Girolamo Francesco IL PARMIGIANINO (GIROLAMO FRANCESCO MAZZOLA)
Study of the Madonna and Child
Brush in brown ink over black chalk, washed in light brown
Inv. No. 4255 (Purchased by Johann Friedrich Städel)
27.5 × 19.6 cm
This study of a Madonna and Child comes from the collection of museum founder Johann Friedrich Städel (1728–1816), who owned a number of drawings by Parmigianino. Described by Giorgio Vasari – biographer of the artists of the Italian Renaissance – as the »heir to Raphael’s soul«, the Italian painter was greatly admired in the eighteenth century. This may have been due in part to a certain affinity between his elegantly Mannerist art and the ornamental style of the Rococo, but also undoubtedly to his long-famed virtuosity as a draughtsman. The sensitive drawing medium played an important role during the Enlightenment and the »Age of Sensibility.«
In this brush study, based on a light under-sketch in black chalk, Parmigianino appears to have been thinking of Raphael, the artist he so emulated. His Madonna, holding the standing Child gently in her arm and looking down from her throne of clouds, clearly derives from Raphael’s Madonna di Foligno (ca. 1511/12), likewise shown hovering on clouds. The sturdy, well-balanced corporality and restful pose of the latter, however, is transformed in Parmigianino’s drawing into a body that appears to stretch and float. Her elegant lightness is emphasized by the drawing technique: the delicate, transparent passages applied with the brush contrast with the light tones of the paper to pleasing effect. It seems likely that this sheet was a relatively early design for a major work of Parmigianino’s, The Madonna and Child with Saints John the Baptist and Jerome of 1526/27, now in the National Gallery in London, although it is also possible that it was executed later, after the artist had been forced to move to Bologna by the 1527 Sack of Rome.