parmagianino’s madonna with the long neck

Parmagianino’s madonna with the long neck
The Madonna with the Long Neck (Italian: Madonna dal collo lungo), also known as Madonna and Child with Angels and St. Jerome, is an Italian Mannerist oil painting by Parmigianino, dating from c. 1535-1540 and depicting Madonna and Child with angels. The painting was begun in 1534 for the funerary chapel of Francesco Tagliaferri [1] in Parma, but remained incomplete on Parmigianino’s death in 1540. Ferdinando de’ Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany, purchased it in 1698 and it has been on display at the Uffizi since 1948. [2]
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. [4] 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. [4] 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. [5] [6]

Parmagianino’s madonna with the long neck

For an explanation of other important pictures from the Mannerist period, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed (1250-1800).

The composition shows a majestic Madonna seated on a throne clad in luxurious robes, with the elongated form of the infant Jesus on her lap. With her right hand, she points ambivalently at her breast, clearly outlined beneath her thin, shimmering dress, indicating the intimate relationship between herself and her baby. The latter lies with outstretched arms and closed eyes, prefiguring his redemptive death on the cross and the lamentation to come. Six angels cluster in the space on the Madonna’s right, to adore both mother and child – an action echoed by the figure of St. Jerome, who is closely associated with the adoration of the Virgin Mary. The angels are presenting the Madonna with a vessel which – according to the renowned Renaissance biographer Giorgio Vasari (1511-74) – used to be adorned with a bright red cross – another allusion to the crucifixion.

Parmagianino’s madonna with the long neck
Parmigianino has stretched and lengthened bodily parts in the painting in a strange and impulsive way. The Angel’s leg in the foreground is glossy and suggestive, whilst the prophet, holding up his scroll, looks emancipated and gaunt. The lavish, inviting image of the Madonna, combined with crowd of Angels in various states of undress has led some critics to believe that Parmigianino was trying to eroticize the scene.
Parmigianino studied and admired the grace and poise in Raphael’s art, but he has remodeled the figures from the old master’s work and turned them into almost unearthly creatures: their limbs, ivory marble skin, blithe attitude, all portray a different idea of ideal beauty.

Parmagianino’s madonna with the long neck
Title: Madonna of the Long neck
Artist: Parmagianino
Medium: Oil on Wood
Location: Uffizi (Florence, Italy)
Time: 1535-1540
Dimensions: 85 in x 52 in
Baby Jesus appears as a abnormally large and long baby that lays motionless, appearing dead, upon his mother’s lap. This disturbing portrayal of Jesus is better understood when compating it to the “Pieta” by Michaelangelo. In the “Pieta” Jesus is a grown man who lays dead across the lap of his mother Mary with his arm dangling motionlessly over her lap. This portrayal of Jesus is mirrored in “The Madonna of the Long Neck” as the baby Jesus appears dead and laying lefelessly across Mary’s lap with his arm hanging over in the same manner. By mirroring the style used in the “Pieta” a foreshadowing of what is to come for the baby Jesus is being communicated to the viewer

Parmagianino’s madonna with the long neck
According to Gould, this picture “is Parmigianino’s most famous [and] also his most characteristic and most extreme”. That a single work can be simultaneously his most ‘extreme’ and his most ‘characteristic’ hints at the kind of visionary artist Parmigianino was. The elongated figure of the Madonna is a stunning realization of those two words most often associated with Parmigianino: grace and elegance. The assemblage of the various limbs and their angles in relation to one another is as harmonious as it is erotically charged; and as balanced as it is asymmetrical. The painting certainly garnered the consent of E. H. Gombrich who, in The Story of Art, suggested that his goal, and that of other Mannerists, was to create something “more interesting and unusual” than that of the former generation of Italian masters. Gombrich argued moreover that Parmigianino (as part of the Mannerist movement) might even be grouped amongst the first truly “modern” painters because he “sought to create something new and unexpected, even at the expense of ‘natural’ beauty [as] established by the great masters”.
The painting then retains some of the “violent asymmetry” that Gould observes in its preparatory sketches, and though it might be a radical statement at this point in the history of devotional art, just “One step farther in this same direction”, argued Freedberg, and “we should fall either into vapidity or hysteria”). Freedberg’s point was that, though highly idiosyncratic, Parmigianino’s instincts had known when to kerb his creative indulgences. Gombrich summed it up best perhaps when he said of Madonna dal Collo Longo “if this be madness there must be method in it.”


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