ParmigianinoGirolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola (Mazzuoli) was called Il Parmigianino after the city (Parma) of his birth. He was born on 11 January 1503. His family lived in Borgo delle Asse, near the convent of San Paolo, and his father, Filippo Mazzola, was an undistinguished provincial painter who described himself as a ‘disciple of Giovanni Bellini’. Orphaned at the age of two, he was brought up by his two uncles, Michele and Pier’Ilario Mazzola, who were also painters in Parma. While there is no hard evidence that he was ever Correggio’s pupil (as was claimed in the first edition of Vasari’s Lives), he was strongly influenced by him. Brilliantly precocious, he was commissioned to paint frescoes in the church of San Giovanni Evangelista at Parma as early as 1521-22. He went to Rome, accompanied by an uncle (Pier’Ilario), in summer 1524. His presentation paintings (including an astonishing self-portrait now in Vienna recording his appearance in a convex barber’s mirror) were enthusiastically received at the court of Clement VII, but (apart from an unrealised commission to decorate the Sala dei Pontefici of the Vatican) the papal patronage he had hoped for was not forthcoming. In Rome, he came under the influence of Raphael and Michelangelo, and also came into contact with the Mannerists Rosso Fiorentino, Giulio Romano and Perino del Vaga. When the city was sacked by the troops of the Emperor Charles V in May 1527, Parmigianino was imprisoned and held for ransom with Rosso and the sculptor Jacopo Sansovino in the palazzo of Cardinal Andrea della Valle. He escaped and fled north to Bologna, where he settled for three productive years, before returning to Parma in 1530.
In 1531 he started work on frescoes in Santa Maria della Steccata, but he did so little that he was imprisoned in 1539 for breach of contract, having changed, according to Vasari, from a ‘delicate amiable and elegant person’ to a ‘bearded, long-haired, neglected and almost savage creature’, obsessed with alchemy. Like his Mannerist contemporaries Pontormo and Rosso, he seems to have developed an unhealthy perfectionism – making endless preliminary studies and adjustments of composition and never wanting to let go of his work. His most famous panel painting, the so-called Madonna of the Long Neck (Uffizi), was still unfinished in his studio more than five years after it had been commissioned. He died in exile at Casalmaggiore, a town on the Po north of Parma, on 24 August 1540, aged just thirty-seven.
Parmigianino was one of the most original and sensitive of the early Mannerists. His pictures are notable for their sophisticated and sensuous elegance, elongated proportions and distorted perspective. He also painted penetrating portraits. He was one of the first artists to design works specifically for reproduction, and his prints – engravings and woodcuts made by professional printmakers and his own etchings – were very influential in Italy and France. He was a compulsive draughtsman, and almost one thousand drawings are attributed to him (many in the Louvre).
Austin (Texas). Blanton Museum of Art.
Entombment. Wood, 24 x 19.
This small monochrome oil sketch was once thought to be a copy of Parmigianino's etching of the Entombment, but is now regarded as a preparatory study (bozzetto) painted in Rome around 1525-27. The Entombment was Parmigianino's most successful print and the composition was much copied. (Sixteenth-century century copies include three different etchings and a woodcut produced by Andrea Schiavone in the 1540s and an etching made by Guido Reni in the 1590s.) The oil sketch was among some 250 paintings acquired by the Blanton Museum in 1998 from the collection of Bertina Suida (daughter of the Austrian art historian William Suida) and her husband Robert Manning.
Bardi (Parma). Santa Maria.
Mystical Marriage of St Catherine. Wood, 203 x 130.
The Virgin is seated precariously on a tall cylindrical pedestal. The Christ Child places the ring on St Catherine's extended finger. The saint's broken wheel and martyr's palm lie in the left foreground. St John the Evangelist is on the left, holding a gold chalice with a serpent in it, and John the Baptist is on the right. Behind the figures is the curved wall, topped by a colonnade, of a semi-circular apse. The picture is almost certainly the altarpiece of the ‘Marriage of St Catherine and containing many figures’ which Vasari says was painted at Viadana (a town on the Po a dozen miles north-east of Parma). The youthful Parmigianino had been taken there by his uncles to escape the fighting between the papal forces and the French in 1521. The picture was originally over a side altar in the church of San Pietro at Viadana and was sold (or stolen) in 1630 during the War of the Mantuan Succession. It is not known how it ended up in the church at Bardi. The picture was thoroughly restored in 2016-18.
The youthful Parmigianino also painted during his stay at Viadana a picture representing 'St Francis receiving the stigmata and St Clare' for the church of the Observant friars (Franciscans). It is not known what happened to this other picture.
Baptism of Christ. Wood, 193 x 127.
Generally now identified as Parmigianino’s earliest work, which Vasari says was painted when he was sixteen and placed in the church of the Annunziata at Parma. It came to Berlin with the Solly collection in 1821. From 1884 to 1932 it was on loan to a church in a remote town called Rederitz. It then remained in storage until 1994, when it was cleaned, restored and framed. In 1995 it was put on public display for the first time in 111 years. In comparison with Parmigianino's later paintings, the technique is painstakingly detailed. The foliage and plants, the Baptist's blue and white ceremic bowl, the distant buildings, the tiny figures of Christ and the Baptist in the right middle distance and the weed, shells and snails in the river are all meticulously rendered.
Madonna and Saints ('Madonna di Santa Margherita'). Wood, 222 x 147.
St Margaret of Antioch kneels in devotion to the Christ Child. Her dragon is seen at the lower right edge. St Jerome stands to the right, holding his cardinal's red robe and clutching a crucifix. The angel, behind, holds St Margaret's cross and the tassels of Jerome's cardinal's hat. The saint on the left in the mitre is named as Benedict in a contemporary document, but Benedict would be shown normally as a monk rather than a bishop. Vasari calls him St Petronius, while a gallery catalogue suggests St Augustine. The picture was painted for the Giusta Chapel in the small Benedictine convent church of Santa Margherita (now destroyed) at Bologna. It was finished by 8 April 1530. Taken to France in 1796-97 and returned to Bologna in 1815. A full-scale drawing (cartoon) for the head of the bishop saint is preserved in the Metropolitan Museum, New York.
Bologna. San Petronio (fourth chapel, north aisle).
Saint Roch and Donor. Wood, 270 x 197.
St Roch was a fourteenth-century French pilgrim. According to the popular legend, he contracted the plague on his journey home from Rome, and was languishing in a forest near Piacenza when a dog brought him daily bread. One day, the dog's owner, a nobleman called Gottardo, followed the animal into the forest and found Roch, who was miraculously healed. Instead of the usual pilgrim's garb, the medieval saint is dressed anachronistically in a short bright yellow tunic, which reveals the plague sore on his leg, and a pair of antique-style sandals. He gazes ecstatically heavenwards at a vision of God the Father, and places his hand on the shoulder of a kneeling grey-bearded man in a fur-lined coat – presumably a portrait of the donor as Gottardo. The picture has always remained in the chapel for which it was painted. It is described by Vasari as Parmigianino’s first work in Bologna and probably therefore dates from 1527. According to Lamo (1560), the donor was Baldassare da Milano; Vasari (1568) calls him Fabrizio da Milano. Considrably damaged, but recently restored and transferred to a new support. A series of rapid preliminary sketches (the Louvre, Chatsworth, Besançon and elsewhere) suggest that Parmigianino experimented with a number of different poses for St Roch before arriving at the final, curious half-standing, half-kneeling figure.
Copenhagen. Statens Museum for Kunst.
Portrait of Lorenzo Cybo. Wood, 123 x 102.
Lorenzo Cybo, Duke of Ferentillo, was an accomplished soldier and captain of the papal guard under Clement V. His father, Franceschetto Cybo, was the illegitimate son of Pope Innocent VIII and his mother, Maddalena de' Medici, was the daughter of Lorenzo the Magnificent. He supports, with the help of his young squire, a huge double-handed broadsword with one hand, and rests his other hand on the hilt of his dagger. On the ledge in front of him is a gaming board with dice and chips. An old inscription (lower right) gives the name of the sitter and the date 1523, which is probably an error (as Parmigianino did not move to Rome until 1524). The portrait, which is mentioned by Vasari, was probably painted in Rome in 1524-26. It was formerly in the collection of Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga at Rome, and was acquired by King Frederick VII of Denmark in 1763, when the Cardinal's collection was sold in Amsterdam. There is another version in the Columbia Museum of Art.
Detroit. Institute of Arts.
Circumcision. Wood, 42 x 31.
This small panel combines the Circumcision of Christ with the Purification of the Virgin (indicated by the two doves on the altar), and is unusual in treating the subject as a night scene. It is now considered to be the picture mentioned by Vasari (‘a work of rare invention on account of … his fantastically imaginative use of lights’) that was given by the young Parmigianino to Pope Clement VII. It had previously (eg by Freedberg in his 1950 monograph) been considered a copy, but was re-established as the original by Freedberg in 1977. Formerly in the Duke of Leuchtenberg's collection at St Petersburg, it was given to the Detroit Institute in 1930 by the Swedish collector Axel Beskow in exchange for a wooden cabinet.
‘Madonna della Rosa’. Wood, 109 x 89.
The composition, with the large naked Christ Child stretched almost horizontally across the Virgin's knees, was probably influenced by Raphael's Bridgewater Madonna (now in the National Gallery of Scotland). Under the Christ Child’s left hand is a globe of the world, with Europe, North Africa and Asia recognisable. The globe is an attribute of Christ as Salvator Mundi, while the rose, which gives the picture its name, symbolises Mary's purity. According to Vasari, the picture was originally painted for Pietro Aretino, but when Pope Clement VII came to Bologna in 1530 it was given to him instead. Pope Clement left the picture to a Zani, in whose family it remained until 1752, when Augustus III bought it (through Luigi Crespi) for 1350 zecchini. Vasari says that at least fifty copies were made of the picture – one is in the Royal Collection at Hampton Court, having been bought by Charles I from Mantua.
Madonna and Child with Saints Stephen and John the Baptist. Wood, 253 x 161.
In the upper background, the Virgin appears in a brilliant light within a circle of dark clouds. The two saints are seated on a terrace in front of a classical balustrade. Stephen holds the stone of his martyrdom and a martyr’s palm and the Baptist a dish and a slender cross sprouting leaves. The donor (possibly Matteo Cavalli) appears in profile at the bottom left edge with his chin on St Stephen's right knee. The picture is Parmigianino’s last altarpiece. It is described by Vasari among the pictures he painted at Casalmaggiore, the town north of Parma where he took refuge in 1540 after his arrest for defaulting on the commission for Santa Maria della Steccata. It remained in the church of Santo Stefano there until 1646, when it was removed by Francesco d’Este. Sold to Dresden in 1746. There are pen sketches for the whole composition at Windsor and Madrid.
‘Madonna del Collo Lungo.’ Wood, 216 x 132.
Angels crowd from the left to see the (unusually large) sleeping Child, who is slumped across the Virgin’s lap like the dead Christ in a Pietà. There was originally a cross (now very faded) in the crystal urn, shaped like a reliquary, held by one of the angels. This famous picture was commissioned by 23 December 1534 by Elena Baiardo (sister of Parmigianino’s patron Francesco Baiardi and wife of Francesco Tagliaferri of Parma) for her husband’s burial chapel in the Servite church in Parma. The fee was 303 gold scudi (paid in advance). The picture was never finished. A Latin inscription on the second step of the colonnade states: ‘Prevented by fate, F. Mazzoli of Parma was unable to complete it’. It was not until 1542, two years after the artist’s death, that the picture was placed in the Tagliaferri Chapel of Santa Maria dei Servi. It was acquired in 1698 by the Grand Prince of Tuscany, Ferdinando de’ Medici. Once described as ‘glacial’, the colours appear much warmer after a recent restoration. Nearly fifty preparatory drawings for the altarpiece have survived. These suggest that the composition was originally conceived as a conventionally symmetrical Virgin and Child between Saints Jerome and Francis. In the painting, Jerome has been relegated to a tiny figure, holding a scroll, in the right background. The disembodied foot next to him is the only part of the figure of Francis that was painted in.
Madonna and Saints ('Madonna di San Zaccaria'). Wood, 73 x 60.
The infant St John the Baptist embraces the Christ Child; Mary Magdalene stands behind with her jar of ointment; and the patriarchal St Zacharias, father of the Baptist, is in the right foreground. The classical buildings in the stormy landscape are loosely based on the Arch of Constantine and Trajan’s column. We know from documents recording Parmigianino’s efforts to secure payment for the picture that it was painted before 1533 for Bonifazio Gozzadini of Bologna. It had entered the Medici collections by 1605, when it is recorded hanging in the Tribuna of the Uffizi. It is very highly finished and appears to be almost perfectly preserved.
Portrait of a Gentleman. Wood, 90 x 69.
The sketchily painted oval relief on the wall to the right shows a kneeling woman offering a vase to an old bearded man. There is an old, but unsubstantiated tradition that this powerful, almost monochromatic painting is a self-portrait, and it was engraved as such in 1773. It probably entered the Uffizi in 1675 with Cardinal Leopoldi de’ Medici’s collection of self-portraits. Previously obscured by darkened varnish, it was restored in 1994. A copy in the Parma Gallery is dated 1530.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 44 x 31.
This small, slightly unfinished painting is a near replica of Parmigianino's Madonna in the Doria-Pamphilj Gallery at Rome. Previously considered a copy, it was included in a selection of works from the Uffizi storerooms exhibited between 2007 and 2009 at Florence, Madrid and Barcelona. The exhibition, called Il Pane degli Angeli or Offering of the Angels, then toured several American cities. The painting has been recorded at the Uffizi since 1782, but its provenance is unknown. It has been tentatively suggested that it could be Parmigianino's unfinished 'picture of Our Lady' that Vasari himself purchased in Bologna in 1541 and kept in his house at Arezzo until his death in 1574.
Fontanellato (20 km northwest of Parma). Castello. Camerino.
Story of Diana and Actaeon. Frescoes.
The small room (only 4.35 x 3.5 metres) is on the ground floor of the castle, near the northwest tower and kitchens. In the lunettes are scenes from Ovid’s story (Actaeon pursues a Nymph; he is changed into a stag when he stumbles across the naked Diana bathing; and he is devoured by his own dogs) and a representation of Ceres holding a sprig of wheat. Putti play in the pendentives. In the ceiling, a trellised garden opens out to the sky, with a mirror in the centre. There are no early references to the frescoes, which are first mentioned in 1696. They were presumably commissioned by Gian Galeazzo Sanvitale, Count of Fontanellato, whose portrait by Parmigianino hangs in the Capodimonte at Naples, and/or his wife Paola Gonzaga. They are believed to be early works, painted before Parmigianino’s departure for Rome in 1524. The original use of the room is uncertain. There are theories that it was Paola Gonzaga's bathroom or boudoir, or even a shrine commemorating the couple's dead child. Parmigianino clearly took as a model for his decoration Correggio's Camera di San Paolo, painted around 1519 for Abbess Giovanna da Piacenza. Restored in the 1960s and again in the late 1990s.
Fort Worth. Kimbell Art Gallery.
Virgin and Child. Wood, 45 x 34.
This small, freely-painted Madonna was acquired in Italy in 1798 for Sir Nathaniel Curzon (later Baron Scarsdale), and it remained at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire, until 1995, when it was sold at Christie’s. It was first published as a work of Parmigianino’s only in 1992 (by Cecil Gould in Apollo). It was probably painted, either in Rome or Bologna, in about 1527-30.
Frankfurt. Städelsches Kunstinstitut.
Saint Catherine. Wood, 26 x 19.
This tiny picture has been interpreted as a Rest on the Flight into Egypt, with the palm miraculously lowering its branches to feed the Virgin with dates. However, recent X-ray analysis has revealed a wheel – confirming the traditional identification of the subject as St Catherine. The attribution to Parmigianino, as an early work, was first proposed in 1932; it was once often doubted – and a version in Vienna considered to be Parmigianino’s original – but is now commonly accepted. Once in the collection of Cardinal Fesch and later that of Baroness Beaulieu-Marçonnay; left to the Frankfurt Museum in 1913. There is another version at Vienna, which shows the saint sitting on a large broken wheel.
Hanover. Niedersächsische Landesgalerie.
Portrait of Niccolò Vespucci. Wood, 68 x 54.
The identification of the sitter rests on a resemblance to a portrait, stated by Vasari to be of Niccolò Vespucci, in a fresco of the Baptism of Constantine by Giulio Romano in the Sala di Constantino of the Vatican. Niccolò apparently belonged to the old Florentine merchant family, which included the famous explorer Amerigo. He is dressed as a Knight of Malta. Previously ascribed to Girolamo da Carpi, the portrait was published as a work of Parmigianino in 2000 (by David Ekserdjian in Apollo). The attribution is supported by the evidence of a preparatory drawing in the Pushkin Museum, Moscow. Probably from the collection of August Kestner in Rome; acquired in 1884.
London. National Gallery.
‘Vision of Saint Jerome’. Wood, 343 x 149.
The popular title dates only from the nineteenth century, and there is no theological source for St Jerome having had any such vision. Parmigianino’s eclecticism is evident. The Madonna, seated on a crescent moon with a palm branch in her hand, is Michelanglesque; Correggio’s figure of Daniel in a fresco under an arch in San Giovanni Evangelista is a possible source for the foreshortened St Jerome; while the pose of the Baptist, pointing to the sky, clearly derives from Leonardo. This huge picture (over eleven feet high) was commissioned on 3 January 1526 by Maria Bufalini for the funerary chapel of her deceased husband Antonio Caccialupi in the Roman church of San Salvatore in Lauro (which burnt down in 1591). The commission also included scenes of the Birth of the Virgin and SS. Joachim and Anne on the side walls of the chapel, but there is no evidence that these frescoes were ever executed. It was Parmigianino’s only major commission in Rome. The fee was 65 gold ducats. The two saints depicted may allude to the name and profession of the donor’s father-in-law, Giovanni Battista Caccialupi, who was an eminent consistorial lawyer. Vasari tells that during the Sack of Rome in 1527, German mercenaries surprised Parmigianino at work but left him unharmed because they were confounded at the beauty of the painting. The picture never reached its intended destination. It was stored during the chaos in the refectory of Santa Maria della Pace, and then installed by the family in the church of San Agostino at Città di Castello. It was removed by the Bufalini from the church in 1772, and sold to the English painter James Durno. It was presented to the National Gallery by the British Institution in 1826. Some thirty preliminary drawings for the picture have survived (including one at the British Museum for the complete composition).
Mystical Marriage of St Catherine. Wood, 74 x 57.
The elderly bearded man, whose head appears in the bottom left corner, might represent the hermit who was sent by the Virgin Mary, in a vision, to tell St Catherine that she was to be a bride of Christ. Possibly the picture ‘of extraordinary loveliness, showing Our Lady, who is turning to one side in a beautiful attitude, and several other figures’ which Vasari records that Parmigianino painted for a friend, a saddler, in Bologna. In this case, the picture is to be dated 1527-30. However, some critics (eg. Freedberg (1950)) have put it slightly earlier, 1525-26, when Parmigianino was working in Rome. It is first certainly recorded in 1693 in the Palazzo Borghese at Rome. It was sold during the Napoleonic upheavals at the end of the eighteenth century to the English collector William Young Ottley, and from 1832 was in the collection of the Lords of Normanton at Somerly in Hampshire. Acquired by the National Gallery in 1974.
Portrait of a Collector. Wood, 89 x 64.
The sitter is described in old inventories as a priest (presumably on account of his biretta-style headgear), but he is now usually called an unknown collector. The book he holds in his left hand has been identified as the Offiiziolo Durazzo, a book of hours illuminated around 1500 by the Parmese painter Francesco Marmitta and now preserved in the Biblioteca Civica Berio at Genoa. On the table are Roman medals and coins and a bronze statuette, lying flat, and behind the sitter's right shoulder is a fragmentary marble relief representing Mars and Venus. The picture is usually regarded as one of Parmigianino's earliest surviving portraits, painted in about 1523 before his departure for Rome. It is recorded in 1587 in the collection of Ranuccio Farnese, and there are subsequent records of it in the Farnese collections at Parma (1680 inventory of the Palazzo del Giardino) and Naples (Capodimonte). After coming to England in Napoleonic times, it entered the possession of the Admiral Lord Radstock and was sold at Christie’s in 1826. It passed by inheritance to Lord Strafford and was acquired by the National Gallery in 1977.
London. National Gallery (on long-term loan from Duke of Abercorn until 2010).
Portrait of Cardinal Lorenzo Pucci. Canvas, 97 x 82.
The sitter is identified in an inscription on a letter he holds. Born in Florence in 1458, he was a loyal supporter of the Medici. He became a cardinal penitentiary in 1520, and is shown in his cardinal’s robes. The portrait was probably painted in the late 1520s, when Pucci accompanied Pope Clement VII to Bologna. Previously ascribed to Sebastiano del Piombo, it was attributed to Parmigianino only in 2000 (by Michael Hurst in an article in Apollo). First recorded in Bologna, the picture has been in the Abercorn collection since 1837.
London. Courtauld Institute Galleries.
Holy Family. Wood, 43 x 47.
Accepted by most critics as a very early (and rather crude) early work of Parmigianino, painted before his departure for Rome and with stylistic similarities to the Bardi Altarpiece of 1521. It was once owned by the painter Sir Thomas Lawrence, and from 1868 was in the famous collection of Sir Francis Cook at Richmond. It was sold in 1966 by the Trustees of the Cook Collection to Count Seilern, who bequeathed his collection to the Courtauld Institute in 1978.
Virgin and Child. Wood, 64 x 51.
Very unfinished; for example the blue of the Virgin’s mantle has not been painted over the brown ground. It has been suggested that work on the panel could have been interrupted by the Sack of Rome in 1527. It has also been suggested that the picture could be the unfinished Madonna which Vasari himself bought at Bologna. Acquired by Count Seilern in 1965 from Lord Kinnaird.
London. Royal Collection.
Minevra. Canvas, 64 x 45.
The cameo ornament set into the top of the breastplate is inscribed with the name 'ATHENE' and shows a figure of Victory. A late work, probably owned by Francesco Baiardi, Parmigianino’s friend and agent. (An inventory of 1561, drawn up after Baiardi's death, includes a painting by Parmigianino of the 'Head and Chest of Minevra', measuring 16 by 10 oncie, ie 72 x 45 cm.) Presented to Charles II by the States of Holland in 1660. Probably cut down at the top. Previously at Hampton Court, the picture now hangs in the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace.
Portrait of a Young Man. Wood, 99 x 82.
The young man's black cloak is arranged like a toga over a black satin jerkin. He rests one hand on the pommel of his sword and the other on the edge of a table. Restoration in 2006 helped dispel doubts about the attribution of the portrait, which could have been painted at Bologna (1527-30) or during Parmigianino's final years at Parma. First recorded in an inventory of Charles II's pictures at Whiitehall. LIke the MInevra, the portrait has been transferred from Hampton Court to the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace.
Los Angeles. Getty Museum.
Virgin and Child with Infant St John and Magdalen. Paper mounted on panel, 79 x 62.
The infant St John, hands folded in prayer, is embraced by the Christ Child, who is supported from behind by the Magdalen. The Virgin (whose languid pose is very like that in the youthful Holy Family at the Courtauld) reaches out to take the Child's wrist. In the foreground are a string of pearls, hairpin and jewellry box that the Magdalen has discarded. The nude figure, illuminated in the clouds, is probably also the Magdalen (who, according to the Golden Legend, ascended every day to heaven to feed on celestial music). The attribution to Parmigianino, as a very late work, is accepted by David Ekserdjian in his 2006 monograph, but has been doubted by a number of other critics. The alternative candidate is Girolamo Mazzola Bedoli, whose best pictures are sometimes difficult to distinguish from Parmigianino's late works. The picture is recorded as a work of Parmigianino in a 1644 inventory of paintings at the Palazzo Barberini in Rome. It was sold from the Barberini collection in the eighteenth century and went to England. It was bought in 1832 by the millionaire retailer ('the Napoleon of shopkeepers') James Morrison, whose collection of Old Masters passed in 1924 from Basildon Park in Berkshire to Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire. After several years (2011-15) on loan to the National Gallery, London, it was sold in 2016 to the Getty Museum. A temporary export ban, imposed to give British public bodies the opportunity to make a matching offer, expired in June 2017.
Holy Family. Wood, 110 x 89.
A boy-angel offers the Christ Child palm branches held up in his clothing. A similar motif appears in a Holy Family by Correggio (now at Budapest). Nothing is known for certain of the history of Parmigianino's picture before 1858, when it is first recorded in the Prado. However, it is now usually identified as one of the pictures that Parmigianino painted just before his departure from Parma in 1524 and took with him to Rome. A Holy Family was, Vasari records, among the pictures that the young artist presented on his arrival to Pope Clement. The Pope gave it in turn to Ippolito de’ Medici.
Saint Barbara. Wood, 48 x 39.
This exquisite little panel shows the young saint half-length and in pure profile, holding a model of her tower. Paintings of St Barbara by Parmigianino are recorded among the pictures bequeathed by Cardinal Alessandro d’Este to Giulia d’Este in 1624 and in a seventeenth-century inventory of the Muselli collection in Verona. The first certain references to the Prado picture are in early nineteenth-century gallery catalogues. It was once often ignored by writers on Parmigianino, until Freedberg (1950) accepted it as an authentic early work, painted before Parmigianino's departure for Rome in 1524.
Portrait of the Count of San Secondo. Wood, 133 x 98.
He poses with a swagger before a curtain of gold damask, one hand on his hip and the other on his sword hilt. His black satin jacket is lined with fur and a codpiece pokes through the bottom of his doublet. To the right of the curtain, there is a glimpse through a window of the monuments of ancient Rome, with a pile on books on the sill and a statuette of Minerva (or Mars?) on a pedestal. Pier Maria II Rossi, Count of San Secondo, was a soldier who fought both on the side of the Emperor Charles V and for the French king Francis I. This portrait, together with another also in the Prado now believed to represent the Count’s wife and three children, were in Spain by the seventeenth century (ascribed to Correggio). In the nineteenth century, the two portraits were erroneously called Count Cybo and his wife Malaspina. Cybo’s portrait, mentioned by Vasari, is in fact in Copenhagen. There are no early references to the San Secondo portraits, but Vasari says (in his 1550 edition but not in his 1568 one) that Parmigianino sought refuge at San Secondo for several months. The portraits are probably among Parmigianino's last works, painted towards 1538-39, shortly before his imprisonment and final flight to Casalmaggiore.
Portrait of the Countess of San Secondo with Her Three Sons. Wood, 128 x 97.
She wears a sumptuous dress of red velvet with a lace bodice front. The marten fur draped over her shoulder has a jewelled gold head, which she holds in her right hand and is attached to the long jewelled gold chain that goes round her waist and is held by two of the children. The picture is now thought to be a companion to the portrait of the Count of San Secondo and to represent his wife, Camilla Gonzaga. Her look to the right was presumably intended to be directed at her husband's portrait, hanging next to hers. At least one of the sons (the one clinging to his mother's sleeve) appears to have been painted by another hand, suggesting that the portrait may have been left unfinished when Parmigianino fled to Casalmaggiore. Parmigianino may have intended to paint the background (left plain black) to match that of the Count's portrait.
Munich. Alte Pinakothek.
Virgin and Child with a Monk. Wood, 27 x 22.
The Virgin looks sadly down on the Christ Child. The stone slab on which he lies prefigures his tomb, while his outstretched right arm might allude to his crucifixion. She holds a white rose she has plucked from the bush that grows up the edge of the stone slab. The white monk, appearing in the doorway with a flower in his hand, might be St Bruno, founder of the Carthusian Order. This exquisite little panel is recorded as a work of Parmigianino in a 1627 inventory of the Kammergalerie of Prince Elector Maximilian I. From the later nineteenth century, it was generally attributed to Parmigianino's close follower (and cousin by marriage) Gerolamo Bedoli. However, the Alte Pinakothek recently reinstated the old attribution to Parmigianino. A 2007 museum publication (Parmigianino: Die Madonna in der Alten Pinakothek by Achim Gnann et al.) makes the case for the reattribution.
Portrait of Galeazzo Sanvitale. Wood, 108 x 80.
He sits on a terrace overlooking a wooded garden, turning in his slatted 'Savonarola' chair to face the viewer. Splendidly dressed in a scarlet cap and doublet with slashed sleeves, he holds in his gloved right hand a mysterious bronze disc stamped with the figures seven and two (seventy-two is a number associated in cabbalistic tradition with the sacred name of God). On a shelf on the left are his helmet, arm-guard and flanged mace. The sitter was called Christopher Columbus in the nineteenth century, and his true identity was established by an inscribed copy of the portrait (still in the possession of his descendants) and by a description in the 1587 inventory of the Guardaroba of Ranuccio Farnese. Gian Galeazzo Sanvitale, fifth Count of Fontanellato, Noceto and Belforte, commissioned Parmigianino to paint frescoes in his castle, near Parma, which still survive. On the back of the picture are a signature and the date 1524. As Gian Galeazzo was born in early 1496, he must have been twenty-eight when the portrait was painted. Transferred with the Farnese collections in Parma to the Capodimonte in 1734.
Portrait of a Young Woman (‘Antea’). Canvas, 135 x 88.
The very young woman, shown frontally and almost full-length against a plain dark background, looks straight out of the picture with enigmatic frankness. She wears a sumptuous gown of shimmering gold satin with extraordinarily wide puffed shoulders and a white apron embroidered with delicate blackwork. The fingers of her left hand play with a necklace of gold filigree, while her gloved right hand holds the chain attached the snout of a marten fur draped over her shoulder. This famous portrait may have been commissioned by Parmigianino's friend and financial supporter Francesco Baiardi. It is probably one of twenty-two paintings by the artist listed in an inventory of Baiardi's possessions drawn up after Baiardi's death in 1561. The identification of the sitter as 'Antea' first appears in a book, entitled Viaggio Pittoresco d'Italia, published in 1671 by the Venetian painter and printmaker Giacomo Barri. Antea was a celebrated Roman courtesan, mentioned by Aretino and Cellini. The identification was repeated in Ireneo Affò's 1784 biography of Parmigianino and by many other old writers, but has been dismissed as fanciful by most modern scholars. (The girl seems very young to be a courtesan and the portrait seems later than Parmigianino’s Roman period.) Freedberg (1950) notes a resemblance between her and a girl in the background of the Collo Lungo Altarpiece, which was commissioned by Elena Baiardi (Francesco's sister) and may contain portraits of the donor’s family. Other scholars have argued that the picture is probably not a portrait of an actual person but represents an ideal beauty in the tradition of Titian's Flora or Palma Vecchio's many 'belle donne'. Usually considered a very late work (1534-39), though an earlier dating of around 1531-34 was proposed when the picture was exhibited in 2008 at the Frick, New York.
Holy Family with St John. Canvas, 159 x 131.
The image of the infant Jesus asleep on a marble slab probably alludes to Christ's death. Joseph appears in the distance, just to the right of the tree, reading a book of scripture. Painted, most unusually, in distemper on canvas. According to Vasari, Parmigianino painted two pictures in this technique for a patron in Bologna called 'maestro Luca dai Leuti' (presumably either a musician or lute-maker). The Naples Holy Family might be one of these pictures, while a small Saint Roch (Italian private collection) could be a fragment cut from the background of its pendant. Recorded in the Farnese collections since 1644.
Lucrezia. Wood, 68 x 52.
The Roman heroine, shown half-length and in profile, plunges the dagger in her heart after her rape by Tarquin. Her shoulder brooch is decorated with a gold figure of Diana (goddess of chastity). The painting has a high finish and almost enamel-like surface. It is recorded as a work of Parmigianino in the 1587 inventory of the Guardaroba of Ranuccio Farnese, and sometimes identified with the Lucrezia that Vasari describes as the artist’s last work. It has often been attributed to Gerolamo Bedoli (emphatically so in Cecil Gould’s 1994 monograph), but critical opinion has been more favourable since the picture was cleaned in 1997. The painting was included as an autograph late Parmigianino in the 2003 exhibition Parmigianino e il Manierismo Europeo at Parma and Vienna, and it was reproduced on the front cover of David Ekserdjian's Parmigianino (2006).
Portrait of Girolamo de Vincenti. Canvas, 110 x 90.
An inscription gives the age of the sitter (28 years) and the date of the picture (1535). The old attribution to Parmigianino (recorded in the 1680 inventory of the Palazzo del Giardini) is accepted (for example) by Berenson and Freedberg. However the museum has catalogued the portrait under Girolamo da Carpi (following Longhi’s 1940 attribution).
Mystical Marriage of St Catherine. Wood, 20 x 27.
The identity of the male saint (Joseph?) is uncertain. The Virgin's pose is very like that of Raphael's Garvagh Madonna (painted in Rome around 1509-12 and now in the National Gallery, London). This small, damaged and probably unfinished panel was possibly a bozzetto (oil sketch) for a lost work. It came to light only fairly recently and was acquired by the Louvre in 1992-93. It probably dates from Parmigianino's years in Bologna (1527-30). There is another version (finished but inferior) in the Pushkin Museum, Moscow.
Portrait of a Young Man. Wood, 59 x 44.
The sitter – a youth of perhaps sixteen or seventeen – looks thoroughly at ease, as he gazes at the spectator with his head resting on his hand. This delightful portrait was traditionally attributed to Raphael. The attribution to Parmigianino, as an early work, appears to be based largely on a perceived similarity to his famous Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (Vienna). Some recent opinion has preferred an attribution to Correggio. The picture, which once belonged to Cardinal Richelieu, entered Louis XIV's collection in 1665.
Parma. Galleria Nazionale.
Portrait of a Young Girl ('The Turkish Slave'). Wood, 68 x 53.
The pretty, rosy cheeked young woman holds a plumed fan and looks directly at the viewer with an amused, self-satisfied smile. Her elaborate costume includes a cream silk bodice with gold stripes, an embroidered white apron, and an overdress of deep blue satin with wide puffed shoulders and slashed sleeves threaded with small gold chains. The turban-like headdress (balzo) is of the style made fashionable by Isabella d'Este. It is sewn with gold thread and ornamented with a cameo representing a winged horse (Pegasus). It gives the portrait its popular title, the ‘Turkish Slave’, which dates back at least to the early eighteenth century. The portrait is first documented in the 1675 inventory of the collection of Cardinal Leopoldo de’ Medici at Florence. It was transferred from the Uffizi to the Parma Gallery in 1928. It has been suggested recently (by Anna de Rossi in a 2007 article in Aurea Parma) that the portrait could represent the fourteen-year old Giulia Gonzaga at the time of her marriage in 1526 to Vespasiano Colonna. However, this would make the portrait a work of Parmigianino's Roman period, whereas art historians generally consider it a later work, painted in Parma in the early 1530s. Some writers (including David Ekserdjian in his 2006 monograph) have argued that the picture is probably not a portrait of a young noblewoman commissioned by her family but rather a 'bella donna' portrait (a picture of a beautiful woman painted simply for the sake of her beauty).
Parma. San Giovanni Evangelista.
Vasari states that Parmigianino had painted seven chapels in the church, but his work seems to have been confined to the first, second and (possibly) fourth side chapels on the left nave. In the first two chapels, the narrow soffits are decorated with figures of the chapels’ titular saints. (In the first chapel, St Agatha and her executioner on the left and SS. Lucy and Apollonia enthroned on the right; and in the second chapel, SS. Stephen and Lawrence on the left and St Vitalis on the right.) The walls of the fourth chapel are decorated with frescoes of SS. Nicholas of Bari and Hilary of Poiters; these have sometimes been ascribed to Michelangelo Anselmi (a local artist originally from Siena or Lucca), but were possibly executed by Parmigianino (perhaps from Anselmi’s designs). Parmigianino’s activity in the church is not explicitly documented, but payments to his uncles (his legal guardians) are recorded in 1515 for work in the fourth chapel and in 1522 for unspecified paintings in the church. Parmigianino’s frescoes must have been painted around the same time as Correggio’s famous dome decoration, and they are among his earliest works.
Parma. Santa Maria della Steccata.
Decoration of Vault.
The coffered barrel vault is decorated with gilt-bronze rosettes, which Vasari says Parmigianino executed himself (‘expending enormous labour on them’). At either end of the vault are gigantic female figures, representing the three Wise Virgins (with their lamps alight) on the south and the three Foolish Virgins (with their unlit lamps) on the north. These supremely elegant figures are among Parmigianino’s most famous works. Parmigianino (and his assistants) also painted the large grisaille figures of Adam and Eve and Moses and Aaron in fictive oval niches at the base of the soffits of the two narrow arches dividing the apse from the central dome. The vault decoration is only a small part of the work that Parmigianino contracted to carry out for the newly reconstructed church. In April 1530 he was commissioned to paint two altarpieces, which were never executed. A year later, on 10 May 1531, he contracted to decorate the eastern end of the church. The decoration included a fresco of the Coronation of the Virgin in the apse. The fee was 400 gold scudi and the (improbably tight deadline) was November of the following year. It was Parmigianino’s failure to fulfil the contract that led to his arrest and imprisonment in the summer of 1539, and to his departure in disgrace for Casalmaggiore. On 19 December 1539, the trustees of the Steccata dismissed Parmigianino and transferred the commission to decorate the apse to Giulio Romano. The apse fresco was eventually painted in the 1540s by Michelangelo Anselmi from Giulio’s designs.
Saint Cecilia; King David. Canvas, each 275 x 120 (without additions).
Saint Cecilia holds a viola da gamba and is accompanied by a boy with an oboe (or bombarde); KIng David has a lute. These two large figures (damaged and with added strips of canvas) were painted for the organ shutters of the church. They are undocumented, but were probably painted around 1522-24, before Parmigianino’s departure for Rome. They were adapted in 1579-80 for the church's new organ. The Dutch painter Jan Soens added the framework of spiral columns with putti leaning out over the lintels, and also slightly repainted Parmigianino's figures. The canvases were moved to their current location in 1908.
Rome. Galleria Borghese.
Portrait of a Man. Wood, 52 x 42.
The unidentified man, youngish with short cropped hair and trimmed beard, wears a flat black cap and a black coat that shows the tasselled collar of his white shirt. The execution is quite rapid and loose. Described in the 1693 Borghese inventory as a ‘Portrait of Pianerlotto’ by Parmigianino. Sometimes dated to the artist’s Rome period (1524-27) and sometimes to his Bologna period (about 1528). There are some paint losses, particularly along vertical cracks in the panel.
Rome. Galleria Doria Pamphilj.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 58 x 34.
The Virgin, hands folded in prayer, reads a book resting on the legs of the Child seated on the parapet. He holds a white dove, symbolising purity. The curtain behind is raised on the left to reveal a landscape of trees and hills. There is another version at the Uffizi.
Nativity. Wood, 58 x 34.
The three figures standing behind the Holy Family are presumably shepherds.
The 1603 inventory of Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini's collection includes a double-sided picture, with the Madonna on one side and the Nativity on the other. The two small pictures had been separated by 1794, when they appear in an inventory of the Doria Gallery. They probably date from Parmigianino’s Roman period (1524-27), and may be two of the small panels mentioned by Vasari as painted in Rome for Ippolito de’ Medici and later acquired by Luigi Gaddi.
Rome. Galleria Spada.
Three Heads. Detached fresco, 71 x 60.
A fragment, possibly representing the Three Ages. Of unknown provenance, it appears to have entered the Gallery by 1862. The attribution to Parmigianino, frequently accepted in the past, has been rejected by some recent writers (including David Ekserdjian in his 2006 monograph) in favour of one to the later sixteenth-century Parmese artist Jacopo Bertoia.
Vienna. Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. Wood, 24 in dia.
Vasari tells us that Parmigianino, fascinated by his reflection in a barber’s convex mirror, had a carpenter turn a half-sphere on a lathe the same shape and size as the mirror. He then painted his own image exactly as he saw it in the mirror, his drawing hand enormously enlarged. According to Vasari, the self-portrait was painted shortly before Parmigianino’s departure for Rome, at the age of twenty-one, in 1524. It was among the pictures presented by the young artist on his arrival to Pope Clement, who gave it to Pietro Aretino. It later belonged to Valerio Vicentino, the crystal-engraver, and to Alessandro Vittoria, the Venetian sculptor, who bequeathed it to Emperor Rudolph II.
Cupid. Wood, 135 x 65.
Cupid, represented as a nude adolescent rather than a cherubic child, carves his bow. He rests one foot on two books, symbolising the triumph of love over knowledge. Two children appear through his legs, the boy trying to force the girl, who screams with fear, to touch Cupid’s leg with her finger. She is (as Vasari explains) afraid of being burnt by the fire of love. A probable source was the antique marble Cupid Stringing His Bow (now in the Capitoline Museum, Rome). A comparatively late picture, painted in Parma around the mid-1530s. Vasari says that it was painted for Cavaliere Francesco Baiardo, son of a notable local poet and a friend of Parmigianino, and it is recorded as the first item in an inventory of Baiardo’s possessions drawn up in 1561, shortly after his death. (Baiardo stood surety for Parmigianino when the artist was arrested in 1539 for defaulting on the Steccata commission, and it is conceivable that he acquired the picture in compensation when Parmigianino jumped bail and fled to Casalmaggiore.) In Vasari’s day, the picture belonged to Baiardo’s grandson, Marc Antonio Cavalca. Shortly afterwards, it left Italy and entered the collection of Antonio Pérez, State Secretary to Philip II of Spain. Pérez’s collection was confiscated by the Spanish Crown after his alleged involvement in the murder of Don Esobedo, and the Cupid was sold by Philip III in 1605 to Emperor Rudolf II. It was described as in poor condition as early as 1586 and is badly abraded (possibly because many copies were made from it). Restored in 2002.
Conversion of St Paul. Canvas, 178 x 129.
The rearing horse is strangely proportioned, with a tiny head, and has a curious animal-skin saddle. Its form may have been suggested by the famous Roman sculptures of the Dioscuri on the Quirinal Hill. The picture was painted for a doctor from Parma, Giovanni Andrea Bianchi, known as Albio. Despite its size, it seems to have been intended for a domestic setting rather than the altar of a church. It has recently been identified with a picture of St Paul ‘with a giraffe or horse’ recorded in an inventory, drawn up in 1608, of the contents of the artist Pompeo Leoni’s house in Madrid. It is not known when it entered the Vienna Museum, but it was first exhibited in 1912 with an attribution to Niccolò dell’Abate. It was only in the mid-twentieth century that Parmigianino was recognised as the true author. A preparatory study, rapidly sketched in black chalk, is preserved in the Courtauld Institute, London.
Woman in a Turban. Wood, 50 x 46.
She wears the same fashionable headdress as the ‘Turkish Slave’ in Parma. Her costume is only sketched in. Identified as an unfinished portrait recorded by Vasari of the Countess Gozzadini. A companion portrait of her husband, Bonifazio Gozzadini, is lost. The picture has been cut at the bottom: Tenier’s painting of Archduke Leopold’s Gallery shows the Countess seated, holding a book on her lap.
Portrait of Malatesta Baglione. Wood, 117 x 98.
He is a large bearded man, richly dressed in a gown of brown brocade with a collar of lynx fur and slashed sleeves that reveal the fur lining. He is posed against a marble fireplace, which has halberds resting either side of it. The sitter is described as Malatesta Baglione in a 1783 catalogue, and this identification is confirmed by a resemblance to a woodcut portrait in a 1575 edition of Paolo Giovio’s Elogia. Malatesta was an infamous condottiere who at first defended the Florentine Republic and then surrendered to the Medici in 1530. The attribution to Parmigianino was doubted by Freedberg (1950), who thought that Bedoli may have been the artist, but was accepted by Berenson in his 1968 Italian Painters of the Renaissance and by Cecil Gould in his 1994 monograph. Recorded in the Imperial Gallery since 1772.
Portrait of a Bearded Man with a Book. Wood, 68 x 53.
This very informal portrait may have been painted in Bologna in the late 1520s. The attribution was doubted by Freedberg (1950), but is now usually accepted. First recorded (as ‘School of Correggio’) in a 1718 inventory of the Imperial collection at Prague.
York. City Art Gallery.
Portrait of a Man. Canvas, 70 x 52.
The man, with cap and black beard, leans on a parapet or the arm of a chair, his elbow on an Oriental carpet. He holds a book and looks thoughtfully downwards. The embroidered gilt strip on the right may be an ornamental band on a grey curtain. Sometimes considered a very early work, painted in Parma just before the artist’s departure for Rome in 1524, but perhaps more likely to be a work of Parmigianino’s Roman years. Its provenance has been recently traced to the Farnese collection, where it was listed in a 1680 inventory as a work of Parmigianino. It was sold anonymously at Christie’s (as by Correggio) in 1931, and bequeathed to the York Gallery by Lycett Green in 1955.