Artist Stories

6 Things You Must Know About Parmigianino

Zuzanna Stańska 11 January 2024 min Read

Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola, known as Parmigianino (1503–1540) was a great Italian Mannerist painter and printmaker active in Florence, Rome, Bologna, and his native city of Parma. His work is characterized by a “refined sensuality” and often elongation of forms. Here you will learn 6 essential facts about his life and works!

1. He was professionally active from a young age.

Parmigianino, Sacra Conversazione, Bardi Altarpiece, 1521, Church of Santa Maria, Bardi, Italy.
Parmigianino, Sacra Conversazione, Bardi Altarpiece, 1521, Church of Santa Maria, Bardi, Italy. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Parmigianino was raised by his uncles who taught him the techniques of painting. By age 18 he had already completed an independent commission – the Bardi Altarpiece (1521) for the church of Santa Maria at Bardi.

2. He was an accomplished portraitist.

Parmigianino, Gian Galeazzo Sanvitale, Count of Fontanellato, 1524, Pinacoteca, Museo Nazionale, Naples
Parmigianino, Gian Galeazzo Sanvitale, Count of Fontanellato, 1524, National Museum of Capodimonte, Naples, Italy.

Parmigianino was also an accomplished portraitist who depicted the important people of distinguished circles in Florence, Rome, Bologna, and of course his native Parma.

Fun fact — he made this famous portrait of an anonymous man who looks just like Keanu Reeves!

Parmigianino, Portrait of a Man, c. 1530, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy.
Parmigianino, Portrait of a Man, c. 1530, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy.

3. He created one of the most famous self-portraits in art history.

Parmigianino, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, c. 1524, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Parmigianino, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, c. 1524, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria. Flickr.

Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror was painted in 1524, when Parmigianino was only 21 years old. This intriguing self-portrait was made on a convex wooden panel (24.4 cm diameter, or 9.6 in) to emphasize the distortion of the illusionistic painting. We can read this work as an advertisement of the artist’s painterly talent. It is currently displayed at Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria.

4. Parmigianino died young.

Parmigianino (attributed), Self-Portrait with Red Beret, 1540, Galleria nazionale di Parma
Parmigianino (attributed), Self-Portrait with Red Beret, 1540, Galleria nazionale di Parma, Parma, Italy.

The last years of Parmigianino’s life were tumultuous. First, he was imprisoned for two months for not finishing one of his large commissions. Then, in 1540, he died of a fever in Casalmaggiore, when he was only 37 years old. Rumor has it that the artist’s downfall was accelerated by his fascination with alchemy and magic.

5. Parmigianino was most likely the first printmaker in Italy.

Parmigianino, The Lovers, c. 1527–30, etching, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA.
Parmigianino, The Lovers, c. 1527–1530, etching, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA.

Scholars believe that Parmigianino was the first Italian artist to make etchings and his work significantly influenced the art of printmaking. Although the techniques of printing using copper plates required special skills, the ease with which acid, as a substitute for ink, could reproduce the spontaneity of an artist’s hand attracted the artist. He also designed chiaroscuro woodcuts, and although his output was small, he had a considerable influence on Italian printmaking. Some of his prints were done in collaboration with Giovanni Jacopo Caraglio.

 

6. His two largest projects belong to his least known works.

While his portable paintings and prints now belong to collections of major museums around the world, his two largest projects are in Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Steccata in Parma and in a fortress, Rocca Sanvitale, in a small town nearby. Their locations, in conjunction with their lack of large main subjects, has resulted in them being less well known than other works by similar artists. See these monumental fresco projects yourself:

Parmigianino, Three Foolish Virgins Flanked by Adam and Eve, fresco, 1530s, Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Steccata, Parma, Italy.
Parmigianino, Three Foolish Virgins Flanked by Adam and Eve, fresco, 1530s, Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Steccata, Parma, Italy. Wikimedia Commons (public domain). Detail.
Parmigianino, Three Foolish Virgins Flanked by Adam and Eve, fresco, 1530s, Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Steccata, Parma, Italy
Parmigianino, Three Foolish Virgins Flanked by Adam and Eve, fresco, 1530s, Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Steccata, Parma, Italy. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).
Parmigianino, Diana and Actaeon, 16th century, Rocca Sanvitale, Fontanellato near Parma, Italy.
Parmigianino, Diana and Actaeon, 16th century, Rocca Sanvitale, Fontanellato near Parma, Italy. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

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