In my previous post about the National Gallery of Parma, I provided some practical information about the opening hours as well as the admission fees of the gallery and introduced to you in detail Leonardo da Vinci’s “La Scapigliata”. Additionally, I showed you through the “special rooms” which are temporarily closed and will be open on weekdays at 10:30, 12:30, 14:30 and 16:30 and on Sundays and public holidays at 14:30 and 16:30, excluding the first Sunday of the month. In the last hall of the series of rooms, I focused on the “Madonna and Child” by Anthony van Dyck and “Capriccio with Palladian Buildings” by Canaletto. In this post, I’ll firstly take you to the rooms dedicated to Correggio, where his masterpieces such as “Madonna and St. Jerome“, “Martyrdom of Four Saints” and “Madonna della Scodella” are exhibited. Then, we will meet another beautiful woman, that is to say, Parmigianino’s “Turkish Slave”. At last, we will wander around in the spectacular Marie Louise Hall and admire Antonio Canova’s sculpture of the duchess. Please note, the order of my introductions is not necessarily the most efficient way to visit the gallery, for example, if you wanna arrive at the Correggio rooms, you will have cross the Marie Louise Hall first. Nevertheless, the gallery is divided into several large sections and it doesn’t really matter which one you visit first. Now, let’e start with Correggio’s “Madonna and St. Jerome”.
“Madonna and St. Jerome” by Correggio
Antonio Allegri, usually known as Correggio, was the foremost painter of the Parma School of the Italian Renaissance. As commented on Wikipedia, he was “responsible for some of the most vigorous and sensuous works of the 16th century”. His works are featured with “dynamic composition, illusionistic perspective and dramatic foreshortening“, which foreshadowed the Rococo art (in which principles of illusion and theatricality are pushed to extreme) of the 18th century. What’s more, he is considered a master of chiaroscuro.
In his works, there are echoes of Mantegna’s style, as well as a response to Leonardo da Vinci. Later, he became influential mainly on the works of Giovanni Maria Francesco Rondani, Parmigianino (whose masterpiece I’ll talk about later), Bernardo Gatti, Annibale Carracci and so on. I remember seeing his “Adoration of the Magi” in the Brera Pinacoteca in Milan, one of the artist’s early works, but the “Madonna and Child (Madonna Campori)” impressed me the most, which is now exhibited in the Galleria Estense in Modena. It, according to Correggio Art Home, marks Correggio’s break with the Leonardo model and preference for the Raphaelesque suggestions.
Compared with the two paintings I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the “Madonna and St. Jerome” is a mature work by Correggio. Commissioned in 1523 by Briseide Colla for her own chapel in the church of Sant’Antonio Abate in Parma, it was finished around 1528 and achieved much admiration immediately. In 1550, the contemporary art historian and painter Giorgio Vasari described it as “a marvelous and magnificent masterpiece, which couldn’t have been painted better.” It is said that this painting was also much appreciated and studied by El Greco. In the early 18th century, the church needed urgent and expensive restoration and several collectors, including the Kings of Poland and France, and the Holy Roman Emperor offered to buy the work. However, in 1749 it was transferred to the Cathedral of Parma and later was bought by Duke Don Philip of Bourbon for the court. During the French occupation of northern Italy, it was taken to Paris. Later, in 1816, it was retrieved by Paolo Taschi and was placed in the National Gallery of Parma together with the other masterpieces by Correggio. It is said that a 1724 copy of the painting hangs in the chapel of Palais Rohan, Strasbourg, but during my visit I didn’t see it. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t paying much attention to Correggio’s works at that point.
As I mentioned before, this masterpiece has been highly appreciated once it was finished and expresses the full maturity of Correggio’s art. First, let’s take a look at the painting’s iconography. It represents the Holy Conversation, but not in the traditional way in which the Virgin Mary is enthroned. As we can see from the 1st picture above, architectural elements are eliminated and all the figures are placed in a natural setting, where only the red curtain acts as a canopy. It somehow reminds me of the canopy that usually hangs over the Virgin’s throne. In this way, the theme is depicted as a domestic scene and the conversation is transformed into an informal narrative. Because a painting can not speak, the characters are communicating intimately by means of gestures and eye contact. St. Jerome is placed on the left and is seen from behind. The lion next to him recalls his hermitage in the desert, while the book that he holds in his hand, which the angel flips and shows to the Christ Child, is the Vulgate, the Bible that the saint translated from the original Hebrew texts into Latin. On the right, we see St. John holding a jar of ointment, which belongs to Mary Magdalene, who is seen worshipping the foot of Baby Jesus.
This altarpiece shows the influences of Mantenga, Leonardo, Raphael and the Venetian masters, but at the same time reveals Correggio’s brilliant independence and creativity. The pyramidal arrangement of the figures was favored by Leonardo, but is broken by the dominating verticality of St Jerome on the left. Together with the canopy, they form a diagonal development, which was favored by Correggio. As I learnt from Web Gallery of Art, “as Correggio grew older, he began to take liberties with the conventions regarding the proportion of figures.” St. Jerome on the left, together with his lion, occupies almost the entire height of the painting, suggesting a dominant role even in comparison with the Madonna and Child in the center. His thick, muscular right leg is strikingly long in comparison to his upper body and rather small head. Let’s take a close look at the smiling face of Baby Jesus. As commented by Giorgio Vasari, he “seems to smile so naturally that it makes those who look at it smile.” In general, the idealized, refined faces with love and sweetness are reminiscent of the style of Raphael while the confident and elegant use of color is characteristic of the Venetian masters.
“Martyrdom of Four Saints” by Correggio
Dating from around 1524, this work is one of the canvasses (two in total) commissioned by Parmesan noble Placido Del Bono for the family chapel in the church of San Giovanni Evangelista in Parma. They are mentioned (although wrongly assigned to the city’s cathedral) by Giorgio Vasari, an Italian painter, architect, writer, and historian, in the first edition (1550) of his “Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects”, for which he is most famous nowadays. It is said that both canvases are in the National Gallery of Parma but unfortunately I only saw one of them, that is to say, “Martyrdom of Four Saints”. I assume that the other one, which is called “Compianto (Lamentation over the Dead Christ)” was on loan during my visit (04/2018).
Immediately after the “Compianto“, Correggio painted the “Martyrdom of Four Saints”, which depicts a rather unusual and rare theme in western religious art, probably requested by the commissioner with a specific symbolic meaning. It tells the story of Placido, one of the first disciples of St. Benedict, who went to Sicily to evangelize and spread the Benedictine rule and was killed along with his sister and brothers during an invasion of infidels. In the front, we can see that the martyrdom is still taking place while at the back, Eutychius and Victorinus appear to have already been beheaded. Above, an angel flies over, carrying a crown, a palm and a lily.
A dominant part of the image shows a violent scene of torture, “where the idea of martyrdom is expressed in poetic tones“. I’d like to draw your attention to the executioner on the left, who is about to hit the saint with the final blow. In order to better handle the sword, he raises his arm to load the strength, which can be seen from the strong twist of the muscles as he turns his head towards the victim. Through this depiction, we feel anger, hatred and brutality. However, from the poses and facial expressions of the two saints, Placido and Flavia, we sense faith, peace and forgiveness. Their ecstatic gaze towards the sky seems to tell us that they are seeing the Paradise and are promised of eternal salvation brought by the angel. By such a strong contrast, we can’t help thinking about the meaning of sacrifice. As I read from the info board on site, the characters, who are shown with intense movements and emotions, which give the scene pathos, anticipate the language of Baroque painting.
“Madonna of the Bowl” by Correggio
This painting was commissioned by the Confraternity of St. Joseph for a chapel of the Parmesan Church of San Sepolcro. The figure of St. Joseph, who became one of Parma’s patron saints in 1528 after a plague, can be seen taking a large part of the entire space. Probably completed by Correggio between 1528 and 1530, it stayed in the church until 1796, when it was taken by the Napoleonic government and transported to Paris. After the defeat of the Napoleon army in 1815, it was returned to Italy and placed, in the following year, in the Ducal Gallery.
The iconography of the painting wasn’t very popular in Italian artistic production but was frequent in the north, as evidenced by the works of Lucas Cranach and Albrecht Altdorfer from Germany. It illustrates an episode of the childhood of Jesus. During the return to Palestine from Egypt, where they escaped to save Jesus from the Slaughter of the Innocents, the Holy Family are resting under a date palm tree. The Virgin is holding a bowl to collect some water, which miraculously appeared, to quench her son and St. Joseph has just picked some dates from the tree to appease Jesus’ hunger. At the background, the angel is fastening the donkey to the tree. Above, we see a group of angels hovering under divine light, reminiscent of the dome fresco in the Parma Cathedral also done by Correggio.
Giorgio Vasari mentioned the work in the second edition of his “Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects” when talking about Girolamo da Carpi, who studied it in the Church of San Sepolcro. What’s more, it was also studied among others by Lelio Orsi, Federico Barocci, Giovanni Lanfranco, Domenichino and later by Carlo Maratta and Pompeo Batoni. A particularly noteworthy feature of the painting is that it’s built on a diagonal line, which starts on the left from the silver bowl, follows the intertwining of hands between the Virgin, the Christ Child and St. Joseph, and finally ends at the right hand of St. Joseph. Baby Jesus, with his particular pose and look, connects the ecclesiastical scene with the real world of the observer.
Frescoes by Correggio
Please note, also in this series of rooms, you will see some frescoes by Correggio such as “Annunciation”, “Coronation of the Virgin” and “Madonna and Child”.
“The Turkish Slave” by Parmigianino
Francesco Mazzola, more commonly known as Parmigianino “the little one from Parma”, was an Italian Mannerist painter and printmaker active in Florence, Rome, Bologna, and his native city of Parma. First of all, what is Mannerism? This art style is also called Late Renaissance, which emerged after the High Renaissance and lasted till around the end of the 16th century, when the Baroque replaced it. Different from High Renaissance art, which is represented by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and early Michelangelo and emphasizes proportion, balance, and ideal beauty, Mannerism exaggerates such qualities and usually results in asymmetrical, artificial (unnatural), tense and unstable compositions. These typical features are very well exemplified in Parmigianino’s “Vision of St. Jerome” and “Madonna with the Long Neck”.
Born in Parma, Parmigianino was recognized as a prodigy, but unfortunately, his career was disrupted by war, and then ended by his death at only 37. Despite his short life, he produced outstanding drawings, was one of the first Italian painters to experiment with printmaking and remains the best known artist of the first generation whose whole careers fall into the Mannerist period. Under the influence of Correggio and having been in direct contact with the students of Raphael and the school of Michelangelo, he studied and reinterpreted High Renaissance art. His works are characterized by “refined sensuality” and often elongation of forms. As I learnt from Wikipedia, he painted a number of important portraits, leading a trend in Italy towards the three-quarters or full-length figure, previously mostly reserved for royalty.
Probably executed around 1532 – 1533 when Parmigianino was studying the decoration of the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Steccata in Parma, the portrait was recorded to be among the collections of Cardinal Leopoldo de’ Medici since as early as 1675. At the beginning of the 18th century, it was sold to the Uffizi and stayed there until 1928, when it returned to Parma through an exchange (two 13th-century panels and a portrait). Personally, it reminds me of the “Portrait of a young lady” by Raphael, now exhibited in the Museum of Fine Arts of Strasbourg.
The title of the portrait is indeed curious. Does this elegant and beautiful woman look like a slave? By no means! The name was given in the 18th century because of a misinterpretation of the sitter’s headwear as a turban. In fact, until 1530, it was a typical headdress of noblewomen called a balzo and examples can be seen in many portraits from that period. Featured with intertwined gold threads, it was a fashion invented for and introduced by Isabella d’Este, Marchesa of Mantua and one of the leading women of the Italian Renaissance as a major cultural and political figure.
As I learnt from the official website, in 1964 the painting went through important restoration work, which recovered the original color of the background. However, the intervention has been criticized because several art historians consider the black background as a later intervention by Parmigianino himself. The analysis performed on the initial preparation of the support base showed the presence of two dimples, in correspondence with the pupils on the face, which was deliberately made by Parmigianino to accentuate the intensity of the look of the woman.
Highly appreciated across Europe, the portrait is not only one of the most famous works by Parmigianino but also a refined icon of European Mannerism. From top to bottom, now let’s take a close look at this masterpiece. The headdress with intertwined gold threads features a medallion in the middle portraying a mythical winged divine stallion, Pegasus, which possibly is a symbol of love or suggests the heraldic emblem of the house of origin of the young woman. Around and within the perfectly oval face, the brown hair and eyes, the long and slim eyebrows as well as the modest and sweet smile are representative of harmonious human expression. She wears a white silk dress or bodice striped with gold, which is depicted with such great care that we can even see the embroidery. On top of that another dress made of indigo satin and with large puffed sleeves is worn low around the shoulders. Around her belly she also wears an apron. As I learnt from Wikipedia, the slender fingers are typical of Parmigianino’s art, on which we seem to be able to spot a small ring, probably a reference to her recent marriage. The ostrich fan, which seems so soft and fluffy, is also depicted with highly detailed brushstrokes.
The Marie Louise Hall
The Marie Louise Hall, also known as the “Hall of Columns“, was designed by the architect Nicolò Bettoli between 1821 and 1825 in neoclassical style. These three rooms are the first “museological” intervention within the Pilotta palace for its transformation into the Galleria Ducale, decided by the Duchess of Parma, Marie Louise. On one end, we will see an oval tribune housing two colossal Roman sculptures, that is to say, Dionysus supported by a satyr and Hercules while on the other end, a niche can be found in which stands the sculpture of Marie Louise as Concordia by Antonio Canova. On the walls, a lot of portraits are displayed which testify to the cultural and artistic contributions of the House of Bourbon, whose members once ruled as the Duke of Parma and commissioned and acquired lots of works from various workshops and academies throughput Europe. Now, let’s take a close look at one of the most important portraits on the walls, “The family of Don Philip of Bourbon” by Giuseppe Baldrighi.
“The family of Don Philip of Bourbon” by Giuseppe Baldrighi
Giuseppe Baldrighi was an Italian painter of the late Baroque (Rococo) and early Neoclassic periods. In this painting, we can see his signature on the floor (as you can see in the 1st picture in the gallery above). The image depicts the daily life of the ducal family in the living room and Baldrighi chose to immortalize a specific moment. In the middle, we see three major characters, who are the Duke Don Philip of Bourbon, his wife Louise Élisabeth of France and their daughter Princess Isabella of Parma. Louise Élisabeth of France, or Duchess Louise Elisabeth, was the oldest and favorite daughter of Louis XV, who was also the only one of the sisters to have been married and received considerable funding from her father to furnish the ducal courts of Parma and Colorno. Their daughter, who will be married to the Archduke Joseph of Austria, is a pupil of Baldrighi himself and is showing the father her own design. The two children on the left bottom corner are Ferdinand, who will become the next duke, and Maria Luisa, the future queen of Spain. On the right, we see Madame Caterina de Gonzales, the Spanish housekeeper, who is dressed in a precious mantilla and, with her authoritative presence, oversees the life of the ducal family.
Baldrighi added to the work a series of precisely drawn objects such as music books, various instruments and a tennis racket, which refer to some of the family’s favorite hobbies. What’s more, the parrot, dog and clock are typical elements of that time. As I read from Wikipedia, “the whole appears in line with the French style“. My assumption of the reason is that firstly, Baldrighi stayed in Paris for a few years and he probably picked up the artistic style at the time. Secondly, the living room was furnished with furniture from France and if this is a realistic depiction, it’s supposed to leave the observers with a “French” impression.
“Portrait of Marie Louise from Habsburg as Concordia” by Antonio Canova
Antonio Canova was an Italian Neoclassical sculptor, famous for his marble sculptures. Inspired by the Baroque and the classical revival, he is often regarded as the greatest of the Neoclassical artists.
The sculpture portrays Marie Louise, an Austrian archduchess who reigned as Duchess of Parma from 1814 until her death. She was also Napoleon’s second wife, thus, Empress of the French from 1810 to 1814. It is said that the commission of the work came to Canova in the autumn of 1810, when he was working on a monument in Florence. He was immediately invited to Paris to agree on the subject and prepare the work. Every phase of the realization is recorded in his diaries, which nowadays tell us the important stages and events of his life. As usual, Canova began with a clay model and after the approval if it and its realization in plaster, he started the real work in marble. Upon returning to Rome, Canova immediately prepared a marble bust and began working on a large statue, depicting the sovereign as Concordia, the Roman goddess of harmony, because of her significant role of peacemaker between Austria and France.
The statue was ready in January 1814, but it didn’t arrive in Paris as planned. One source says that it’s because of the collapse of the Napoleonic empire but the other source says that Napoleon asked the sculpture to be sent to him immediately without paying the agreed fee and Canova, furious with the request, decided to keep it in Rome. Only in 1817, after the Congress of Vienna, Marie Louise became Duchess of Parma and managed to recover the sculpture left in the studio of the sculptor in Rome, deciding to place it in the Reggia di Colorno, where it remained for more than 30 years. In 1848, after the death of Marie Louise (1847), her heirs donated the sculpture to the city of Parma and had it placed in the niche of the hall of the National Gallery of Parma, which is named after the duchess.
Here, Marie Louise is depicted as the personification of Concordia, dressed in ancient style, solemnly seated on a throne, wearing a royal diadem and holding a scepter and patera, a shallow bowl used in religious practice. A particular difficulty of creating the sculpture was to combine the realistic portrait with the classicality of the figure. As I read from Wikipedia, the contrast between the face of Marie Louise and the rest of the composition is evident but the fusion is harmonious.
Colossal sculptures depicting Heracles and Dionysus Supported by a Satyr
Heracles is represented in his characteristic pose, standing and leaning against a trunk, with his left leg bent and slightly advanced and his head turning to the left. The hero is depicted with a prominent chin and short curly hair, reminiscent of the portrait of Domitian. Particularly noteworthy is the lion skin, which hangs bent on Heracles’ left forearm. It refers to the skin of the Nemean lion, a vicious monster in Greek mythology that lived at Nemea, which was eventually killed by Heracles as the first of the twelve labours set by King Eurystheus. It could not be killed with mortals’ weapons because its golden fur was impenetrable and its claws were sharper than mortals’ swords and could cut through any armor. To defeat it, Heracles could only rely on his muscles. The hero, once strangled the monster, covered himself with its skin.
The god, shown standing with his head slightly turning to the left, surrounds the shoulder of a satyr with his left forearm. He supports the satyr, who is girdling him at the waist and on his thigh. The support can be seen from the lifting of the left shoulder. Particularly noteworthy in this sculpture is the himation, an outer garment worn by the ancient Greeks over the left shoulder and under the right. As I learnt from the official website, it could actually be arranged in numerous ways, which indicated the social status and profession of the wearer. Here we see that Dionysus is depicted with a youthful and almost feminine appearance, replacing the archaic image of a bearded god, wrapped in a broad cloak.
The taste, stylistic traits, and site of finding assign the execution of both sculptures to the Flavian dynasty, probably to the sculptor Rabirio. In 1724, they were transferred to the Reggia di Colorno from the Gardens of Farnese upon the Palatine and in 1822, by the order of Marie Louise, they were transferred here in the Oval Room of the National Gallery of Parma.
By now, I have finished introducing to you the National Gallery of Parma inside the Pilotta Palace. It was a pity that I didn’t see the El Greco’s “Christ Healing the Blind” because it was on loan, but I was so happy to see the amazing works by Leonardo da Vinci, Correggio, Parmigianino, Anthony van Dyck as well as Canaletto. If you are interested in Italian Renaissance, make sure you will not miss “La Scapigliata“, “The Turkish Slave”, “Madonna and St. Jerome”, “Martyrdom of Four Saints”, “Madonna della Scodella”, “Capriccio with Palladian buildings” and so on. The staff on site left me a deep impression as well because they were super friendly and even if they couldn’t speak much English, they were trying their best to help and to explain. In the next post, I’ll focus on the Farnese Theater, which preserves the memory of the sumptuous court life of the Dukes of Farnese, and the Palatina Library, founded by Philip of Spain (Don Philip of Bourbon), Duke of Parma from 1748 to 1765 and a son-in-law of Louis XV. What’s more, I’ll also give you a brief introduction to the Archaeological Museum. Please remember, all the sites including the National Gallery, the Farnese Theater, the Palatina Library and the Archaeological Museum are located in the Pilotta Palace, so you don’t need to run here and there in the city to learn about different aspects of its culture and history.