Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola, known throughout his artistic career as Parmigianino (a nickname meaning 'the little one from Parma'), was one of the Italian Renaissance's great geniuses. He was one of the first artists to develop the elegant and sophisticated version of Mannerist style. As an artist he was not afraid to push boundaries and break with convention; it was this daring streak that paved the way for other bold artists to continue in the same vein and create work which would be called 'modern' for decades after. Contemporary art critics christened Parmigianino the 'Prince of Mannerism'.
The Mannerism movement was initially a reaction against Classism, and harmonious works of previous artists such Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. It was a style that was notable for its spatial incongruity and elongated forms. It played with the idea of artificial, rather than natural qualities within art.
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.
Parmigianino was a prominent Italian Mannerist painter and printmaker active in Florence, Rome, Bologna, and his native city of Parma. He was lauded as “a Raphael reborn” by his peers. He became a devotee of alchemy. Vasari hypothesizes that this was due to his fascination with magic. Scholars now agree that Parmigianino’s scientific interests may have been due to his obsession with trying to find a new medium for his etchings.
Parmigianino was the eighth child of Filippo Mazzola and Maria di ser Guglielmo. His father died of the plague two years after this son's birth, and the children were raised by their uncles, Michele and Pier Ilario, who according to Vasari were modestly talented artists.
In 1523-1524, Parmigianino frescoed 14 lunnettes depicting episodes from Ovid’s Metamorphosis of "Diane and Acteon" for the ceiling of a room in Duke Galeazzo Sanvitale's Rocca Sanvitale in Fontanellato, some 20 miles from Parma. Also in this period, he met Girolamo Mazzola Bedoli, a fellow apprentice in the shop of Parmigianino's uncles, and who had married Parmigianino's cousin.
condesa de San Segundo y sus hijos
Portrait of Francesco Mazzola
Gian Galeazzo Sanvitale
Count of Fontanellato, 1524
Pedro María Rossi
O Roscio, conde de San Segundo
Museo del Prado
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.
Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror
Autorretrato en espejo convexo
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum
In Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror, above, we get the impression that the artist is the 'hero' of the piece and that the painting celebrates his youthful talent. Parmigianino's direct gaze holds the viewers' attention and the light literally falls on and illuminates the artist. Parmigianino is portrayed as contemplative but there is also an emphasis placed on his hand and it is this which dominates the foreground of the picture.
The artist's hand perhaps represents the manual and technical skill that he deicated to his work. However, his head is also illuminated and central to the picture's composition, stressing the importance of learning and the philosophical nature of the artist.
The mirror enlarged everything that was near and reduced everything in the background and Parmigianino wanted to mimic this effect. At the bottom of the image the artist's hand looms large and dominates the painting.
Unlike Parmigianino, many of the early Renaissance artists used the mirror as a tool to iron out distortions, not to represent them. Mirrors were regarded as a sort of third eye for painters. Leonardo called the mirror the, 'master of painters', and he wrote that 'Painters oftentimes despair of their power to imitate nature, on perceiving how their pictures are lacking in the power of relief and vividness which objects possess when seen in a mirror. . . '
Many Mannerist artists, including Parmigianino, were keen to exploit and employ differing perspectives and conflicting spaces; they dismantled the Renaissance works that promoted a sense of orderly space.
Vasari records that in Rome, Parmigianino was 'celebrated as a Raphael reborn'. Like many other artists, within a year the Sack of Rome caused Parmigianino to flee. After residing in Bologna for nearly three years, by 1530 Parmigianino had returned to Parma.
Portrait of a Man with a Book
Ritratto di uomo con libro
Oil on canvas, 1526
Yorks Museum Trust
City Art Gallery, York, England
The assumption that this painting, above, dates from around 1526 - Parmigianino's Roman sojourn - seems very plausible since its stylistic and psychological unrest mark it as one of the most refined documents of the cultural climate then dominating the court of Clement VII.
The left eye is shaded so as to almost merge with the dark background. Only on close inspection does one notice that the left eye is closer to the outer rim of the eye than the right one. Due to this asymmetry the pupil appears "blind", though this may be the result of a change in the pigments or an earlier retouching. However, the artist may also have intended the effect in order to hide a physical defect such as a damaged or blind eye.
Retrato de hombre, 1530-1531
Óleo sobre table
Galería de los Uffizi, Florencia, Italia
The history of this painting, above, can be traced back to 1682 when it entered the Uffici Galleries and was recorded as one of the self-portraits in the collection of Cosimo III, paintings that came from the collection of Cardinal Leopoldo.
We know that the painting has been identified as a self-portrait by Parmigianino since the 18th century. As such it was included in the Serie degli Uomini più illustri nella Pittura (series of the most famous men in painting). Although there is no documentary evidence and the pysiognomic similarities with other known portraits of Parmigianino are in dispute, the picture's outstanding quality makes the cardinal's determination to identify it as a self-portrait understandable - an important condition for its inclusion in the collection he had assembled.
Oil on canvas, c. 1530-1539
Hampton Court, Royal Collection
Although the author of the inventory called the deity, above, by her Latin name (Minerva), she is depicted wearing a piece of jewellery inscribed with her Greek name, "Athena" . The magnificent piece of jewellery depicts the victory goddess hovering over the city of Athens, holding a palm (a symbol of victory) in her left hand and an olive branch (a symbol of peace) in her right hand.
The warm colour of the skin, so characteristic of Parmigianino, is dramatically contrasted with the shining green of her robe. The delicate gesture of her left hand and the hair falling over her nude breast, together with her dreamy, almost melancholic expression create the exquisite elegance that is so characteristic of the master's ultimate manner.
Oil on canvas, 1534
Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte, Naples
Since 1671 this painting (above) has been inventorised as a portrait of Anthea or the mistress of Parmigianino, purportedly identifying the sitter as a famous courtesan who lived in Rome during the first half of the 16th century. The validity of this identification has always been questioned and this discussion has merged with the debate concerning the dating of the painting. Most scholars do not believe that it was executed in Rome - that is between 1524 and 1526 - the years in which Parmigianino might have fallen in love and portrayed the young woman.
Regardless if whether the portrait depicts a courtesan or not, it is one of the most remarkable examples of Italian Mannerism from the early 16th century.
Parmigianino was a gifted portrait artist and could easily convey the emotions and personality of his subject. Antea's gaze seems to be ambiguous though; her piercing eyes are almost haughty and nonchalant. Her cool demeanor makes the viewer question what she would think of the viewing world.
The viewer feels as though the subject is directly looking at them and judging what she sees and her critical gaze brings to light thoughts about status and positions in society. The relationship between viewer and subject becomes blurred. Once again Parmigianino has managed to create an interesting illusionary effect in his painting; Antea is looking at the viewer in equal measure and intensity as that which they are looking at her.
Parmigianino has manipulated the space in the painting so nothing interrupts the interaction between Antea and the viewer.
The background is bare and dark, except for the shadows and light that illuminate her body. The outline of her figure is sharp and strong as if she could pop out of the picture at any moment. Her hands and face are almost unnaturally smooth and have a marble-like quality; you get the impression that Antea could have been sculpted.
Parmigianino's Antea has fascinated art historians for centuries and is considered by many to be one of the finest examples of Italian female portraiture. Arguably the second-most enchanting and mysterious portraits of the Renaissance after the Mona Lisa, this work intrigues art fans and critics as very little is known about why the painting was commissioned or the identity of the sitter. All that is known is that the artwork was painted when Parmigianino made his final return to Parma.
Antea is rich in symbolism, from the fine clothing and jewelry to the odd proportions and suggestiveness of the subject's body. Parmigianino has created an odd and boldly confident beauty that fixes the viewer with her audacious gaze.
Like the Mona Lisa, Antea has the same, almost fierce eye contact with the viewer and she too appears enigmatic and unattainable.
Venus and Mars with Putti
Pen and brown ink on cream laid paper
laid down on ivory laid paper
The Leonora Hall Gurley Memorial Collection
From The Art Institute of Chicago at artic.edu
Wise Virgins, Allegorical Figures And Plants
Wise Virgins, Allegorical Figures And Plants
Parmigianino was also an early Italian etcher, a technique that was pioneered in Italy by Marcantonio Raimondi, but which appealed to draughtsmen: though the techniques of printing the copper plates require special skills, the ease with which acid, when substituted for ink, can reproduce the spontaneity of an artist's hand attracted Parmigianino, a "master of elegant figure drawing". Parmigianino also designed chiaroscuro woodcuts, and although his output was small he had a considerable influence on Italian printmaking. Some of his prints were done in collaboration with Giovanni Jacopo Caraglio.
Parmigianino had a massive stylistic influence on Mannerism and sixteenth-century graphic art in general. He successfully managed to combine in his work the graceful and elegant style of the great masters with a new sense of movement and a striving for a sensuous beauty beyond nature. Many of his paintings contain within them mysterious ambiguities and conceal strains and tensions of the time.
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 died in Casalmaggiore on the 24 August 1540 at the age of 37 years, and is buried in the church of the Frati de' Servi "naked with a cross made of cypress wood on his chest".