Parmigianino: Capturing Everyday Early Modern Life Through Drawings

Nina Relf 11 January 2024 min Read

Francesco Mazzola, known as Parmigianino, produced many drawings that captured normal scenes of everyday life during the early modern period. These drawings reveal a new perspective on 16th-century Italian life.

Parmigianino was an Italian Mannerist artist. He was born in Parma in 1503 but moved to Rome in 1524 to pursue an artistic career. He is mostly remembered today for his paintings but was also a prolific draughtsman who created a multitude of prints and drawings.

A whopping 1012 of his drawings exist today. During the 16th century, artists usually created drawings as a preparation stage for larger artwork. For example to practice composition or experiment with a certain figure. The following drawings are extremely rare for this period and unique in the history of art. Parmigianino captured everyday life as it happened around him.

Artist At Work

Parmigianino, A Garzone Grinding Pigments

One example of these unusual drawings pictures an artist’s apprentice at work. The young male figure is grinding paint pigments and is unaware of the artist drawing him. What is particularly noticeable in this drawing is the level of detail created through the use of cross-hatching. Although the artist seems to have drawn the boy from observation, the detailing would have taken much more time.

Parmigianino studio drawing Parmigianino, Interior of a Painter's Studio or Academy

Another drawing in an artist’s studio shows a number of different figures at work. The busy atmosphere of an artist’s studio is communicated, with various figures either modeling or drawing. A glimpse into an artist’s studio like this is particularly rare for this period.

 Drawings of Home and Comfort

Two girls drawing Parmigianino, A Woman Plaiting Another Woman

Other examples of everyday drawings by Parmigianino reveal life as it happened at home. A drawing of A Woman Plaiting Another Woman shows a mundane task. It also displays relationships and a loving image of sisterhood.

Parmigianino, A Bust of a Woman in Profile and Studies of Washing Hanging Out to Dry, Musee Bonnat-Helleu, Bayonne, France

It becomes evident that Parmigianino saw beauty in even the most boring scenes within the home. With a desire to put down anything he could see on paper, Bust of a Woman in Profile and Studies of Washing Hanging Out to Dry shows a scene as mundane as it can get.

Other Parmigianino Everyday Drawings

Parmigianino lovers drawing Parmigianino, A Pair of Lovers, Seated, Renaissance life

The unusual subjects of Parmigianino’s drawings continue. In A Pair of Lovers, Seated, Parmigianino draws himself as the figure on the right. While he drew multiple self-portraits throughout his career, including himself in a scene like this was definitely unprecedented at the time.

Parmigianino farm scene of everyday life Parmigianino, Rustic Scene; Renaissance life

Parmigianino also drew life as it happened on a farm. He captured the different activities involved in the agricultural scene. We can see numerous figures busy with different tasks, including a woman milking a cow. We are provided with a glimpse into what life was really like in 16th-century Italy.

The Significance of Parmigianino’s  Drawings

The drawings reveal aspects of 16th-century life that are rarely captured in artworks from this period. Not only were real-life subjects uncommon, but Parmigianino was also one of the only artists of his time to capture everyday life so frequently. He opened up new possibilities for the purpose of a drawing, as a documentation of daily life.

Before him, drawing was solely used as a tool for practicing and studying composition. Although artists like Raphael and Polidoro da Caravaggio had touched on the genre of everyday drawings before, Parmigianino took the subject to the next level and developed it greatly. The artist approached drawing with an intense determination to capture anything and everything.

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