Known as Parmigianino, the little one from Parma, the Painter Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola (or Mazzuoli) was born in Parma, Italy on January 11th 1503, and died on August 24th, 1540, in Casalmaggiore, Cremona.
Often hailed as one of the greatest painters of his time and influenced by such artists as Correggio, Raphael and Michelangelo, he is known for being a leading exponent of the Mannerist movement.
The Mannerists were a group of artists following the great artists of the Renaissance that chose to break the rules surrounding classical composition. They played with their own compositions and designs, stretching their components, crowding their figures in what could almost pass as early abstraction.
Probably his most famous work was to be one of his last. Painted in 1535 and due to its proportions, it is known as Madonna with the Long Neck; Oil on Panel 2160 132cm Galleria degli Uffizi. Florence. Some critics believe the painting to be unfinished and have argued for centuries about it’s placement among the great works of art.
The composition comprises a group of angels clustered around the left hand side of the painting, gazing lovingly at the Christ child. The Madonna appears slightly off centre and she differs from any Madonna painting before this period with her elongated, sinuous neck that gives rise to the title of the work. She is depicted as a distorted, figure with large thighs and breasts, diaphanous garments and an almost abstract if not erotic pose. The light bounces magically from her left breast, left knee and from the Christ child who appears to tumble ungainly off her lap. Our eyes too, seem to tumble in a downward motion through the painting to land at the feet of the long legged angel figure to the left before soaring upward to be wrapped the luscious drapes that crowd the top left of the painting and mingle with the red tones of the walls.
There is a tiny statue like figure of St Jerome beside the left foot of the Madonna (right, foreground), pointing to the Christ child and heralding a scroll that could well be announcing the arrival of the Mannerists themselves. The column beside this Saint lends the painting height but seems to hold no structural quality as its top ends not in a building but in an almost magical space. Maybe this was intentional and refers to the fact that we do not know what is beyond or perhaps the painter intended to place some form of structure atop the column. In any case, it lends and air of mystery and mythology to the painting.
It is perhaps not surprising to learn that Parmigianino was not considered to be the most reliable of artists and many of his works went by unfinished, a trait that led to his imprisonment in 1539 for breech of contract whilst working on a series of frescoes in Santa Maria della Steccata. Maybe he had become bored in later years of his attempts to be different and longed for a return of the Classical artists that had influenced his early years.