Madonna With the Long Neck (1535) by Parmigianino
Interpretation of Mannerist Religious Painting

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Madonna of the Long Neck
By Parmigianino.
Considered to be one of the
Greatest Paintings Ever.

Madonna With the Long Neck (1535)


The Mannerist Idiom
Explanation of Other Mannerist Paintings


Name: Madonna With the Long Neck (Madonna dal collo lungo) (1535)
Artist: Parmigianino (Girolamo, Francesco Maria Mazzola) (1503-40)
Medium: Panel picture with oils
Genre: History Painting (religious)
Movement/Style: Mannerism
Location: Uffizi Gallery, Florence

For an explanation of other important pictures from the Mannerist period, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed (1250-1800).

For analysis of paintings by
Mannerist painters like
Parmigianino, see
our educational articles:
Art Evaluation and
How to Appreciate Paintings.

Analysis of Madonna With the Long Neck

One of the most naturally gifted Old Masters associated with Mannerist painting, Parmigianino was the younger contemporary of the other great painter from Parma, Correggio (1494-1534). Like other Mannerist artists, Parmigianino's painting is marked by its elongated figures - executed, in his case, with considerable elegance and refinement. It exerted considerable influence on the artistic taste of the royal courts of Europe, notable the Fontainebleau School (1528-1610). As well as religious paintings, he produced some exceptional portrait art, numerous woodcuts and a quantity of etching. He also left behind some of the best Renaissance drawings of the 16th century. Pursued by the Parma authorities for breach of contract over two uncompleted altarpieces, he fled the city in late 1539, and died of a fever shortly afterwards in Casalmaggiore, at the tender age of 37.

Madonna With the Long Neck (also referred to as "Madonna and Child with Angels and St. Jerome") is generally regarded as Parmigianino's masterpiece. It was commissioned by Elena Baiardi, as an altarpiece for her private chapel in the church of Santa Maria dei Servi at Parma. It was started in 1534 and completed at Pentecost in 1535, but it reached its intended destination only after the artist's death. Hence it is often referred to as 'unfinished'. Described as lyrical and aloof with a cool but polished colour, it achieved widespread fame during the sixteenth century and in 1698 it was acquired by Ferdinando de' Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany. It has been in the Uffizi since 1948.

The design of the painting is based on text taken from medieval hymns to the Virgin (herself traditionally understood as an allegorical representation of the Church), which likens her neck to a great ivory column, supporting the Church of God. Thus the exaggerated length of Virgin's neck is - like the marble pillar or column in the background - a sign of the painting's religious meaning.

The composition shows a majestic Madonna seated on a throne clad in luxurious robes, with the elongated form of the infant Jesus on her lap. With her right hand, she points ambivalently at her breast, clearly outlined beneath her thin, shimmering dress, indicating the intimate relationship between herself and her baby. The latter lies with outstretched arms and closed eyes, prefiguring his redemptive death on the cross and the lamentation to come. Six angels cluster in the space on the Madonna's right, to adore both mother and child - an action echoed by the figure of St. Jerome, who is closely associated with the adoration of the Virgin Mary. The angels are presenting the Madonna with a vessel which - according to the renowned Renaissance biographer Giorgio Vasari (1511-74) - used to be adorned with a bright red cross - another allusion to the crucifixion.



The Mannerist Idiom

Madonna of the Long Neck is an excellent example of the new style of Mannerism, that followed High Renaissance painting in the early 1530s. High Renaissance art - exemplified by Raphael's Sistine Madonna (1513-14, Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister Dresden) - emphasized harmony and balance. Parmigianino had no interest in this. So, instead of grouping his angels in equal numbers on both sides of the Madonna and Child, he crammed them all into one side, creating extra movement and opening up the picture more fully. Furthermore, the Madonna's pose describes a typical Mannerist figura serpentinata. In this way, Parmigianino and other Mannerists sought to demonstrate that the classical solution of perfect harmony is not the only answer. After decades of Renaissance 'harmony', the new generation of artists - including Jacopo da Pontormo (1494-1556), Rosso Fiorentino (1494-1540), Agnolo Bronzino (1503-72) and Federico Barocci (1526-1612), as well as the Venetians Jacopo Bassano (1515-92), Tintoretto (1518-94), Paolo Veronese (1528-88) and the Cretan painter known as El Greco (1541-1614) - wanted to create something new and unexpected, even if it distorted classical forms and rhythms.

Explanation of Other Mannerist Paintings

Transfiguration (c.1518-20) by Raphael.
An important precursor of the Mannerist idiom.

Last Judgment Fresco (1536-41) by Michelangelo.
This mural painting with its writhing mass of figures reflected the uncertainties felt by Italians following the sack of Rome in the late 1520s.

The Burial of Count Orgaz (1586-88) by El Greco.
Depicts the legendary funeral of Don Gonzalo de Ruiz with Saint Stephen and Saint Augustine.

View of Toledo (1595-1600) by El Greco.
Wild, tempestuous, atmospheric landscape of El Greco's beloved city of Toledo.

The Disrobing of Christ (1577) by El Greco.
Dramatic scene in which Christ is stripped before his crucifixion.

Christ driving the Traders from the Temple (1600) by El Greco.
Illustrates the Biblical story of the Cleansing or Purification of the Temple.


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