Parmigianino (NOTE: for a version that has the pictures integrated into the text, download the attached Word file.)
(see links to pictures, below)
Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola, also known as Francesco Mazzola or more commonly as Parmigianino (a nickname meaning 'the little one from Parma') or sometimes "Parmigiano", was a prominent Italian Mannerist painter and printmaker active in Florence, Rome, Bologna, and his native city of Parma.
Parmigianino’s 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. By the age of eighteen, he had already completed an Marriage of Catherine altarpiece for Santa Maria at Bardi.
In 1521, Parmigianino was sent to Viadana to escape the wars between French, Imperial, and papal armies, where he painted the Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine for San Pietro.
In 1524, he travels to Rome with five small paintings including the Circumcision of Christ and his Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror, seeking patronage of the Medici pope, Clement VII. Vasari records that in Rome, Parmigianino was 'celebrated as a Raphael reborn'.
In January 1526, Parmigianino and his uncle, Pier Ilario, agreed with Maria Bufalina from Citta di Castello, to decorate the church of San Salvatore in Lauro with an altarpiece of the Vision of Saint Jerome (1526-7, National Gallery, London). Like many other artists, within a year the Sack of Rome caused Parmigianino to flee, and he was not to fulfill the promise of being the next Raphael.
After residing in Bologna for nearly three years, by 1530 Parmigianino had returned to Parma, where he painted many Madonnas and altarpieces commissions, including the Madonna with the Long Neck, his most famous work. It is representative of the Mannerist tendency to elongate the figure, especially necks and hands. (pg. 45 inset)
There are several things a bit unnerving in the picture, such as the way the baby is portrayed, elongated in the torso, but with a baby’s head, hands, and feet. He also looks dead, or drugged, rather than just sleeping, with his arm hanging straight down.
The painting was left unfinished when Parmagianino died in 1540. This explains some of the oddities of the painting, such as the lack of finish in the upper right corner of the painting as well as the representation of the bases of many columns in the lower right middle ground but only one column (without a capital) in the upper reaches of the background.
Literature is a key element to understanding the Madonna with Long Neck. A recurrent simile in medieval hymns and litanies to the Virgin Mary was to liken Her neck to an ivory tower or column, and the architectural reference to the column furthered her symbolic role as representing the Church. In this case, Parmagianino paints the metaphor and offers us an image of the Virgin compared to a column, an analogy to which he draws our attention by contrasting the curvilinear and rectilinear forms of their representations. Moreover, we know that Francesco Baiardi, father of the patron, was himself the author of a number of poems in which the simile of the Virgin and the column figured prominently, adding further to the personal content of the image for Elena Baiardi.
Parmigianino was one of the most remarkable portrait painters of the century outside Venice. Some of his best portraits are in Naples, in the National Museum and Gallery of Capodimonte, including the Gian Galeazzo Sanvitale (1524), next page, and the portrait of a young woman called Antea (c. 1535–37).
Many questions about the painting remain unanswered. Of these, the most persistent concerns the sitter's identity. One of the earliest mentions of the painting, dating from the late seventeenth-century, claims she is Antea, the famous Roman courtesan, and Parmigianino's mistress. Other theories suggest she is the daughter or servant of Parmigianino, a noble bride, or a member of an aristocratic northern Italian family. Her distinctive face is identical to that of an angel in another painting by Parmigianino, his Madonna of the Long Neck (c. 1534-39, Uffizi, Florence), commissioned by a Parmese noblewoman, Elena Baiardi, which has led some scholars to propose that the subject of Parmigianino's Antea was a member of the Baiardi family. Others have suggested that it is not a representation of a real woman at all, but a painting of an "ideal beauty".