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Antonio da Correggio Photo

Antonio da Correggio

Italian Renaissance Painter

Born: August 30, 1489 - Correggio, Italy
Died: March 5, 1534 - Correggio, Italy
Movements and Styles:
High Renaissance
,
The Baroque

Summary of Antonio da Correggio

For an artist who barely saw middle age, and who left behind just 40 or so authenticated works, Antonio da Correggio still ranked as the preeminent painter of the Parma School. As one of the most influential painters of the High Renaissance, Correggio absorbed elements of Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Mantegna while still managing to create oil paintings and frescos with a distinctive signature style. Indeed, his use of chiaroscuro, intense foreshortening, trompe l'oeil illusions, and other perspectival devices combined to infuse his religious and mythological narratives with a sense of pictorial drama that anticipated the emergence of the Baroque and Rococo styles. Correggio was also considered a sublime colorist who executed his highly sensuous mythological narratives with such an exquisite subtlety of touch they appealed even to the most conservative tastes of his day.

Accomplishments

  • Early works, such as Madonna and Child with Saint Francis (1514), showed Correggio to be a prodigious talent whose work fully complemented that of the other great Northern Italian Masters. His sophisticated application of linear perspective, chiaroscuro, and sfumato prompted the famous Renaissance art historian, Giorgio Vasari to declare that "no craftsman ever painted with greater delicacy or with more relief" than Correggio.
  • Through masterpieces such as The Vision of St. John on Patmos (1520-23) and The Assumption of the Virgin (1524-30), Correggio is credited with transforming dome interiors into spectacular swirling, symphonia-like, compositions. His mastery of di sotto in su foreshortening and dramatic lighting effects gave the transfixed viewer the sense of being physically "pulled upward" into heaven. His magnificently dramatic dome frescos did much to inspire the best of the seventeenth century Baroque painters.
  • In his later mythological subjects, such as Leda and the Swan (1531-32), Correggio produced oil paintings with a palpable sense of seduction and eroticism. For an artist who was (according to Vasari) a melancholic and devout man, he produced canvases that might have been considered pornographic (for their time) were it not for the fact that Correggio rendered his naked and semi-naked subjects with a subtlety and lightness of touch that elevated them to the realm of wonderous beauty.
  • Correggio made a fundamental contribution to the development of painting with a mythological and irreligious subject matter. He employed soft and delicate color contours as a means of counterbalancing his lines and of effecting a delicate balance between naturalism and poetics. Indeed, Vasari "held for certain that no one ever handled colours better than he".

Biography of Antonio da Correggio

Half-length portrait of Antonio da Correggio, engraved on a copperplate by Nicolas de Larmessin and printed in the book <i>Académie des Sciences et des Arts</i> (1682) by Isaac Bullart.

Commenting on the unassuming and withdrawn personality of Correggio, the eighteenth-century English essayist and philosopher William Hazlitt wrote that there is "nothing so remote from vanity as true genius" and that it was "almost as natural for those who are endowed with the highest powers of the human mind to produce the miracles of art, as for other men to breathe or move."



Progression of Art

Madonna and Child with Saint Francis (or Madonna of Saint Francis) (1514)
1514

Madonna and Child with Saint Francis (or Madonna of Saint Francis)

In this early work the Virgin Mary, wearing red and blue robes, sits upon a throne at the center of the symmetrical composition, holding the naked Christ child on her lap. Behind her is an architectural setting, featuring Corinthian columns to either side, and a recessed niche onto which is painted a large white cloud directly behind the Virgin and child, as well as many cherubs (baby, winged angels) that form an arc over her head. At the top, in front of the architectural background, fly two full-bodied cherubs, one either side. the left of the throne is Saint Francis of Assisi, identifiable by the stigmata on his hands, bowing and looking up at the Virgin and child. Behind him stands Franciscan priest Anthony of Padua. The two figures to the right of the throne are Saint John the Baptist, and behind him, Saint Catherine of Alexandria.

This work was likely intended as the high altarpiece for the church of the Franciscan convent in the town of Reggio, though about a century later it was taken to Modena by Duke Francesco I d'Este to be hung in his palace. Town records suggest that Correggio produced the impressive work very rapidly, indicating his advanced talent for an artist of such a young age. In the work, the influence of Andrea Mantegna and Leonardo da Vinci can be noted, particularly in the use of linear perspective, chiaroscuro, sfumato, and softer, more delicate treatment of edges.

Oil on wood - Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, Germany

Martyrdom of Four Saints (1524)
1524

Martyrdom of Four Saints

This painting depicts the fourth century Christian martyrs, Saint Placidus, and his sister Saint Flavia. Laying behind them (to their left), and already dead, are sixth-century martyrs, Saints Eutychius and Victorinus (who were also siblings). Placidus and Flavia are being executed by two muscular Roman soldiers. The dramatic scene appears to be set in a forest, in front of a rocky outcropping. The dark-blue evening sky can be seen in the upper-left corner. In the upper-right corner is a small flying angel holds the palm of martyrdom as well as a halo.

This work, along with Deposition (or Lamentation) (1525), was commissioned by local nobleman Placido Del Bono and intended to decorate the side walls of the Del Bono Chapel in the church of San Giovanni Evangelista in Parma. As art historian Maddalena Spagnolo notes, "Given the rarity of the subject, Correggio did not have a solid iconographic tradition to refer to and this freedom, as often happens in great artists, resulted in an opportunity to set the image in an innovative and creative way". We see from his preparatory drawings that he experimented a great deal with the composition, initially arranging the work in a highly symmetrical manner. According to Spagnolo, however, it seems that he then considered the oblique angle at which the work would be seen in the chapel and opted instead for a more diagonal composition.

Spagnolo also notes that the final painting differs from Correggio's preparatory drawings in that he changed Saint Flavia's pose. In his drawings, she was shown with her face in profile and her right arm cross her chest, perhaps in a sort of defensive gesture. However, in the final version, he presents her, as Spagnolo writes, in "a more frontal position [...] with her arms open and her gaze turned to the sky in sweet and submissive acceptance of her martyrdom". It is quite possible that this pose served as inspiration for later works by other artists, including Ercole Ferrata's Death of Saint Agnes (1660-64), in which the young girl being martyred also holds her arms open, willingly accepting her fate.

Oil on canvas - Parma National Gallery, Parma, Italy

Deposition (or Lamentation) (1525)
1525

Deposition (or Lamentation)

This painting shows the moment immediately after Christ has been lowered from the cross (making Lamentation a more accurate title than Deposition). The dead body of Christ is front and center in the composition, while behind him and to the right, we see the base of the cross, and a ladder leaning against it. Descending the ladder is Nicodemus, who holds the pincers that he used to remove the nails from Christ's hands and feet in the deposition process. Christ's head rests in the lap of the grief-stricken Virgin Mary, who, in turn, is supported in her seated position by young Saint John. Mary Magdalene sits just behind Christ's legs, at the right-hand side of the image.

Like its companion work, Martyrdom of Four Saints (1524), Correggio's Deposition has a powerful luminous quality, and follows a diagonal composition, indicating that the artist took into consideration the oblique angle at which it was to be viewed in its intended location. However, art historian Maddalena Spagnolo argues that, when compared with Martyrdom of Four Saints, Correggio's Deposition "is in many ways more innovative [as] it marks a further development in the research dedicated to the representation of the 'motions of the soul' which had begun to interest Correggio starting from the second decade of the sixteenth century" and that this work served in fact as "a model for seventeenth-century artists who were able to develop its pathos in a baroque direction". Curator and art historian Giuseppe Adani also comments upon the powerful emotions, particularly shock and despair, conveyed through this work, and asserts that this and other works by Correggio directly influenced Italian Baroque painter Annibale Carracci.

Oil on canvas - Parma National Gallery, Parma, Italy

The Assumption of the Virgin (1526-30)
1526-30

The Assumption of the Virgin

The art historian Esperanca Camara describes how, in 1522, a group of Parma's leading dignitaries had joined together to commission Correggio's fresco soon after the papacy had liberated Parma from French occupying forces. Camara notes that "In the sacred architecture of the Roman and Byzantine empires, domes were viewed as symbols of heaven" and that Correggio had "merged this symbolism with the Renaissance's fascination for three-dimensional illusion [transforming] the dome from a solid surface into heaven itself. The dramatic di sotto in su (from below to above) perspective [heightening] the reality of the illusion. As the first follower of Christ, the Virgin Mary personifies the Church, the community of the believers [and through] the Assumption's daring foreshortening, Correggio reassured Parma's citizens of the palpable reality of eternal salvation".

The Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta was Parma's most consecrated building and Correggio's fresco celebrated not only Parma's return to a Papal State but also "the final union of the faithful with the divine at the end of time". Indeed, in Correggio's narrative, "Frolicking angels, ranging in age from infants to adolescents, populate concentric bands of clouds that extend into the apex of the dome [as] Mary twists her body and opens her arms as she rises toward the golden light of heaven [her] obedience to God's will [making] her the chosen vessel of the Incarnation [and earning] her a place by Christ's side in heaven". Waterhouse concludes that the Assumption of the Virgin marked "the culmination of Correggio's career as a mural painter, and that his most famous fresco anticipated "the Baroque style of dramatically illusionistic ceiling painting" whereby the "entire architectural surface is treated as a single pictorial unit of vast proportions".

Fresco - Duomo di Parma (Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta)

Danaë (1531)
1531

Danaë

Later in his career, Correggio turned from religious to mythological subject matter. Here, he presents the legend of Danaë, as told by the Roman poet Ovid in his Metamorphoses. Danaë was the daughter of Acrisius (the king of Argos), who was said to have been warned by an Oracle that a son of Danaë would murder him. The king had his daughter locked in a bronze tower to prevent this. However, the God Jupiter descended in the form of golden rain and impregnated Danaë with a son, Perseus, who eventually did carry out the prophecy. Correggio opted to present the most sensual moment of the myth, when Jupiter, represented as a golden cloud, floats down toward Danaë, who is being undressed by Eros, the Greek God of love and sex.

Eros appears to be holding a sheet over the legs of the nude, reclining Danaë, to catch the golden raindrops of Jupiter's seed and guide this toward her sexual organs. At the bottom-right corner, two putti strike gold and lead arrows against a touchstone, representing the test of love's endurance. Moreover, the fact that one putto is winged, while the other isn't, signifies the contrast between "sacred love" and "profane love". This work was commissioned by Federico Il Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, along with seven other paintings focused on the mythical trysts and amorous interventions of the God Jupiter and was likely intended to decorate the Ovid Hall in the Palazzo Te of Mantua.

Despite its charged eroticism, Correggio handles the scene with a delicacy and sensuality that is found lacking in Titian's treatment of the same subject (1544-45). Art historian Ellis K. Waterhouse writes that it was in these later mythological works that Correggio "fully exploited the medium of oil painting. He was intrigued with the sensual beauty of paint texture and achieved his most remarkable effects in [this] series of mythological works [...] The sensuous character of the subject matter is enhanced by the quality of the paint, which seems to have been lightly breathed onto the canvas. These pictures carry the erotic to the limits it can go without becoming offensive or pornographic".

Oil on panel - Borghese Gallery, Rome, Italy

Leda and the Swan (1531-32)
1531-32

Leda and the Swan

The Ovidian myth of Leda and the Swan was painted by Correggio as part of his series on the Love Affairs of Jupiter (also for the Duke of Mantua). The myth tells that Jupiter took the form of a swan to seduce Leda on the banks of the river Eurota. In Correggio's version of this tale (a recurrent topic throughout art history), a nude Leda is shown at the center with the swan laying across her lap, its body being guided between her legs by her left hand, and its long neck twisting up between her breasts. In addition to this moment of lovemaking, Correggio presents simultaneously the pair's meeting on the lower right-hand side, as well as a third moment at the upper right-hand corner: the swan's departure as Leda dresses with the assistance of her handmaiden. On the left-hand side of the image, Correggio balances the scene by depicting Cupid with his bow and two putti with flutes.

This painting shows the influence of Michelangelo, whose treatment of the same subject matter demonstrated a similar sensual eroticism. Biographer Giorgio Vasari remarked that in this and other works, the artist "painted hair in detail, not in the precise manner used by the masters before him, which was constrained, sharp, and dry, but soft and feathery, with each single hair visible, such was his facility in making them; and they seemed like gold and more beautiful than real hair, which is surpassed by that which he painted". Vasari also praised Correggio's talent in painting the skin of Leda and others, writing that "so soft in colouring, with the shadows of the flesh so well wrought, that they appeared to be not colours, but flesh".

It is believed that this painting was originally hung to the left of Danaë, indicating that the swan Jupiter was flying out of this image to the right toward the Danaë painting where the bird transformed into golden rain. Leda and the Swan was, however, relocated several times over the next century, to Spain, Prague, Sweden before arriving in the collection of Philippe II, Duke of Orléans in France. However, Philippe's fervently pious son Louis found the work to be so depraved he attacked it with a knife, damaging Leda's face. The work was eventually restored in the eighteenth century. However, in the process of the restoration, Leda's lustful expression was subdued and presented as more chaste. However, it is still clear from the composition, as well as the satisfied look on the face of Leda as she watches the swan depart, that Correggio intended to present this encounter as a seduction rather than a violation. In 1939 the Austrian painter, Paul Mathias Padua, produced his own interpretation of the painting, Leda mit dem Schwan, which was bought by Adolph Hitler (for 5,000 Reichsmarks) for his second bedroom.

Oil on canvas - Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Germany


Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Antonio da Correggio
Influenced by Artist
Artists
Friends & Personal Connections
  • No image available
    Michelangelo Anselmi
  • No image available
    Cosimo Tura
  • No image available
    Isabella d'Este
Movements & Ideas
Artists
Friends & Personal Connections
  • No image available
    Michelangelo Anselmi
  • No image available
    Cosimo Tura
  • No image available
    Isabella d'Este
Open Influences
Close Influences

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Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Antony Todd

"Antonio da Correggio Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Antony Todd
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First published on 09 Oct 2021. Updated and modified regularly
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