Parma School of Painting
History, Characteristics, Artists.

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Parma School of Painting (1520-50)

Assumption of the Virgin in Parma Cathedral (1524-30). By Correggio.


The Renaissance in Italy
Parma School - History, Characteristics, Artists

For a general guide to the evolution of painting, sculpture and
other artforms, see: History of Art (2.5 Million BCE -present).


The Renaissance in Italy

The Italian Renaissance did not errupt simultaneously across Italy. Rather, it unfolded gradually in three main locations. First, there was the Florentine Renaissance (c.1400-90); then, thanks largely to Pope Julius II (1503-13), nephew of Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84), the focus of attention moved to the development of Renaissance art in Rome (c.1490-1540). Slightly later, came the luscious oil painting that exemplified Renaissance art in Venice (c.1510-1550). Lesser provincial centres of Renaissance art emerged after 1450 - usually due to the presence of a wealthy patron, coupled with one or two local Old Masters (the Bolognese School had Giovanni II Bentivoglio and the Carracci artists), or a single outstanding master (such as Andrea Mantegna who became court painter to Ludovico Gonzaga, in Mantua). In the north of Italy, in addition to Bologna, these provincial schools of painting included that of Ferrara - patronized by the Este family who nurtured a talented school of local artists, headed by Cosme Tura (1430-95) and Ercole de' Roberti (1451-96) - and that of its westerly neighbour Parma.

Parma School - History, Characteristics, Artists

The quiet city of Parma, situated in the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna - between Milan and Florence - houses two of Europe's oldest cultural centres: Parma Cathedral (built 1059-1178) and the University of Parma (founded 1117). Although no doubt aware of artistic developments during the quattrocento, the city only emerged into the limelight during the careers of its two 'favourite sons' the melancholic, introverted painter Antonio Allegri, known as Correggio (1494-1534), and the precocious but eccentric Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola, called Parmigianino (1503–1540). A third outstanding artist from Parma, Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647), whose Baroque painting was heavily influenced by Correggio, is discounted as he was active only in Rome and Naples.



Correggio (1494-1534)

It was above all Correggio was the creative genius who put Parma painting on the map, transforming the city with his astounding frescoes in the process. Influenced by the Camera Degli Sposi Frescoes (1465-74) of Andrea Mantegna, and by the Forli-born Melozzo da Forli (1438-94), Correggio is renowned for his mastery of illusionistic mural painting, employing both the trompe l'oeil device "di sotto in su" (an extreme form of foreshortening), as well as the technique of "quadratura" in which images are painted onto ceilings or walls so as to seemingly extend the architecture of the room into an imaginary space beyond the confines of the actual ceiling or wall. All of which depended on the extrapolation of the mechanics of linear perspective. His greatest paintings include the Assumption of the Virgin (1524-30), decorating the dome of Parma Cathedral, and the Vision of St. John the Evangelist on Patmos (1520–22) on the cupola of the abbey church of San Giovanni Evangelista. The spectacular thrusting perspective towards divine infinity of these two fresco paintings, was wholly without precedent. These two awesome works of Biblical art had a profound impact on future fresco artists, from Gaudenzio Ferrari (1470/80-1546) in his decoration of the cupola of Santa Maria dei Miracoli in Saronno, to Pordenone (1483-1539) in his fresco from Treviso, and Carlo Cignani (1628-1719) in his fresco Assumption of the Virgin, in the cathedral church of Forli, to the Baroque art of Lanfranco (1582-1647), Pietro da Cortona (1596–1669), Baciccio (1639-1709), and Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709) in Rome, and the Rococo art of Tiepolo (1696-1770) in Germany.

His mythological painting was also considerably ahead of its time: see, for instance, the wonderful Jupiter and Io (1531-32, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). In addition, he was responsible for some of the best Renaissance drawings in Italy.

Madonna of the Long Neck (1535)
Church of S. Maria del Servi, Parma.
By Parmigianino.

Parmigianino (1503–1540)

After Correggio, the most important Emilian painter of the first half of the cinquecento was the equally shortlived Parmigianino. Although the chronological heir to Correggio, he moved in a different direction during his mature period, becoming one of the greatest Mannerist artists of the day. Marked by icy lighting, elongated forms, and distorted spatial effects, his style of Mannerist painting possessed a certain offbeat emotional intensity, often accompanied by erotic undertones. In 1524, his early career in Rome was cut short by the sack of the city by foreign troops in 1527. Between the years 1527 and 1539, he worked first in Bologna and then again in Parma, creating a quantity of altarpiece art and other religious paintings, including his masterpiece Madonna with the Long Neck (1535, Uffizi) for the church of S. Maria del Servi, Parma. His unique style Like Correggio he was also a master of drawing, deploying a range of techniques and different media for preparatory studies as well as independent works that had a significant impact on the development of preliminary designs for printmaking, in Italy and elsewhere.

Largely as a result of the groundbreaking artistry of Correggio and Parmigianino, Parma became a crucial influence in the evolution of Mannerism and Catholic Counter-Reformation art of the 16th century.

Other artists active in Parma include: Bertolino de'Grossi, noted for his 15th century frescoes in the Capella del Comune and the Valeri Chapel, Parma Cathedral; Luchino Bianchini, noted for his works in the Cathedral Sacristy; Michelangelo Anselmi (1492-1554), noted for his decorations in San Giovanni Evangelista, and an altarpiece in the cathedral; and Girolamo Mazzola Bedoli (1500-69), noted for his "Christ, Mary, Saints, and Angels in Glory" (1538-44) which decorates the apse cupola of the duomo.


• For details of art styles, see: History of Art Timeline.
• For a quick guide to specific styles, see: Art Movements.
• For more about Renaissance painting in northern Italy, see: Homepage.

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