Federico Barocci, who was born in Urbino in 1535, trained in the city where he was born. After an early stay in Rome, between 1561 and 1563, when he worked in Pio IV’s lodge in the Vatican, he returned to Urbino where he stayed until he died (1612).
Despite his isolation in the little city of the Marches, which had lost its position as capital of the Duchy to the more modern Pesaro, Federico Barocci’s painting attained conspicuous success, inspiring even Rubens and the classicists of Bologna with its absolutely personal and innovative language, and with its close adherence to the ideas and desires of the Counter-Reformation.
The Madonna and Child with St Simon and St Jude, known as the Madonna di San Simone, must have been made in 1567 for early historiographers (Borghini, Bellori, Lanzi) all state that the painter finished the work before moving to Perugia where, as from that year until 1569, he worked on his revolutionary Descent from the Cross for the Cathedral.
According to Andrea Emiliani, the Urbino painting was completed before 28 October, the feast day of St Simon and St Jude. The saints are depicted next to the Madonna and Child and are recognisable for their traditional iconographical symbols: St Simon with a saw, St Jude with a lance. So far, no documents have revealed the names of the patrons, who are shown lower right: the work is mentioned in the register of the convent of San Francesco but indicates only the name of the painter, without providing further information.
It has links with Barocci’s early works, in particular with the Madonna and Child in Pio IV’s lodge, but the Zuccaro-like spatial arrangement is reinterpreted with a pictorial style which derives from Correggio. Barocci did indeed build up his own pictorial language partly on the Late Mannerist culture of Rome, and partly on the Emilian, particularly the Correggesque, tradition.
Maria Rosaria Valazzi