Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist and
by Parmigianino (Francesco Mazzola)
The original function of this painting is unknown, but its scale and subject matter imply that it was perhaps independently commissioned by an individual, intended for personal devotion or display in a small private chapel. The unconventional iconography of this painting typifies Parmigianino’s innovative work. The Virgin and Child are separated from one another; while she reaches across to clutch him by the wrist, he turns away to converse with and embrace his cousin, Saint John the Baptist, whose hands are joined in prayer. Between them is a young woman with beautifully coiffed but partially unbound flowing locks, who is supporting the Christ Child under her arms; she is most likely Mary Magdalene, although in older literature on the painting she was often misinterpreted as Saint Catherine of Alexandria. Her true identity is established by the foreground still life, which includes a string of pearls and a stiletto of the sort used in the preparation of one’s toilette, and also by a representation of her ecstatic bodily assumption in the upper left of the composition. In what may well be his final work of this kind, Parmigianino employed his usual method of dividing the composition between a group on one side and a single figure on the other.The painting’s support is composed of several sheets of paper, carefully laid down and smoothed onto a wood panel. Extremely well-preserved, the Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene exhibits Parmigianino’s characteristic polished and enamel-like paint surface and meticulous attention to detail, and presents a supreme example of the artist’s mature style.
Oil on paper, laid down on panel (about 1535-1540)
by Parmigianino (Francesco Mazzola) (Italian, 1503-1540)
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