22. parmigianino madonna with the long neck 1534-40 oil on panel
Madonna of the Long Neck is an excellent example of the new style of Mannerism, that followed High Renaissance painting in the early 1530s. High Renaissance art – exemplified by Raphael’s Sistine Madonna (1513-14, Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister Dresden) – emphasized harmony and balance. Parmigianino had no interest in this. So, instead of grouping his angels in equal numbers on both sides of the Madonna and Child, he crammed them all into one side, creating extra movement and opening up the picture more fully. Furthermore, the Madonna’s pose describes a typical Mannerist figura serpentinata. In this way, Parmigianino and other Mannerists sought to demonstrate that the classical solution of perfect harmony is not the only answer. After decades of Renaissance ‘harmony’, the new generation of artists – including Jacopo da Pontormo (1494-1556), Rosso Fiorentino (1494-1540), Agnolo Bronzino (1503-72) and Federico Barocci (1526-1612), as well as the Venetians Jacopo Bassano (1515-92), Tintoretto (1518-94), Paolo Veronese (1528-88) and the Cretan painter known as El Greco (1541-1614) – wanted to create something new and unexpected, even if it distorted classical forms and rhythms.
The design of the painting is based on text taken from medieval hymns to the Virgin (herself traditionally understood as an allegorical representation of the Church), which likens her neck to a great ivory column, supporting the Church of God. Thus the exaggerated length of Virgin’s neck is – like the marble pillar or column in the background – a sign of the painting’s religious meaning.
In the lower right-hand corner of the painting is an enigmatic scene, with a row of marble columns and the emaciated figure of St. Jerome. A depiction of St. Jerome was required by the commissioner because of the saint’s connection with the adoration of the Virgin Mary.
Parmigianino has distorted nature for his own artistic purposes, creating a typical Mannerist figura serpentinata. Jesus is also extremely large for a baby, and he lies precariously on Mary’s lap as if about to fall at any moment. The Madonna herself is of hardly human proportions—she is almost twice the size of the angels to her right.  Her right foot rests on cushions that appear to be only a few inches away from the picture plane, but the foot itself seems to project beyond it, and is thus on “our” side of the canvas, breaking the conventions of a framed picture.  Her slender hands and long fingers have also led the Italian medical scientist Vito Franco of the University of Palermo to diagnose that Parmigianino’s model had the genetic disorder Marfan syndrome affecting her connective tissue.  
Madonna with the Long Neck
The subject of this piece is derived from medieval hymns which compared the Virgin’s neck to a great ivory tower or column. Therefore the exaggerated length of the Virgin’s limbs and those of her son and the presence of columns in the background of the painting, are symbolic of the painting’s religious value.
Parmigianino died on 24 August 1540 in Casalmaggiore at age 37. Born Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola, the artist derived his nickname from his hometown of Parma. Though cut short, his career was successful as he gained fame in Parma and Rome, following in the footsteps of Correggio and Raphael. Associated with the so-called Mannerist tendency in sixteenth-century art, Parmigianino created portraits, religious works, and mythological subjects all with his signature elegance, grace, and elongated human forms. His Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror, painted when he was only 21, was one of three paintings given to Pope Clement VII, securing important commissions for him at the Vatican. Important works in Parma included his famous Madonna of the Long Neck, which decorated the Baiardi chapel at Santa Maria dei Servi and his titillating Cupid Sharpening his Bow, which inspired a copy by Peter Paul Rubens.
Portrait of a Man, ca. 1527-31, oil on canvas, Private Collection
- paintings were known as “bedroom paintings” that were kept rolled up or behind curtains
- Beautiful and Brazen Venetian woman, under the guise of venus, skin contrasted against red couch and white sheets
- wearing expensive jewelry
- intentionally provocative painting
Creation of Adam, Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo; 1508-12; fresco; Vatican, Rome; 21-13