If you think of the Italian Renaissance as a multiplatinum Billboard chart topper, this SLAM show is an indie-label B-side. Federico Barocci, who hailed from tiny Urbino in northeast Italy, is said to have influenced the likes of Peter Paul Rubens (among other subsequent European masters). At one time a leading figure in Rome, Barocci was allegedly poisoned by a jealous colleague, which sent him back to his hometown, where he nursed chronic stomach ailments while continuing to produce his prodigious (and later celebrated) body of work. Here curator Judith Mann and Babette Bohn (of Texas Christian University) have assembled a dense display of 117 drawings and 17 paintings, on loan from the likes of the Vatican, the Uffizi and other estimable collections. It's a magnificent affair: Porcelain-skinned Virgin Marys wrapped in cerulean veils coddle pudding-fleshed baby Jesuses (Jesi?) while donkeys, cats and other creatures gaze on benevolently. Golden bursts of light break deep-hued night skies as celestial forces bestow the signs of martyrdom. And that's just for starters. Barocci was a tireless planner, rendering hundreds of preliminary sketches (expertly, flawlessly) of his complex and nearly kinetic compositions. Touring the exhibit is like walking through a grand cathedral — in which many of these works once served as altarpieces — leaving you with the crotchety but no less true feeling that B-side or otherwise, they just don't make 'em like they used to. Through January 20, 2013, at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive (in Forest Park); 314-721-0072 or www.slam.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.)
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