Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola
Francesco Mazzola, Parmigiano
Date of Birth:
11 Jan 1503
Date of Death:
24 Aug 1540
Oil, Wood, Other
During his short career, Parmigianino completed a vast body of work, including small panels and large-scale frescoes, sacred and profane subjects, portraits, and drawings of scenes from everyday life and of erotica. He is also credited with inventing etching and was one of the first artists to engrave his own work, distributing it throughout Italy and northern Europe.
Parmigianino widened his circle of influence dramatically because of his involvement in printmaking; through this media his work was copied, and circulated to many artistic schools and far-flung countries where it could be studied and admired. As one of the first Italian etchers he had a dramatic effect on graphic art and printmaking. Furthermore, as an experimental, nonconformist artist he paved the way for other daring painters. Many Venetian artists such as Jacopo Bassano and Paolo Veronese tended to incorporate Parmigianino's high emotions and sense of movement and drama.
Critical perception to Parmigianino has most definitely evolved over time and perhaps falls into two main strands: early critics who saw his work as exaggerated creations in order to challenge the artistic masters of his day and later critics who view it as an effort to translate the spiritual confusions of a turbulent era of history.
The Mannerist movement developed around 1520 in either Florence or Rome and replaced the High Renaissance era. It lasted until around 1580 with the emergence of the Baroque style. Early Mannerist painters include Andea del Sarto, Jacopo Pontormo and Rosso Fiorento.
Born in Parma, Italy, in the year 1503, Parmigianino came from a family of artists. Orphaned at the age of two, he was brought up by his two uncles who were established artists in Parma and saw to his early artistic education. From an early age Parmigianino showed an exceptional talent and often helped his uncles with their local fresco commissions.
Parmigianino's early paintings show the pervasive influence of Correggio. These include The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine and the frescoes in San Giovanni Evangelista, where both artists painted.
Like many artists before him, Parmigianino moved to Rome in 1524 to seek out fame and fortune. The city was the epicenter of artistic antiquities and a place where young artists could study and gain inspiration from the work of the great masters, Raphael and Michelangelo. In Rome, Parmigianino presented his Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror to the Papal court, hoping to gain commissions and was immediately celebrated as 'Raphael reborn'.
Parmigianino was forced to flee Rome when the city was destroyed by German troops in 1527. Three years later Parmigianino returned to Parma, where he was a hailed as a local hero and easily gained work. However, in his later years, Parmigianino's eccentricities and obsession with alchemy got the better of him and he steadily declined.
In 1537, he was imprisoned for failing to complete some of his artistic obligations. Obtaining bail he fled to Casal Maggiore, where he ended his days in exile and disgrace. He was just 37 years old when he died.
Figures in a Ferry Boat
The Madonna and Child with Saints
Parmigianino's style is characterized by lengthening of form, whether this is necks, limbs or shapes. Some of his artworks seem to be fixated by a sense of distortion, and as with many other mannerist artists his work exaggerates the ideal beauty depicted by Raphael and other eminent renaissance artists. Often the colors used are vivid and give an impression of tension and unreal lighting.
Experimental etchings and new media:
An adventurous artist, Parmigianino never stopped experimenting with new mediums and printing techniques. This experimentation can be seen in the range of textures and colors in his drawings and etchings.
Drawings and sketches:
The time Parmigianino devoted to such drawings shows just how much of a fresh and imaginative artist he was. He could easily sketch a complicated scene or portrait with just a few thin lines, and capture a movement or feeling with only a few light strokes.
In his drawings and paintings, if you look closely, you will see that often the subjects are built up by layers of sketchy, hazy brushstrokes, emphasizing the artificiality of the artist's impression of nature.
Parmigianino also often worked with red chalk, which gave his work an energetic quality.
His figures, whether in individual portraits or characters within religious scenes, often seem to be imbued with a subtle or blatant sensuality.
Visually, Parmigianino always tried to play around with spatial relationships in his images and with the proportions of the human figure.
Parmigianino Style and Technique
Virgin and Child with Saints
The work of Correggio had a profound affect upon Parmigianino's style. It is thought that he worked under Correggio in Parma and it is clear that Parmigianino's early paintings are modeled on the older artist's work. Correggio was famous for his technical skill and ability to paint complicated illusions and compositions. A master draftsman, he also loved to experiment with red chalks and different inks.
Leonardo da Vinci:
It was through Correggio that Parmigianino most probably learnt about the techniques and styles of Leonardo da Vinci and his Lombard followers. Even if Correggio did not pass on this artistic knowledge directly, the young Parmigianino probably absorbed and emulated their techniques through studying and analyzing Correggio's work.
One element that he most certainly picked up was the use of 'sfumato' or the smooth blurring of outline and tone. This is most apparent in Parmigianino's drawings where he has used red and black chalks.
After moving to Rome in 1524, where Parmigianino could view firsthand the work of Raphael and Michelangelo, his work acquired a deeper sense of grace and fluidity. He had an abiding involvement with the antique and his many drawings illustrate that Parmigianino studied Roman statues and other classical ornaments.
Parmigianino also copied Raphael's capacity to blend and join figures together to create a sense of harmony and flow. In many of his paintings you can see the charm and grace of Raphael, but Parmigianino also gave his religious paintings a sumptuousness and sensuality that would have perhaps made Raphael recoil from them.
Durer and Printmaking:
Durer was a German painter and printmaker from Nuremburg. He was very successful in spreading his reputation throughout Europe via his prints and this probably inspired Parmigianino and others to follow his lead and distribute their work further afield.
Rokeby Venus, Diego Velazquez
Etching and Printmaking:
Parmigianino's most important legacy was perhaps his influence on the art and technology of printmaking. He is attributed with being one of the first Italian etchers. Influenced by Parmigianino's work artists such as Andrea Schiavone and Battista Franco went on to experiment further with the technique of etching, influencing many more artists to come. Andrea Schiavone in particular learned to etch by studying the prints of Parmigianino.
Bassano always kept abreast of the latest developments in art and Parmigianino's fashionable etchings are evident in his work.
Many of his paintings feature the elongated figures and brilliant colors typical of Parmigianino's style. In his later works you can also see that the figures became more unnatural in their postures and anatomy. His scenes contain the sense of crowded space and movement that became synonymous with Parmigianino's style.
Parmigianino's influence is clear in Veronese's use of dramatic color and illusionistic decor and architecture. Many of his images are almost full to bursting with figures, often arranged in flowing spatial patterns. His most renowned works are known for their grand themes and complex narratives.
This was the epicenter of Parmigianino's cult following. The Bologna school had a great amount of clout among artists and so its appreciation of Parmigianino meant that his work became greatly sought-after, and even small drawings by Parmigianino were hunted down and carefully preserved by art collectors. One artist that admired Parmigianino was Domenico Zampieri who trained at the Carracci academy. He was the leading Italian painter of Baroque classicism in Rome and Bologna.
Velazquez was a Spanish painter from the Baroque period who was famous for his portraits. He traveled twice to Italy and would have been familiar with Parmigianino's work. His controversial painting Rokeby Venus is said to have been inspired by Parmigianino's Cupid Carving his Bow.
Cupid Carving his Bow
Vasari on Parmigianino
'It was said that the spirit of Raphael had entered into his body, when the young man was seen to be as rare a painter and gentle and gracious in his ways as was Raphael.'
When Parmigianino moved to Rome in 1524 and presented his work to the Pope he was hailed as the new Raphael. At the papal court he gained religious commissions and an international reputation. He was in some ways the ideal courtly artist: young, intelligent, with a sophisticated manner and style of work; he wowed critics. It was just a shame for Parmigianino that this early success ended abruptly when Rome was destroyed in 1527 and he was forced to flee the city. War constantly disrupted his ambitions to increase his fame and recognition as an artist.
Vasari was an Italian painter and architect famous for his biographies of Italian artists. In one of his books he referred to Parmigianino and other Mannerist artists of the time as having reached a peak of excellence in style and of having exceeded the accomplishments of the ancient. He wrote, 'style is improved' and that 'by frequently copying the most beautiful things and by combining the finest members, whether hands, heads, bodies, or legs to produce a perfect figure which, being introduced in every work and every figure, forms what is known as fine style. '
However, Vasari later went on to state that Parmigianino's obsession with alchemy and other ungodly beliefs prevented him from becoming the greatest artist of all time.
Whereas Vasari admired Parmigianino's 'motion and breadth', modern critics tend to scrutinize and enjoy the element of tension and anxiety in his paintings, which to the modern critic are indicators of the unrest and religious uncertainty at the time. Modern critics would look beyond the framework of art history and view Parmigianino's rebellion against classical forms as a sign of spiritual malaise. They would perhaps see this anxiety as a direct result of the trauma that the Catholic Church was experiencing in the wake of the reformation.
Parmigianino Critical Reception
To read more about Parmigianino please refer to the recommended reading list below.
• Ekserdjian, David. Parmigianino. Yale University Press, 2006
• Findlen, Paula. The Italian Renaissance: The Essential Readings (Blackwell Essential Readings in History), 2002
• Freedberg, Sydney. Parmigianino: His Works in Painting. Greenwood Press, 1971
• Gombrich, E. H. The Story of Art. London : Phaidon Press, Ltd. , 1995
• Loizeaux, Elizabeth Bergmann. Twentieth-Century Poetry and the Visual Arts, 2008
• Vaccaro, Mary. Parmigianino: The Paintings. Umberto Allenmandi, 2004
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