Assumption of the Virgin

05.03.14: 480th anniversary of the death of Correggio (1490-1534).

Correggio, "Assumption of the Virgin" (1530)

Born in Correggio, a small town equidistant between Mantua and Parma in northern Italy from which he takes his name, Antonio Allegri is now perhaps the least familiar of the great painters of the Italian Renaissance. His most important works – innovative vault and dome frescoes and many altarpieces – remain in Parma, the native city of his follower, Parmigianino. Only a relatively small number of other religious images, two allegorical pictures, and the artist’s six erotic paintings on mythological themes – including ‘The School of Love’ – for Federigo II Gonzaga, Lord of Mantua, have entered major European museums. Had a painter as accomplished and influential as Correggio been employed in a more self-conscious and self- publicising artistic centre, such as Florence or Rome, he would surely have been better documented in his lifetime. Were Parma still on the tourist trail, as it was in the more leisurely century of Grand Tourism, he might be better known today. Few of the millions of visitors to Rome now realise, for example, that the great Baroque dome and vault decorations of the city’s churches, flooded with heavenly light and dizzying crowds of saints and angels, emulate Correggio’s frescoes of a hundred years earlier, through the agency of Lanfranco, a painter from Parma. Equally, the playful sensuality of eighteenth-century Rococo art owes much to Correggio’s easel paintings in French royal collections.

The fresco of the Assumption of the Virgin in the dome of the cathedral of Parma marks the culmination of Correggio’s career as a mural painter. This fresco (a painting in plaster with water-soluble pigments) anticipates the Baroque style of dramatically illusionistic ceiling painting. The entire architectural surface is treated as a single pictorial unit of vast proportions, equating the dome of the church with the vault of heaven. The realistic way the figures in the clouds seem to protrude into the spectators’ space is an audacious and astounding use for the time of foreshortening.

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