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Parmigianino
(1503-1540)

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"I can well imagine that some may find [Parmigianino's] Madonna almost offensive because of the affectation and sophistication with which a sacred object is treated. There is nothing in it of the ease and simplicity with which Raphael had treated that ancient theme. The picture is called the 'Madonna with 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. He has stretched and lengthened the proportions of the human body in a strangely capricious way. The hand of the Virgin with its long delicate fingers, the long leg of the angel in the foreground, the lean, haggard prophet with a scroll of parchment - we see them all as through a distorting mirror. And yet there can be no doubt that the artist achieved this effect through neither ignorance nor indifference. He has taken care to show us that he liked these unnaturally elongated forms, for, to make doubly sure of his effect, he placed an oddly shaped high column of equally unusual proportions in the background of the painting. As for the arrangement of the picture, he also showed us that he did not believe in conventional harmonies. 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; that natural simplicity is one way of achieving beauty, but that there are less direct ways of getting interesting effects for sophisticated lovers of art. Whether we like or dislike the road he took, we must admit that he was consistent. Indeed, 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. We shall see, indeed, that what is now called 'modern' art may have had its roots in a similar urge to avoid the obvious and achieve effects which differ from conventional natural beauty."

- From "The Story of Art", by E.H. Gombrich


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1534 Madonna of the Long Neck




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