In Italian, Bartolomeo Passarotti's last name means "little sparrow." His many works signed with a drawing of the little bird prove the existence of his thriving workshop in Bologna. Documented in Rome in 1551, Passarotti worked with an architect and then with Taddeo Zuccaro. Returning to Bologna around 1560, Passarotti established a museum for his small antiquities, which became a must-see for travelers passing through Bologna. He maintained his links to Rome as a portraitist of popes and cardinals, along with local people. Following Mannerist conventions of grace, he represented them in elongated form and with an attitude of dry elegance. Between 1575 and the early 1580s, Passarotti was Bologna's pre-eminent painter. He produced many altarpieces while also initiating a completely unique type of genre scene. Taking place mostly in butcher shops, these humorous yet poignant pictures combined almost trompe-l'oeilstill lifes of meats with human caricature. His pupil Agostino Carracci adopted a similar emphasis on genre paintings using naturalistic observation.
Praised by early biographers as a draftsman and engraver, Passarotti employed a distinctive cross-hatching. His anatomical interest in powerful, acrobatic figures, dramatically evident in his drawings, probably derived from Pellegrino Tibaldi's Bolognese works.