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Antonio da Correggio Photo

Antonio da Correggio - Biography and Legacy

Italian Renaissance Painter

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

Biography of Antonio da Correggio


Correggio was born Antonio Allegri but became known as Correggio after the name of the small town of his birth - Correggio, referred to colloquially simply as Reggio - in northern Italy. His father's family is believed to have arrived from Florence, from where, his grandfather, Domenico, was exiled in 1433 because of his outspoken opposition to the powerful banker and politician, Cosimo de' Medici.

Little else is known of Correggio's early life but it is believed that his father, Pellegrino Allegri, was a local tradesman. Nothing at all is known of his mother. Some historians believe that Correggio was wholly self-taught, but it is highly likely that he received some artistic training from his uncle, Lorenzo Allegri, himself a painter of modest renown (but for whom there are no surviving works). There is some informed speculation that he may have also been a pupil of local painters Quirino Allegri (his cousin) and Antonio Bartolotti.

Education and Early Training

Between 1503-05, Correggio undertook an apprenticeship in Modena with Francesco Bianchi Ferrara, who himself was trained by the Early Renaissance painter, and co-founder of the School of Ferrara, Cosimo Tura. Correggio's early work, which consisted mainly of small-scale panels for local churches and monasteries, showed a high level of talent in anatomy, architecture, optics, perspective, and sculpture, and pointed to the influences of Lorenzo Costa, Francesco Francia, and Leonardo da Vinci. Correggio started experimenting with wall paintings, too, producing a variety of frescos that began the gain notice.

<i>Madonna and Child with Saints Elizabeth and John the Baptist</i> (c. 1510) shows Correggio's stylistic debt to Lorenzo Costa and Andrea Mantegna.

In 1506 Correggio moved to Mantua where he arrived shortly before the death of the famed early Renaissance painter Andrea Mantegna. It is thought likely that he produced the Madonna and the Child with St. Elizabeth and John the Baptist, which demonstrated the strong influence of both Costa and Mantegna, around 1510. In 1514 Correggio probably finished two round paintings (tondi), the Entombment of Christ and Madonna and Saints, for the Basilica of Sant'Andrea in Mantua where he also completed the decoration for the family chapel of the late Mantegna. Arts professor Ellis K. Waterhouse notes that "Although his early works are pervaded with his knowledge of Mantegna's art, his artistic temperament was more akin to that of Leonardo [...] who had a commanding influence upon almost all of the Renaissance painters of northern Italy". Waterhouse states, moreover, that whereas "Mantegna uses tightly controlled line to define form, Correggio, like Leonardo, prefers chiaroscuro, or a subtle manipulation of light and shade creating softness of contour and an atmospheric effect".

Mature Period

In 1514, with his celebrity now in its ascendency, Correggio returned to Reggio where he completed an altapiece of the Madonna of St. Francis, and a small number of richly colored devotional paintings including the Nativity, Adoration of the Kings, and Christ Taking Leave of His Mother. From 1515 Correggio divided his time between Reggio and Parma. In Parma he met and developed a friendly relationship with Mannerist painter Michelangelo Anselmi. Although he would emerge as a great champion of the artist, the art historian Giorgio Vasari, considered it a great shame that Correggio did take his talents to Rome; if he had, said Vasari, "he would have wrought miracles, and would have brought the sweat to the brow of many who were held to be great men in his time". It is known, however, that Correggio did visit Rome between 1518-19, where he would have studied works by Raphael and Michelangelo. It is also thought he drew inspiration from a visit the "lost" Vatican chapel of the Belvedere di Mantegna. Scholars surmise, too, that, given his affinity with Leonardo, Correggio must have visited Milan around the same time.

Waterhouse dates the start of Correggio's mature style proper at 1519, when, (back) in Parma, he painted the ceiling of the abbess's parlor in the convent of San Paolo. In 1519, Correggio married Girolama Francesca di Braghetis, who also hailed from Reggio. The couple had at least one son, Pomponio Allegri, who became a painter but lacked the natural talents of his father. (Sadly, Girolama passed away from unknown causes in 1529.)

<i>The Vision of St. John on Patmos</i> (1520-23). The first of Correggio's famous dome frescos seems to offer the viewer a gateway into heaven itself.

In 1520 Correggio began work on the cupola of the Benedictine church of San Giovanni Evangelista. The Vision of St. John on Patmos, which represents a narrative from the book of Revelations, showed the apostles in a circular arrangement around the outer edge, with clouds above and behind them, and at the center/apex of the work, Christ descends from the heavens, framed by a golden sky that appears to be glowing. The fresco secured Correggio many further important commissions. Like his later masterpiece, Assumption of the Virgin (1524-30), the swirling composition and skillful use of perspective gave the viewer the sense of being thrust upward into the heavens.

Waterhouse explains, how The Vision of St. John on Patmos (and Assumption of the Virgin) anticipated "the Baroque style of dramatically illusionistic ceiling painting" whereby the "entire architectural surface is treated as a single pictorial unit of vast proportions, equating the dome of the church with the vault of heaven". Indeed, as art historian Esperança Camara has pointed out, "In the sacred architecture of the Roman and Byzantine empires, domes were viewed as symbols of heaven".

Late Period and Death

Between 1526-30, Correggio produced what many believe to be his career defining fresco, the afore mentioned, The Assumption of the Virgin, which graced the dome of Parma's Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta. Here he had fully mastered a form of illusionistic foreshortening known as di sotto in su (from below to above) which influenced the future of religious dome frescos. Camara wrote: "Correggio's unusual and seemingly indecorous portrayal of Christ in extreme foreshortening, with his youthful legs exposed, draws attention to Christ's physicality, and thus both to his Incarnation through the Virgin Mary and his bodily presence in the Eucharist. Painted during the first decade of the Protestant Reformation, Correggio's fresco visually reaffirmed Catholic doctrines that had come under attack, in particular the doctrines of Transubstantiation [the changing of the elements of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ], of Mary's status as intercessor, and of the Church's role in human redemption [...] The clergy, who gazed up [at Correggio's fresco] from the main altar or their seats in the choir, saw primarily the realm of heaven".

<i>Madonna of St. Jerome</i> (<i>Il Giorno</i>) (c. 1928). Correggio had become so well known his works were even given nicknames, such as <i>Il Giorno</i> (<i>The Night</i>).

Waterhouse remarked, meanwhile, that, the remainder of Correggio's important works, though difficult to date with any certainty, fell into three categories: "the great altarpieces (and a few other large religious compositions); exquisite small works of private devotion; and a handful of mythological subjects of a lyrically sensuous character". Waterhouse adds that "Many of the altarpieces became so well known that they acquired nicknames. The Adoration of the Shepherds (c. 1530) is called Night (La Notte), and the Madonna of St. Jerome is popularly known as Day (Il Giorno). The late altarpieces are generally characterized by an intimate and domestic mood sustained between idealized figures. This intimate and homely poetry also distinguishes the small devotional works, such as The Madonna of the Basket and The Virgin Adoring the Child Jesus, while the Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine is a visual essay in the mid-16th-century aesthetic of ideal feminine beauty".

In the final years of his short life, Correggio returned permanently to his hometown of Reggio. By now he had turned away from religious subject matter and was focused more on mythological themes. Correggio conceived of his famous series of the loves of Jupiter, as described in Ovid's Metamorphoses, as a commission from Frederick the Great who wished to decorate his private "Ovid room". However, the works were gifted to the visiting Roman Emperor, Charles V. The series included Leda and the Swan, which was, according to Classics professor Herica Valladares, the most ¨sophisticated and sensuous" of all Correggio's works.

A copper engraving of Correggio by Antonio Locatelli dated 1837.

Our best understanding of Correggio "the man" comes from the account of his life by Vasari who described an artist whose low self-esteem belied the wonderful quality of his oeuvre. Vasari described Correggio as "very timid by nature [and] very melancholy in his practice of art [...] He was, in truth, a person who had no opinion of himself [who] contented with little, and [...] lived like an excellent Christian". Correggio passed away on March 5, 1534, although the tale of the circumstances of his death should perhaps be treated with a degree of skepticism. The story goes that the frugal artist had completed a commission in Parma for which he was paid in copper coins totaling sixty scudi, which was not an insignificant weight to carry by hand. To save on travel costs, Correggio opted to walk the 37 kilometers from Palma to his home in Reggio. An exhausted Correggio stopped in the blazing sun to drink water from a stream into which the artist then collapsed and drowned. What is certain is that he was buried one day after his death at his local church of San Francesco.

The Legacy of Antonio da Correggio

The famous Renaissance art historian, Giorgio Vasari, said of Correggio (despite some earlier reservations) that "Antonio most certainly deserved all praise and honour during his lifetime, and the greatest glory from the lips and pens of men after his death". Indeed, Correggio produced a highly decorative and dynamic narrative form that would come to exemplify the Baroque style. His pioneering use of di sotto in su foreshortening, for example, influenced later spectacular dome frescos including Gaudenzio Ferrari's Glory of Angels (1534-35) (Santa Maria dei Miracoli in Saronno), Giovanni Lanfranco's Assumption of the Virgin (1625-27) (S. Andrea della Valle in Rome), and Carlo Cignani's Assumption of the Virgin (1702-06) (the Forli cathedral in Romagna).

Waterhouse wrote: "Although his influence can be detected in later Parmese painting, especially in the Mannerist style of Parmigianino, Correggio had many imitators but no direct pupils who deserve mention". His decorative ideas were indeed taken up by the Baroque painters of the seventeenth century, but Correggio also became "almost a tutelary deity of the French Rococo style, and his great altarpieces were among the works most abundantly copied by the traveling artists of the 18th century during their years of study in Italy". The last word should perhaps go to Vasari who wrote, "Many things might be said of the works of this master; but since, among the eminent men of our art, everything that is to be seen by his hand is admired as something divine, I will say no more".

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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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