Barbara Longhi began her artistic training by serving as an assistant to her father, the Mannerist painter Luca Longhi (1507-1580). Barbara was born in Ravenna, a city on the western coast of northern Italy, around 1570 and lived and worked there her entire life. During her time as her father's assistant, she worked as his model, and learned how to paint through copying his paintings. In Luca’s workshop, Barbara would have also learned how to market her work to patrons. Barbara’s brother, Francesco, was also a painter, although he did not achieve the same level of fame as their father. Completing her artistic training in 1570, she remained connected with her family and her father’s studio.
Although Longhi was admired for her skill as a portraitist during her lifetime, the Camaldolese Monk
(ca. 1570) is her only known portrait that has survived. This is also the only surviving work that focuses on the depiction of an adult male. The painting Saint Catherine of Alexandria
(1589), is believed to be a self-portrait of Barbara based upon its strong similarity to the portrait of her as St. Barbara in The Madonna Enthroned with Saints
(1570), by Luca Longhi. It is also believed that Barbara modeled for Luca’s Marriage of Cana
The beliefs of the Counter-Reformation are reflected in Longhi’s devotional paintings. These works are characterized by a gentle palette of colors and simple compositions. The small scale of the images (when viewed in comparison to the altarpieces painted by her father) serves to further emphasize the devotional and pious tone meant for the paintings. Thus the focus of her works is on simple reflective depictions and empathy with the painted subjects. These devotional images contrasted with the trend of sweeping historical paintings depicting scenes from the Bible. Mature examples of Longhi’s paintings of Madonna and the baby Jesus combine themes of femininity and motherly love.
It is unknown who Barbara’s patrons were, but she was able to continue to paint and support herself in Ravenna after her father’s death in 1590. It is also unclear whether Longhi ever married. She was eighty-six years old at her death on December 23, 1638. Three documents found around the time of her death, two wills (dated 1624 and 1630) and her death certificate, allow scholars to further define the parameters of her life beyond what can be learned from her paintings.
daughter, student, and assistant of Luca Longhi
sister of Francesco Longhi
influenced by Antonio Allegri Correggio
influenced by Francesco Parmigiano
influenced by Marco Antonio Raimondi
influenced by Agostino Veneziano
influenced by Raphael Sanzio