drawn from Classical mythology, there are at least as many straightforwardly religious subjects in de’Barbari’s graphic oeuvre. The present images are, from top to bottom: Triton and Nereid, Victory Reclining amid Trophies, The Man with the Cradle, A Satyr Playing the Fiddle, A Satyr with a Wine-Skin, A Centaur Pursued by Dragons, The Guardian Angel and Mars and Venus.

'The Guardian Angel', engraving by Jacopo de'Barbari, ca. 1500-10.


'Mars and Venus', engraving by Jacopo de'Barbari, ca. 1500-10.

Click on the images to see them enlarged…

Posted by misteraitch at July 23, 2004 12:14 PM | TrackBack

Bruce Sterling, via wired, gave me the link to your blog. Nice work.
re Barbari: I loved the Pacioli and the museum in Naples... how widespread is the doubt as to its painter? Barbari has been credited also as the first "Still Life" painter, which must be an overstatement...

Posted by: giordano Bruno on July 26, 2004 06:18 AM

From what little I’ve read about it, it seems to me that the attribution of the Pacioli canvas to de’Barbari is someone’s educated guess, although, who knows, there may be some documentary evidence too, which would clinch it. The attribution can’t be a traditional one, or I’m sure that Borenius would have mentioned it in Four Early Italian Engravers, which was written in the early ‘20s. To me, the figures in de’Barbari’s engravings (and also in the Madonna & Child painting and the portrait of Christ I link to above) have a certain odd, rather ‘mediaeval’ look about them, which I don’t see in the Pacioli picture. Of course, that proves nothing, and I am far from being an expert in these matters…

Posted by: misteraitch on July 26, 2004 09:29 AM


Posted by: GIOVANNI BARCA on September 27, 2004 09:54 PM

Grazie for the fascinating link, Giovanni. I now understand, having read this page, how the Pacioli canvas came to be attributed to de‘Barbari: a ‘cartiglio’ (a painted scrap of paper) on the right hand side of the table carries the inscription “IACO.BAR. VIGENNIS. P. 1495”, ‘apparent abbreviated signature and ineluctable & unresolved cipher [crittographia] rendered even more ambigious by the superimposed representation of a fly [una mosca].’ Certainly “IACO.BAR.” could be Jacopo de ‘Barbari, although this still doesn’t explain “VIGENNIS.” The page collects some circumstantial evidence in support of an attribution to Leonardo da Vinci…

Posted by: misteraitch on September 28, 2004 11:24 AM

Great job !! I'm working on Jacopo's life and connections in Venezia.
Can you supply the bibliography you have used for your work.
Many Thanks
Gildo Venezia

Posted by: gildo on December 28, 2004 11:28 AM
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