Assumption of the Virgin by Correggio
Analysis of High Renaissance Fresco Painting in Parma Cathedral

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Assumption of the Virgin (1526-30)
By Correggio in Parma Cathedral.

Assumption of the Virgin (1524-30). By Correggio.
Regarded as one of the Greatest Paintings of the High Renaissance.


Analysis of Assumption of the Virgin (Parma Cathedral)
Legacy and Influence
Explanation of Other Renaissance Fresco Paintings


Name: Assumption of the Virgin (1526-30)
Artist: Antonio Allegri da Correggio (1489-1534)
Medium: Fresco painting on ceiling
Genre: Religious art
Movement: High Renaissance painting
Location: Parma Cathedral, Parma

For an interpretation of other celebrated oils and frescoes,
please see: Famous Paintings Analyzed (1250-1800).


A specialist in quadratura painting, Correggio was the most important artist of the Parma School of Painting (1520-50), and is best-known for his magnificent Assumption of the Virgin (1524-30) for Parma Cathedral. Being a provincial painter he was overshadowed by artists involved in Renaissance art in Rome during the papacy of Pope Julius II (1503-13) and his successors. Even so, his virtuoso trompe l'oeil painting and foreshortening had a huge impact on later quadraturisti including Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669) - creator of the famous Allegory of Divine Providence (1633-39) - and Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709) - creator of The Apotheosis of St Ignatius (1688-94). Correggio also excelled at mythological painting: see, for instance, his masterpiece Jupiter and Io (1533, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna).

Analysis of the Assumption of the Virgin at Parma by Correggio

The Assumption of the Virgin at Parma was Correggio's second important dome fresco - the first being his Vision of St. John the Evangelist (1520-21), for the dome of the church of San Giovanni Evangelista. Commissioned in 1522 - shortly after the Papal forces liberated the city from the French army of occupation - and completed in 1530, this daring piece of Renaissance art - influenced by Melozzo da Forli - was painted on the underside of the dome in the Romanesque Cathedral of Parma, and offered a model for Baroque painters throughout the 17th century. The apostles stand on the encircling balustrade, while in the centre of the scene the Virgin Mary, in red and blue robes and surrounded by layers of clouds populated by angels, saints and patriarchs, ascends into the radiant light of heaven. The extreme foreshortening of the bodies and the clear, deliberate lighting create a feeling of complete weightlessness and boundlessness that is accentuated even more by the enormous illusionary effect of depth. In this huge composition the entire architectural surface becomes a single pictorial unit of massive proportions, so that the spectator equates the dome of the church with the vault of heaven. The way in which the figures seem to actually intrude into the spectators' space was, in its day, an astounding use of foreshortening, although the method was in widespread use among Italian Baroque artists specializing in illusionistic ceilings.



Correggio's Assumption of the Virgin was created shortly after Luther's Protestant Reformation of 1517 - an event that turned the Biblical art of the cinquecento into a struggle for souls, as the Church in Rome tried to regather lost support. Although the campaign did not start properly until the Council of Trent (1545-63), Correggio's mural painting reaffirmed key themes of Catholic dogma - central features of later Catholic Counter-Reformation Art - including the doctrines of Transubstantiation, of Mary's status as a Holy Intercessor, and of the Church's role in human redemption. In the circumstances, the joyful reunion of the Virgin Mary with her son also symbolized the return of Northern congregations to the one true Church, as well as the return of Parma to the Papal States (the land ruled by the Pope).

The narrative of the Assumption unfolds as the spectator walks down the central aisle (the nave), towards the main altar situated directly beneath the dome. To begin with, the nave's ceiling obstructs the view of the dome, and only St Hilary of Poiters and St John the Baptist - the patron saints of Parma - are visible, in the triangular niches supporting the dome. Then we see the Apostles who are standing on a ledge around the octagonal base of the dome. Some are shielding their eyes from the brightness of the divine light; others are gesticulating in their excitement, their robes blown about by the supernatural force that is drawing the Virgin upwards into heaven. At last the Virgin comes into view, floating on a cloud in the vortex of the dome, surrounded by concentric rings of worshipping angels of all ages. She opens her arms as she rises higher and higher into the golden light of heaven, Correggio's di sotto in su perspective dramatically enhancing the reality of the illusion.

NOTE: For more about other provincial church painting during the Italian Renaissance, please see Venetian Altarpieces (c.1500-1600).


The Assumption of the Virgin in Parma Cathedral represented a highly novel method of dome painting. In particular, Correggio's massing of figures in a vortex, creating narrative as well as decoration, the apparent obliteration of the architectural roof-plane, and the thrusting movement towards divine infinity, made it one of the most extraordinary religious paintings of the 16th century. It also had a lasting influence - directly or indirectly - on future quadratura artists, including:

• the Piedmont artist Gaudenzio Ferrari (1480-1546), in his cupola frescoes in Santa Maria dei Miracoli in Saronno;
• the Venetian Pordenone (1483-1539), in his fresco at Treviso;
• Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647), in the dome of Sant'Andrea in Rome;
• Carlo Cignani (1628-1719), in his Assumption in Forli Cathedral;
• Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709), in The Apotheosis of St Ignatius (1694, Rome);
• Tiepolo (1696-1770) in the Wurzburg Residence frescoes (1753), Germany.

Explanation of Other Renaissance Frescoes

Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel Frescoes (1303-10)

Brancacci Chapel Frescoes (1424-8)

Genesis Fresco, Sistine Chapel (1508-12)

The Creation of Adam (1511)

Last Judgment Fresco, Sistine Chapel (1536-41)


• For more outstanding Renaissance mural paintings, see: Homepage.

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