24 August 2017

Parmigianino - Mannerist painter

Artist from Parma left outstanding legacy

Parmigianino's Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, with which he announced himself in Rome in 1524
Parmigianino's Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, with
which he announced himself in Rome in 1524 
The artist Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola – better known as Parmigianino – died on this day in 1540 in Casalmaggiore, a town on the Po river south-east of Cremona in Lombardy.

Sometimes known as Francesco Mazzola, he was was only 37 years old when he passed away but had nonetheless made sufficient impact with his work to be regarded as an important influence on the period that followed the High Renaissance era of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael.

Known for the refined sensuality of his paintings, Parmigianino – literally ‘the little one from Parma’ – was one of the first generation of Mannerist painters, whose figures exuded elegance and sophistication by the subtle exaggeration of qualities associated with ideal beauty.

Parmigiano is also thought to have been one of the first to develop printmaking using the technique known as etching and through this medium his work was copied, and circulated to many artistic schools in Italy and other countries in northern Europe, where it could be studied and admired.

The church of San Giovanni Evangelista in Parma, where Parmigianino did early work
The church of San Giovanni Evangelista in
Parma, where Parmigianino did early work
Parmigianino’s figures would often have noticeably long and slender limbs and strike elegant poses. He is most famously associated with the Madonna dal collo lungo – Madonna with the Long Neck – which portrays a tall Virgin Mary with long, slender fingers, long, narrow feet and a swan-like neck, cradling a particularly large baby Jesus watched over by a group of lithe and graceful angels.

He is also remembered for The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine, for his fresco series Legend of Diana and Actaeon, executed while he was living in Parma, for his Vision of St Jerome, which he painted in Rome, and for the Madonna with St Margaret and Other Saints that he worked on in Bologna after leaving Rome to escape the sacking of the city by German troops loyal to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.

Parmigianino was born, as the name suggests, in Parma, in 1503, into a large family. His father died when he was two and he was brought up by two uncles, Michele and Pier Ilario, who were both established artists.

His uncles saw his talent at a young age and he would help them on local commissions.  His early influence was said to be Antonio Allegri – otherwise known as Correggio, the foremost painter of the Parma school during the Renaissance, with whom he likely worked at the church of San Giovanni Evangelista, in Parma, where there are frescoes attributed to Parmigianino.

Parmigianino's Madonna with the Long Neck highlights his exaggerated style
Parmigianino's Madonna with the Long
highlights his exaggerated style
In common with many young artists of his era and earlier, he moved to Rome in 1524, seeking fame and inspiration by working in the city of so many great masters, where he could study the works of Raphael and Michelangelo among others. He took with him his brilliantly imaginative Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, which he presented to the Papal court, after which Giorgio Vasari, who is recognised as art’s first historian, noted that he was hailed as 'Raphael reborn'.

Parmigianino and Pier Ilario, along with Maria Bufalina from Città di Castello, collaborated on a project at the church of San Salvatore in Lauro that included an altarpiece of the Vision of Saint Jerome, now on show at the National Gallery in London.

His time in Rome was cut short when the city was destroyed by Charles V’s imperial army in 1527.

Initially, he went to Bologna, where he stayed for almost three years. His works during that time included the Madonna and Child with Saints, which is kept now by the Pinacoteca in Bologna and the Madonna with Saint Zachariah, which is in the Uffizi in Florence.

By 1530 he was back in Parma, where he was paid an advance to produce two altarpieces, depicting Saint Joseph and Saint John the Baptist, for the unfinished church of Santa Maria della Steccata.

He painted the Madonna with the Long Neck after being commissioned by the noblewoman Elena Baiardi to decorate her family chapel in the church of Santa Maria dei Servi in Parma.

For all he was celebrated at his peak, however, Parmigianino was to end his life somewhat in disgrace.

Distracted, it is thought, by his obsession with etching and printmaking techniques, he neglected his commission with the church of Santa Maria della Staccata and was eventually imprisoned for two months for breach of contract and replaced with Giulio Romano.

The monument to Parmigianino in Parma
Released on bail, he took refuge in Casalmaggiore, where he died of a fever. Increasingly eccentric, he was said to have been buried in the church of the Servite Friars naked and with a cross made in cypress wood placed on his chest.

Many Venetian artists, including Jacopo Bassano and Paolo Veronese, are said to have been strongly influenced by the emotional and dramatic qualities in Parmigianino’s work. 

Travel tip:

Despite the unhappy end to his relationship with what is now the Basilica of Santa Maria della Steccata, Parmigianino’s status as one of Parma’s most famous sons is celebrated with a monument immediately in front of the church, in Piazza della Steccata, executed by the sculptor Giovanni Chierici and inaugurated in 1879. The monument consists of a fountain and a statue.

Piazza Garibaldi in Casalmaggiore, looking towards Palazzo Comunale
Piazza Garibaldi in Casalmaggiore, looking
towards Palazzo Comunale 
Travel tip:

Casalmaggiore sits alongside the Po river about 42km (26 miles) south-east from Cremona. It is an attractive town with a lively central square, the Piazza Garibaldi, where there is a weekly market every Saturday and regular outdoor events. Most of the town’s main sights are in the vicinity of the square, including the imposing castellated Palazzo Comunale – the Town Hall – built in 1788, and the Estense tower. Look out also for the Diotti or Bijou Museum, in the basement of the former Collegio Santa Croce, which displays jewellery, ornaments and accessories made in local factories in the late 19th century.

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