significance of madonna with the long neck
The painting is popularly called Madonna of the Long Neck because “the painter, in his eagerness to make the Holy Virgin look graceful and elegant, has given her a neck like that of a swan.”  On the unusual arrangement of figures, Austrian-British art historian E. H. Gombrich writes:
Instead of distributing his figures in equal pairs on both sides of the Madonna, he crammed a jostling crowd of angels into a narrow corner, and left the other side wide open to show the tall figure of the prophet, so reduced in size through the distance that he hardly reaches the Madonna’s knee. There can be no doubt, then, that if this be madness there is method in it. The painter wanted to be unorthodox. He wanted to show that the classical solution of perfect harmony is not the only solution conceivable . Parmigianino and all the artists of his time who deliberately sought to create something new and unexpected, even at the expense of the ‘natural’ beauty established by the great masters, were perhaps the first ‘modern’ artists. 
Transfiguration (c.1518-20) by Raphael.
An important precursor of the Mannerist idiom.
The Burial of Count Orgaz (1586-88) by El Greco.
Depicts the legendary funeral of Don Gonzalo de Ruiz with Saint Stephen and Saint Augustine.
“Madonna of the Long neck”, painted by Parmagianino, providied a initially disturbing impression of the Madonna and baby Jesus, but upon closer examination and understanding the beauty of the painting is revealed. Parmagianino uses a mannerist style in his painting which displays a very disproportionate and skewed depth sense to the viewer. Rather than taking art from nature, such as in the Renaissance, Mannerism takes art from art. This is what Paragianino does in this painting, as we can see close resemblence of this painting with the past work of Michaelangelo’s Pieta. Parmagiano takes the beauty and naturalism of the Renaissance and exaggerates it into an elegant mannerist depiction.
The Madonna and baby Jesus appear randomly distorted upon first glance, but a closer look and understanding of the time meaning can be applied to some of the distortion displayed. For example, the trait that gives this painting its name is the long neck worn by the Madonna. Parmagianino purpousfully elongates her neck in refrence to a popular medeaval hymn in which Mary’s neck is compared to a great ivory tower or column. The columns seen in the background further express this idea and are symbolic of the painting’s religious value. The Madonna is further distorted as she takes on a shape of a diamond as her head and feet appear very tiny and her hips very wide. She almost becomes a landscape for the large baby Jesus that lays across her lap.
And so to our picture today, which was painted by the great Mannerist artist Girolamo Francesco Mari Mazzola, more commonly known a Parmigianino which translated means “the little one from Parma”, his birthplace. Today’s work of art is his painting, Madonna with the Long Neck. This was his crowning masterpiece. He commenced working on the painting in 1534 for the church Santa Maria dei Servi at Parma. However at this time of his life the artist became fascinated with alchemy and all the magic that goes with it and this obsession resulted in his art commissions being neglected and on his death six years later this painting was still incomplete.
If we look closely at the Madonna we can see that her physical features have been distorted by elongation. Look at the length of her neck, hands, fingers and feet, all of which are too long. Look at the lower half of her body. This seems to be far too wide. Are all those features part of the Mannerism concept? Some art critics would have us believe that the elongated length of her neck has religious significance and harks back to medieval hymns and litanies to the Virgin Mary which compares her neck to a great ivory tower or column (is that why we have a white column in the background of the painting?) and that the architectural reference to the column furthered her symbolic role as representing the Church. But if this was the reasoning behind the long neck what was the reasoning behind the elongation of her hands, fingers and feet? Another strange aspect to the painting of the Virgin Mary is there is a sensuousness about her pose and her clothing which is very unusual in Madonna portraits. Look how the fingers on her right hand touch her breast. Look how the almost transparent greyish garment lies against her breast and how the cloth hangs against her nipple. See how her fingers almost point towards her breast and nipple as if guiding our eyes to what we should observe. Look at how the cloth gathers tightly against her stomach and how we can clearly see her navel. Parmagianino’s Madonna has elaborately curled hair which is decorated by pearls and frames her exquisite and beautiful face. The robes she is wearing are sumptuous and cascading. This is a very unusual portrayal of the Mother of Christ. This is more a portrait of a (then) present day beauty. She has the beauty of a Raphael Madonna but incorporates, some would say, “suffers from”, the elongation at the hands of a Mannerist painter.
Madonna with the Long Neck
Madonna with the Long Neck