The Vision of Saint Jerome by Parmigianino

The Vision of St Jerome by Parmigianino (1527)

Another day, another painting and as was the case yesterday, I present you with an Italian artist whose known name is a derivative of the name of his birthplace.  Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola is the full name of today’s artist and he was born in Parma in 1503.  He is more commonly known by his nickname Parmigianino which means “the little one from Parma.  Parmigianino was the leading painter of Parma after Correggio, an artist he studied under, and is celebrated as one of the originators of the Mannerism movement.  He was influenced by artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael and was also a prolific draughtsman and printmaker.

He was one of  eight children.  His father was also a painter but sadly died of the plague when Parmigianino was only two years of age, who then went to live with his aunt and uncle, Michele and Pier Ilario, who were also both artists.  He became active in and around Parma.  In 1524, at the age of twenty-one, he went to live in Rome where he remained until 1527, the year the   Sack of Rome by Imperial troops took place.  His workshop was invaded by German soldiers but, according to Vasari, they were so amazed by his work they left him to continue unhindered.  However that year he left Rome and went to Bologna.  In 1530 he moved back to Parma.   There, he was contracted to paint frescos in Santa Maria della Steccata but failed to complete the commission and was jailed for breach of contract.   According to Vasari, the Renaissance art biographer, after Parmigianino returned to Parma he lost interest in his art and became infatuated with alchemy.   He died in 1540 at the young age of 37 and is buried in Caslamaggiore.

My Daily Art Display today is the altarpiece The Vision of St Jerome which Parmigianino completed in 1527 whilst in Rome and can be found in the National Gallery, London.  It is considered to be his most important work of this time.  Parmigianino experimented with complex poses, contortion and twisting of the human body and in this painting one can see an example of this style.  In a number of his paintings and as can be seen in this work, his figures are elongated, taking up twisted, if slightly unnatural, poses.

In today’s painting we have the Virgin Mary with the Infant Christ held between her knees.  We see Saint Jerome lying on the ground in a deep sleep dreaming of his vision of John the Baptist.  His cardinal’s hat is balanced on the jaw of a skull.  In the foreground we have John the Baptist who leans in a dramatic fashion towards the viewer.  His body is twisted around as he points heavenwards with his right index figure towards the Christ Child whose coming he had predicted.  This pointing gesture was often used by Leonardo.  Attached to his belt is a bowl which he employs for baptism and in his left hand he holds a reed cross.  The Christ Child assumes a contrapposto posture, hovering as if just about to take a step forward.