Biography/Paintings of Italian Mannerist Painter.

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Madonna of the Long Neck (1535)
Uffizi, Florence. A complex and
intellectual style of Christian art
which became frowned upon by
the Catholic Counter Reformation.

For an idea of the pigments
used by Parmigianino
in his colour painting,
see: Renaissance Colour Palette.

Parmigianino (1503-40)

Among the most precociously gifted Old Masters of the Mannerism era, Parmigianino was an Italian painter and printmaker who was a leading light of the Parma School of painting (1520-50). Influenced by the High Renaissance art of Correggio (1494-1534), Raphael (1483-1520) and Michelangelo (1475-1564), Parmigianino's painting is characterized by emotionally-intense elongated figures, executed with enormous refinement and grace. The landscape settings of his religious works have a mysterious quality which influenced his follower Niccolo dell' Abate (1510-71) and, through him, the Fontainebleau School of French art. In addition to religious art, notably frescoes, altarpiece panel paintings and the like, he was noted for his subtle portrait art, his chiaroscuro woodcuts and his etching. He had a weakness for trompe l'oeil and other unusual spatial effects, as in his famous Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1524, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). In addition to his painting, he produced some of the best drawings of the Renaissance. Noted examples of Mannerist painting by Parmigianino, include: The Vision of St. Jerome (1526-7, National Gallery, London); Madonna of the Long Neck (1535, Uffizi); the altarpiece Madonna and Child with St John the Baptist and St Jerome (1527), Portrait of a Lady (Antea) (1524-7, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples); Madonna with a Rose (c.1530, Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden).

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Early Days

Parmigianino, born Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola, was the son of a successful painter, Filippo Mazzola, who tragically died while Parmigianino was still a child. As a result he was brought up by his uncles, Michele and Pier Ilario Mazzola, who were also painters. The boy showed an extraordinary precocity, producing his first canvas, a Baptism of Christ, when he was only 14; this may be the painting now in the Gemaldegalerie, Berlin. His first frescoes, still to be seen in the Church of S. Giovanni Evangelista in Parma, reveal the influence of Correggio and, in their dynamic colour and forceful composition, of Anselmi and Pordenone (1483-1539).

The earliest work which may reliably be attributed to Parmigianino is The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine (1521, Bardi, Church of S. Maria). It has an elegance and delicacy which show his prodigious skill in drawing, and was the first of a series of religious paintings (The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Seilern Collection, London; St Catherine, 1523-4, Stadel. Institute, Frankfurt; The Holy Family, 1524, Prado). In 1523 Count Galeazzo Sanvitale (of whom Parmigianino painted a magnificent portrait; 1524, Museo di Capodimonte, Naples) commissioned him to decorate the boudoir of Paola Gonzaga at Fontanellato. These exquisite fresco paintings, showing Diana and Actaeon, rival Corregggio's Camera di San Paolo.



In 1524, leaving unfinished his work in the choir of the Church of S. Maria della Steccata, Parmigianino went to Rome, taking with him several of his canvases, including his Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (KM. Vienna), a masterpiece of Mannerism. There is little documentation of this period in Parmigianino's life, although it is known that he studied Renaissance art, made copies of classical works and studied Michelangelo and especially Raphael at first hand. He collaborated with other Mannerist painters like Perino del Vaga (1500-46), Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547) and Rosso Fiorentino (1494-1540), with whom he worked in a palazzo in the Via Giulia. He painted small delicate panel paintings, including new versions of The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine and The Rest on the Flight into Egypt (Palazzo Doria, Rome) and probably some portraits.


The sack of Rome forced Parmigianino to flee to Bologna, where for three years (1527-30) he was extremely active. His St Roch (Basilica of S. Petronio) delighted Vasari with its learned use of arabesques, and was the first of a series of more ambitious works such as the great Madonna with St Margaret and Other Saints (1528-9, P.N. Bologna) or The Madonna and Child, the Infant St John, the Magdalene and St Zacharias (c.1530, Uffizi, Florence) with its delicate landscape background. He also painted The Conversion of St Paul (1528, K.M. Vienna) and The Madonna of the Rose (1528-30, Gemaldegalerie, Dresden), a strange mix of sensuousness and refinement. His contemporaries saw the genius of Raphael coming to life again in Parmigianino's oil painting.

In 1530, in Bologna, Parmigianino took part in the coronation celebrations of the Emperor Charles V, and painted his portrait from memory (formerly in the Cook Collection, Richmond, UK). Many other portraits date from this time (to be found today in Uffizi, Florence; Gal. Borghese, Rome; Capodimonte, Naples; G.N. Parma; K.M. Vienna; Hampton Court).

Return To Parma

That same year, hearing that Correggio had left Parma, Parmigianino returned to his native city, by now at the peak of his career. Brilliant draughtsman, exquisite colourist, and endowed with an original mind, he was destined for greatness, but his neurotic personality made him increasingly restless, and an incessant quest for perfection of form (Amor, 1531-4, Vienna, KM.) caused him to leave many of his most beautiful works unfinished, including The Madonna with the Long Neck (c.1535, Florence, Uffizi).

This gradual change in his character partly explains his quarrel with the chapter of S. Maria della Steccata where he worked for some years (1530-4) on an ambitious series of frescoes for the vault. The numerous drawings that have survived show elegant female figures placed in harmonious symmetry, almost abstract in their rhythmic execution. The portraits Parmigianino did at this time also express great spiritual insight and something of his own mental anguish (The Count and Countess of San Secondo, 1532-5, Prado; and especially his strange Portrait of a Lady (Antea) (1535-7, Capodimonte, Naples). After about six years the artist had made very little progress on his Steccata frescoes, and had to flee to Casal Maggiore to escape imprisonment for default. He did not give up his quest for perfection, eventually stripping his work to the bare essentials (Madonna and Child with St Stephen, John the Baptist and a Donor, Gg, Dresden; Lucretia, Capodimonte Museum, Naples).

He died prematurely at Casal Maggiore in his 37th year, having changed from the gentle, elegant person he used to be, to an unkempt, wild man because, says Vasari, of his obsession with magic and alchemy. His influence, which was enormous, remained. He was one of the most sensitive of the Mannerist artists, and his splendid drawings, as engravings, carried his fame far and wide.


Paintings by Parmigianino can be seen in many of the best art museums throughout the world. There is a superb collection in the Louvre, and others in the Parma National Gallery, the Uffizi, the Albertina, the British Museum, Windsor Castle and Budapest Museum.

For biographies of more Mannerist painters, see: Pontormo (1494-1556), Arcimboldo (1527-93), and Jacopo Bassano (Jacopo da Ponte) (1515-1592).

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