Parmigianino 1503–1540 Italian Painter

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Italian painter

The Italian artist Parmigianino (Giorlamo Francesco Maria Mazzola) painted in a sophisticated and elegant style later known as Mannerism*. His graceful portraits and religious images won him high praise and influenced many other Renaissance artists.

The son of a painter in the city of Parma, Parmigianino was taught by his uncles, Pier Ilario and Michele Mazzola. The young Parmigianino showed early talent and completed his first painting at age 16. Three years later he completed two frescoes* for the chapel of Parma's San Giovanni Evangelista church. The frescoes, along with several of the artist's other early works, reveal the influence of the Italian master Correggio.

In 1524 Parmigianino and his uncle Pier Ilario went to Rome to study the ancient ruins and the highly regarded works of Michelangelo and Raphael. Impressed by Parmigianino's grace, good manners, and artistic style, critics began to compare him to Raphael. While in Rome, he experimented with printmaking techniques such as etching. He also completed a small number of paintings, including an altarpiece*—the Vision of St. Jerome—for the chapel of a local nobleman. According to the Renaissance art historian Giorgio Vasari, the painter was working on this altarpiece when the army of emperor Charles V sacked Rome in 1527. Soldiers broke into Parmigianino's studio and captured him. Rather than harming him, though, they demanded some of his drawings as ransom.

In 1530 Parmigianino returned home to Parma to create a pair of altarpieces for the church of Santa Maria della Steccata. He never completed these paintings, but the many drawings he made in preparation for them show that he spent a great deal of time developing his ideas. In about 1534 Parmigianino began his most famous work, an altarpiece called the Madonna of the Long Neck. Created for the chapel in the Servite church of Parma, it depicts the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus across her lap. Again Parmigianino prepared a large number of sketches in search of the right design. Although he never finished the painting, the completed sections show the elongated lines and elegant poses typical of his work.

In the late 1530s, the church members who had commissioned the paintings for the Steccata church became frustrated with Parmigianino's lack of progress. They had the painter jailed briefly, and then barred him from working on the project. Parmigianino fled to the nearby town of Casalmaggiore, where he worked on various other pictures. Still hoping to return to Parma and finish the Steccata altarpieces, he died at age 37.

(See alsoArt; Art in Italy. )

* Mannerism

artistic style of the 1500s characterized by vivid colors and exaggeration, such as elongated figures in complex poses

* fresco

mural painted on a plaster wall

* altarpiece

work of art that decorates the altar of a church