Antonio IL CORREGGIO (ANTONIO ALLEGRI)
Detail study for the cupola fresco depicting the Assumption of the Virgin in the cathedral of Parma
Red chalk, pen in brown ink
Inv. No. 395 (Purchased by Johann David Passavant at the auction of the collection of King William II in The Hague, 1850)
25.9 × 35.8 cm
The cupola fresco decorated with the Assumption of the Virgin in the cathedral of Parma (ca. 1524–1530) is a major late work by Antonio Allegri, called »Correggio« after the village near Parma where he was born. In and after the period of Raphael, Correggio was one of Italy’s most important painters, whose elegant and sensitively expressive figures, delicate coloration and daring compositions were still exercising a strong influence on the Baroque painters of the seventeenth century. The reason for his popularity among the latter is clearly evident in the cupola in Parma. Here the artist fills the spacious, eight-part cupola with a turbulent crowd of angels, saints, and biblical figures on clouds, rotating around the central figure of the Virgin. The extraordinary illusionism of the composition, which makes it appear as if the cupola were open to the sky, was greeted in its own time with both reserve and downright rejection, but would later prove to have paved the way for the ceiling decorations of the Baroque. Correggio must have prepared for this novel and extremely difficult composition in a large number of drawings, only a handful of which have survived. The red chalk sheet in the Städel Museum, acquired by Johann David Passavant in 1850 at the auction of the collection of King William II of the Netherlands, is the only extant study encompassing a relatively large portion of the composition. It shows a group of female figures near the Virgin, among them – at the left – Eve with an apple, and – to the right – a daringly foreshortened figure of a pointing Judith. (The head of Holofernes, near the right knee of the latter, is more easily recognizable in the fresco than it is here.) The composition is already highly developed, and Correggio has divided it into squares in order to be able to enlarge it to the proper scale, taking into account the boundary between two segments of the cupola; a further section of the dome can be discerned at the far left. Even at this advanced stage, the artist continued to experiment with various additions, as is seen in the sketch of a putto at the far right.