The Triumph of the City

The High Renaissance


(Renaissance  Art Map)


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Vision of St. John the Evangelist
fresco in dome, San Giovanni Evangelista, Parma, 1520-23


In the early 1520s, two great northern Italian masters, Correggio and Parmigianino (1503—40), made an important contribution to the art of decoration with their frescos for the church of San Giovanni Evangelista at Parma and the Rocca di San Vitale at Fontanellato, respectively. Both Correggio in his Vision of St John the Evangelist and Parmigianino in his Myth of Diana and Actaeon display their innate talent for naturalism. In the San Giovanni dome there are various Roman, and mainly Raphaelesque, features, but Correggio frees the scene totally of architectural elements, leaving the figures in a vortex of light and clouds. This anticipates the most liberal of Baroque compositions. While still young, Parmigianino, from nearby Fontanellato, was influenced by Correggio. However, he was already proving himself more fluent and refined than his elder, preferring more intimate scenes. His trip to Rome in 1524 and contact with Michelangelo eventually led him away from the High Renaissance style towards Mannerism, accentuating the formal aestheticism and delicate balance, while maintaining a highly refined sense of colour and composition.


Myth of Diana and Acteon
ceiling in the Rossa di San Vitale, Fontanellato, c. 1522

See collection: Correggio


born August 1494, Correggio, Modena
died March 5, 1534, Correggio

byname of Antonio Allegri most important Renaissance painter of the school of Parma, whose late works influenced the style of many Baroque and Rococo artists. His first important works are the convent ceiling of S.Paolo (c. 1519), Parma, depicting allegories on Humanist themes, and the frescoes in S. Giovanni Evangelista, Parma (1520–23), and the cathedral of Parma (1526–30). The “Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine” (c. 1526) is among the finest of his poetic late oil paintings.

Early life and career

His father was Pellegrino Allegri, a tradesman living at Correggio, the small city in which Antonio was born and died, and whose name he took as his own. He was not, as it is often alleged, a self-taught artist. His early work refutes the theory, for it shows an educated knowledge of optics, perspective, architecture, sculpture, and anatomy. His initial instruction probably came from his uncle, Lorenzo Allegri, a painter of moderate ability, at Correggio. About 1503 he probably studied in Modena and then went to Mantua, arriving before the death in 1506 of the famed early Renaissance painter Andrea Mantegna. It has traditionally been said that he completed the decoration of Mantegna's family chapel in the church of S. Andrea at Mantua after the artist's death. It seems certain the two round paintings, or tondi, of the “Entombment of Christ” and “Madonna and Saints” are by the young Correggio. Although his early works are pervaded with his knowledge of Mantegna's art, hisartistic temperament was more akin to that of Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), who had a commanding influence upon almost all of the Renaissance painters of northern Italy. Where Mantegna uses tightly controlled line to define form, Correggio, like Leonardo, prefers chiaroscuro, or a subtle manipulation of light and shade creating softness of contour and an atmospheric effect. It is also fairly certain that early in his career he visited Rome and came under the influence of the Vatican frescoes of Michelangelo and Raphael.

Leaving Mantua, Correggio's time was divided between Parma and his hometown. His first documented painting, an altarpiece of the “Madonna of St. Francis,” was commissioned for S. Francesco at Correggio in 1514. The best known works of his youth are a group of devotional pictures that became increasingly luscious in colour. They include the “Nativity” (Brera, Milan), “Adoration of the Kings,” and “Christ Taking Leave of His Mother.”

Mature works

Correggio's mature style emerged with his first commission for Parma, the ceiling of the abbess' parlour in the convent of S. Paolo, which was probably executed about 1518–19. Although there are echoes in this work of Mantegna's murals in the Castello at Mantua (1494), it was wholly original in conception. The abbess Giovanna de Piacenza secured for Correggio another important appointment, to decorate the dome of the church of S. Giovanni Evangelista at Parma. The dome fresco of the “Ascension of Christ” (1520–23) was followed by the decoration of the apse of the same church, of which only the segment entitled “Coronation of the Virgin” survives (Galleria Nazionale, Parma), the remainder having been destroyed in 1587. This work was still in the High Renaissance tradition and owed much to Michelangelo.

The fresco of the “Assumption of the Virgin” in the dome of the cathedral of Parma marks the culmination of Correggio's career as a mural painter. This fresco (a painting in plaster with water-soluble pigments) anticipates the Baroque style of dramatically illusionistic ceiling painting. The entire architectural surface is treated as a single pictorial unit of vast proportions, equating the dome of the church with the vault of heaven. The realistic way the figures in the clouds seem to protrude into the spectators' space is an audacious and astounding use for the time of foreshortening.

The remainder of Correggio's most famous works, the dates of few known with certainty, fall into three groups: the great altarpieces (and a few other large religious compositions); exquisite small works of private devotion; and a handful of mythological subjects of a lyrically sensuous character. Many of the altarpieces became so well known that they acquired nicknames. The “Adoration of the Shepherds” (c. 1530; Gemaldegalerie, Dresden, Ger.) is called “Night” (“La Notte”), and the “Madonna of St. Jerome” (Galleria Nazionale, Parma) is popularly known as “Day” (“Il Giorno”).The late altarpieces are generally characterized by an intimate and domestic mood sustained between idealized figures. This intimate and homely poetry also distinguishes the small devotional works, such as “The Madonna of the Basket” or “The Virgin Adoring the Child Jesus” (Uffizi, Florence), while the “Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine” is a visual essay in the mid-16th-century aesthetic of ideal feminine beauty. In these late works Correggio fully exploited the medium of oil painting. He was intrigued with the sensual beauty of paint texture and achieved his most remarkable effects in a series of mythological works, including the “Danae” (Borghese Gallery, Rome), “The Rape of Ganymede,” and “Jupiter and Io” (both in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). The sensuous characterof the subject matter is enhanced by the quality of the paint, which seems to have been lightly breathed onto the canvas. These pictures carry the erotic to the limits it can go without becoming offensive or pornographic.

Although his influence can be detected in later Parmese painting, especially in the Mannerist style of Parmigianino (1503–40), Correggio had many imitators but no direct pupils who deserve mention. His decorative ideas were taken up by the Baroque painters of the 17th century, particularly in the ceiling painting of Giovanni Lanfranco (1582–1647), himself a native of Parma. Correggio became almost a tutelary deity of the French Rococo style, and his great altarpieces were among the works most abundantly copied by the travelling artists of the 18th century during their years of study in Italy.

Sir Ellis K. Waterhouse



The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine
National Gallery of Art, Washington



Nativity (Holy Night)
Oil on canvas, 256,5 x 188 cm
Gemaldegalerie, Dresden


Madonna with St. Jerome (The Day)
about 1522
Oil on canvas, 205,7 x 141 cm
Galleria Nazionale, Parma


Venus and Cupid with a Satyr
about 1528
Oil on canvas, 188,5 x 125,5 cm
Musee du Louvre, Paris


Tempera on panel, 161 x 193 cm
Galleria Borghese, Rome


Jupiter and Io
Oil on canvas, 163,5 x 70,5 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna




See collection: Parmigianino


born Jan. 11, 1503, Parma, Duchy of Milan
died Aug. 24, 1540, Casalmaggiore, Cremona

also called Parmigiano , byname of Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola , or Mazzuoli painter who was one of the first artists to develop the elegant and sophisticated version of Mannerist style that became a formative influence on the post-High Renaissance generation.

There is no doubt that Correggio was the strongest single influence on Parmigianino's early development, but he probably was never a pupil of that master. The influence is apparent in Parmigianino's first important work, the “Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine” (c. 1521). About 1522–23 he executed two series of frescoes: one series in two side chapels of S. Giovanni Evangelista, in Parma, executed contemporaneously with Correggio's great murals on the dome and pendentives of that church, and the other, representing the “Legend of Diana and Actaeon,” on the ceiling of a room in the castle of Fontanellato just outside Parma. The scheme of the latter decoration recalls Correggio's work in the Camera di San Paolo in Parma.

In 1524 Parmigianino moved to Rome, taking with him three specimens of his work to impress the pope, including the famous self-portrait that he had painted on a convex panel from his reflection in a convex mirror. His chief painting donein Rome is the large “Vision of St. Jerome” (1527). Although this work shows the influence of Michelangelo, it was Raphael's ideal beauty of form and feature that influenced his entire oeuvre. While at work on the “Vision of St. Jerome” in 1527 he was interrupted by soldiers of the imperial army taking part in the sack of Rome, and he left for Bologna. There he painted one of his masterpieces, the “Madonna with St. Margaret and Other Saints.” In 1531 he returned to Parma, where he remained for the rest of his life, the principal works of this last period being the “Madonna dal Collo Lungo” (1534; “Madonna of the Long Neck”) and the frescoes on the vault preceding the apse of Sta. Maria della Steccata. The latter were to have been only part of a much larger scheme of decoration in the church, but Parmigianino was extremely dilatory over their execution, and he was eventually imprisoned for breaking his contract.

Parmigianino was one of the most remarkable portrait painters of the century outside Venice. Some of his best portraits are in Naples, in the Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte, including the “Gian Galeazzo Sanvitale” (1524) and the portrait of a young woman called “Antea” (c. 1535–37).

The style that he developed was, in its suave attenuations and technical virtuosity, one of the most brilliant and influential manifestations of Mannerism. It was an extreme development of Raphael's late manner and weakened the naturalistic basis inherent in High Renaissance art.

Parmigianino's works are distinguished by ambiguity of spatial composition, by distortion and elongation of the human figure, and by the pursuit of what the art historian Vasari called “grace”; that is to say, a rhythmical, sensuous beauty beyond the beauty of nature. This last quality of attenuated elegance is evident not only in Parmigianino's paintings but also in his numerous and sensitive drawings. One of the first Italian artists to practice etching, Parmigianino used the etching needle with the freedom of a pen, usually to reproduce his own drawings, which were in great demand.



Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine
Oil on panel
National Gallery, London





The Vision of St Jerome
Oil on wood, 343 x 149 cm
National Gallery, London



Madonna with Long Neck
Oil on panel, 216 x 132 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence


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