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Francesco Parmigianino: How an artist who painted irrational beauty was ruined by alchemy
Francesco Parmigianino: How an artist who painted irrational beauty was ruined by alchemy
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One of the masters of the Italian Renaissance, Parmigianino became famous for his ability to paint a special, irrational beauty - distorted, complex, often beyond reality. He lived only thirty-seven years, unable to overcome the critical age for a genius, but hundreds of years later his art remains fascinating, daring and sometimes frightening.

Young artist from Parma

The name under which the artist went down in history gave him the name of his hometown - Parma - as, by the way, and Parmesan cheese, invented here even before the artist was born. And the nickname "Parmigianino" stuck in this diminutive form, probably because its owner showed himself early, surprising with youth and skill.

The real name of Parmigianino is Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola, he was born in 1503 in the artist's family, but lost his parents early and was raised by his paternal brothers - Mikel and Pierre Hilario. One of his uncles, also an artist, attracted his nephew to carry out small orders, and pretty soon the abilities of the young Parmigianino were noticed.

Parmigianino
Parmigianino

He completed the painting "The Baptism of Christ" at the age of sixteen, and at seventeen he received an order for frescoes for the chambers of Paola Gonzaga, an Italian aristocrat. As the guidelines that Parmigianino took for himself, there was the work of Giovanni Antonio Pordemon and Correggio, but quite early the artist formed his own pictorial style, and it was no coincidence that Parmigianino closely followed the absence of repetitions and clich├ęs from the canvases of his contemporaries in his works, including number of the Mannerists strengthening the position.

Parmigianino
Parmigianino

This movement arose, as it were, in opposition to the existing canons brought by Raphael, Michelangelo, whose works for Parmigianino, by the way, were an object of admiration. The Mannerists, with their works, tried to cause surprise, embarrassment, even irritation in the viewer, despite the apparent observance of the basic canons of fine art.

This expansion of the possibilities and goals of art found its fans, including quite influential ones. But the main change in Parmigianino's fate took place in 1524, when he arrived in Rome with his uncles. There Parmigianino got acquainted with the creations of already recognized geniuses, while continuing his own studies of painting and graphics. He sent several of his works to Pope Clement VII, including Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, which was made on a wooden hemisphere and had an interesting feature - the artist depicted what he saw in the mirror, which distorted objects depending on the approach or removal from its surface. Clement VII, who supported the secular orientation of works of art in general, was interested in the original works of Parmigianino, which could not but affect the artist's popularity.

Parmigianino
Parmigianino

Mannerism of Parmigianino

This was the style of Parmigianino - a violation of the harmony of the composition familiar to the Renaissance, the destruction of the plausibility of visible objects and characters, the distortion of proportions. Artists took out beyond the boundaries of reality or light, or colors, or perspective. A characteristic feature of Parmigianino's portraits is the mesmerizing, often ambiguous look of the characters in the paintings.

Parmigianino
Parmigianino

Parmigianino worked in the workshop alone and very much. We know about him, like other masters of the Renaissance, from the works of the biographer of Italian artists Giorgio Vasari, a contemporary of Parmigianino and his colleagues in the workshop. There is a known case when, immersed in his work on the painting "The Vision of St. Jerome", he did not notice how the military broke into the workshop - the soldiers of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V captured Rome. Seeing the artist at work, they did not touch either himself or the canvas.

Parmigianino
Parmigianino

True, soon Parmigianino still had to leave, settling in Bologna. He was at that time 24 years old. The style of the artist in the "Bologna" period of his work is distinguished by abstraction, striving for some unattainable ideal of beauty. Later he returned to his native Parma.

Alchemy

The beginning of Parmigianino's fascination with alchemy is associated with about 1530. In those years, the artist was fascinated by etchings - engravings on metal, and it is difficult to say for sure whether this was the reason for the emergence of interest in alchemical transformations, or the constant experiments with acids and methods of etching metal plates were caused precisely by the proximity to this sudden passion.

Parmigianino
Parmigianino

In the 16th century, alchemy was considered a completely legitimate occupation, however, it gathered around itself a significant number of skeptics, those who did not believe in the possibility of transforming one substance into another and condemned the fanaticism with which alchemists conducted their experiments. According to Vasari, the artist wasted his talent and life on experiments. Alchemy, magic, mystical views of the universe became, according to Parmigianino's contemporaries, the main meaning of his life.

Unfortunately, modern historians have a rather meager amount of evidence from Parmigianino's contemporaries about his life. From the "Biography of the most famous painters, sculptors and architects" Vasari it is known that "in the end Francesco, still carried away by this alchemy of his, turned, like all others who once obsessed with it, from an elegant and pleasant man into a bearded, with hair long and disheveled, almost wild, not at all what he was before."

Parmigianino
Parmigianino

Back in 1531, Parmigianino received an order from the church of Santa Maria della Strecata. He had to decorate the interior of the temple with frescoes. The work turned out to be painful - and instead of the eighteen months stipulated by the contract, Parmigianino spent several years working on the walls of the temple, and in 1539 he was finally arrested for violating the terms of the order. After some time, he got out of prison and fled from his hometown.

Parmigianino died in 1540 in the city of Casalmaggiore, apparently from poisoning with mercury vapor, which he actively used in his experiments on alchemical transformations. According to his will, the artist was buried without clothes, placing a cross on his chest.

Parmigianino
Parmigianino

When examining Parmigianino's paintings and frescoes, there is a temptation to see traces of his passion for alchemy in everything: "Madonna with a Long Neck" allegedly refers to the traditional form of a vessel used in alchemical experiments. Actaeon, a character in ancient Greek mythology, who once caught Diana bathing, is depicted at the moment of his transformation into a deer - and transformations were the essence and main goal of alchemy.

Parmigianino
Parmigianino

Parmigianino's paintings are always provocative enough for the viewer accustomed to the impeccable harmony of Raphael's compositions. By the way, perhaps the only work of the Italian, where the laws of perspective are exactly observed, is "Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene", to the creation of which Parmigianino was inspired by Raphael's painting "Madonna in the Meadow". Too long fingers, disturbed proportions of the human body, and sometimes the body of an animal, as in the painting "The Conversion of Saul", with an accurate and truthful depiction of other details of the composition, create a feeling of unreality when examining the painting - apparently, this escape from the real world was the main motive of the life and work of Parmigianino.

Parmigianino
Parmigianino

The painting "Madonna with a Long Neck", the order for which Parmigianino received five years before his death, was never completed by the artist. She remained in the workshop until the time of his death. It is believed that the master was in no hurry to complete this work as a sign that everything in the world can be endlessly improved, like this painting.

Parmigianino
Parmigianino

Another Italian who became an independent phenomenon of the Renaissance - Lorenzo Lotto, undeservedly forgotten in his homeland, but reopened in modern times.

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