Madonna with the Long Neck

Parmagianino, Madonna with the Long Neck, 1534-40, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy. Image from Wikipedia

What’s an artist to do when he’s bursting onto the scene just after greats like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael recently left it? This was the dilemma faced by the Italian Mannerists, artists who had to figure out a way to emerge from the shadows of Renaissance greats and define their own style.

One look at Parmagianino’s most famous painting, The Madonna with the Long Neck, tells us he was trying to do exactly that.  Unlike the muscular Madonna by Michelangelo or the graceful, grounded Madonnas of Raphael, Parmagianino elongates the figure of the Madonna, and every other person in the painting.  The Christ Child seems to slip dangerously off of her lap; bones seem rubbery within legs and fingers.  To add to the effect, the painting is larger than life–really emphasizing the length of her limbs. 

Things to think about How does your eye travel through this painting?  What kinds of tricks does Parmagianino use to help your eye along this path?

4 thoughts on “Madonna with the Long Neck

  1. My eye travels from the Virgin’s face, down her body to the strangely proportioned child, through his body to the left viewing each face of the ‘angels’ up through the draped curtain and off the page. My eye is brought back in with the solitary capitol down to the man in a tunic carrying a scroll.

    It’s all about composition and placement of figures, objects within the picture plane. Perspective and proportion are not as strong in this almost pre-Surreal painting.

  2. I noticed that I felt like I hit a dead end going from the Madonna’s face down to the child. Unlike Kim, I didn’t follow the obvious sweep to the left, but kept trying to take in the whole picture, and still kept sticking at the prone figure. It seems that Parmagianino didn’t want the observer to venture down into the lower portion of the composition and look too closely at the disproportionate lower body of the Madonna. She is huge! It’s the same device Michelangelo used in the Pieta, but seems unnecessary here since Christ is still an infant rather than a grown man.

  3. this is the great achievement in art history because permigianino break out the classical rules of art….the graco roman style effected the art since the greek period…for this it is the great achievement

  4. What strikes me in looking closely at the work, really for the first time, is the body of the Christ child. Standard Madonna iconography depicts Him sitting upright on her lap. This image is unique in His lying prone. We cannot even see His full face, and His eyes are closed. And of course, this recalls, as mentioned above…the Pieta.

    Parmigianino is reminding us of the truth of Redemption: that Jesus Christ took on our human flesh to die for our sins. He was destined to die for us from the moment of His birth.

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