Bartolomeo Passarotti
(bologna 1529 – 1592)


oil on paper, laid down on canvas
51.1 x 37 cm. (20.8 x 14.5 in.)
c. 1580


Study for the head of a man
looking down
oil on paper, laid down on canvas
48 x 35.5 cm. (18.9 x 14 in.)
c. 1580

 ‘[…] the great Guido [Reni] estimated the portraits of this man [Bartolomeo Passarotti] […], could be equal to one of those by Carracci and that after Tiziano he did not find anyone to have made them better than the good Passarotti.’

Carlo Cesare Malvasia, Felsina Pittrice, Vol. I, p. 243. (liberal translation)

Bartolomeo Passarotti was born in 1529 in Bologna and not much is known about his early years. According to his first biographer, Raffaele Borghini (1537–1588), Passarotti studied with Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola (1507–1573) and with the architect Taddeo Zuccaro (1529–1566) in Rome, where his presence was first recorded in 1551.1 About a decade later, Passarotti opened a workshop in his home town where he joined the local guild.2 Passarotti went on to become one of the leading artists in Bologna in the 1570s-80s and his services were requested not only by members of the Bolognese upper classes,3 but also by popes and cardinals, demonstrating that his reputation in Rome had not diminished.



Early in his career, Passarotti was clearly influenced by other North Italian artists, such as Antonio da Correggio (1489–1534) and Parmigianino (1503–1540), as well as by some Flemish painters who travelled to Italy, such as Maerten de Vos (1532–1603) and Denijs Calvaert (1540–1619), evident in Passarotti’s minute rendering of detail. Passarotti was also skilled as a draughtsman and engraver and had a large collection of anticaglie (miscellaneous antiquities), which he put on public display and attracted a lot of the intellectual elite. Between 1575 and the early 1580s, Passarotti was the leading painter in Bologna and he is best known today for establishing genre painting in Italy. The everyday butcher shop and fishmonger scenes that Passarotti became known for were influenced by the works of the Flemish painters Pieter Aertsen (1508–1575) and Joachim Beuckelaer (1533–1574).5 Together with Vicenzo Campi (1536–1591), Passarotti paved the way for the production of this pictorial genre in Italy and his work served as a reference for Annibale Carracci’s (1560–1609) characteristic genre pieces.6


These two paintings in The Klesch Collection are preparatory studies to practice specific expressions. They display a pictorial freedom that contrasts with Passarotti’s usual polished style, particularly visible in the loose rendering of the beards, hair and clothing, the latter of which he jotted down with only a couple of strokes. Study for the Head of the Man Looking Down can be linked to Passarotti’s The Fishmongers (private collection), where the character’s head from the study is reused to demonstrate the annoyance at the blaring advertising of the other market vendor. Fishmongers is part of a series of four paintings dating from around the 1580s, which included the Butchers, another Fishmongers (now in the Galleria Nazionale di Palazzo Barberini, Rome) and the Poultry Sellers (Fondazione Longhi, Florence).7 At the end of his career, Passarotti focused on religious paintings and altarpieces and the latest recorded work by him dates from 1588. At his death in 1593, he left a thriving workshop to his four sons and two grandsons who continued in his footsteps as painters.8


1. Angela Ghirardi, “Passarotti [Passerotti], Bartolomeo”, last modified 31 March 2000, accessed 15 March 2022 from,
2. Keith Christiansen, A Caravaggio Rediscovered: The Lute Player, 1990, p. 66.
3. Görel Cavalli-Björkman, “A Bolognese portrait of a butcher,” in The Burlington Magazine, Jul. 1999, Vol. 141, No. 1156, p. 418.
4. Ghirardi, “Passarotti [Passerotti], Bartolomeo.”
5. Sheila McTighe, “Foods and the Body in Italian Genre Paintings, about 1580: Campi, Passarotti, Carracci,” in The Art Bulletin, Jun. 2004, Vol. 86, No. 2, p. 301.
6. Ghirardi, “Passarotti [Passerotti], Bartolomeo.”
7. Daniele Benati, Bartolomeo Passerotti. Studi di teste, Bologna: Savelli Arte Antica, 2013, 7–13.
8. Ghirardi, “Passarotti [Passerotti], Bartolomeo.”