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Parmigianino's Painting Madonna With a Long Neck

Categories: Painting

“Madonna with a Long Neck” is among the most well-known works of Parmigianino, or Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazolla of Parma. Its beauty, stylishness, lengthened forms represent its coming from the later phase of Quirk. For Quirk, the intricacy of kinds and unnatural distortions were typical, given that there was no function to make the painting similar to nature, but to portray the inner concept of something with the aid of a manner. This type of mindset to art is clearly seen in Parmigianino’s “Madonna with a Long Neck”.

In the center, Madonna is sitting with Kid sleeping on her knees, supporting Him with her left hand. Her elegant functions, her small oval head, long neck, the attenuated limbs are the guaranteed marks of the stylish style of Mannerism. On the left, there is a group of five angels squeezed near the Virgin and looking at her and Kid. They bear a vase, most likely, as a gift. Behind the Virgin, there is a white column without a capital, supporting nothing.

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On the right, there is a man in the distance unrolling a scroll and looking not on the Virgin however the opposite side. His figure is little, and it is unclear where he is and what the distance is in between him and the Virgin. Regrettably, Parmigianino did not end up the painting before his death in 1540. David Ekserdjian argues that this small figure represents St. Jerome who takes a look at his intended companion St. Francis. Parmigianino just painted Francis’s ideal foot, but the two saints were the essential parts of his plan.

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Ekserdjian states that the artist initially wished to organize figures symmetrically, and the Virgin with Kid would have been painted in between St. Jerome and St. Francis. However, the author abandoned this objective later on, and on the final version we see asymmetrical place of figures with a crowd of angels left wing and nearly empty space with only a small figure of St. Jerome on the right. There is no combined opinion on the significance of the painting.

Some, like Maniates, see in it the signs of eroticism and heightened sensuality that verges on the immoral, and ascribe “ambiguous charm” to Parmigianino’s Madonna. However, others underline the religious meaning of the painting. Kleiner states that attenuated limbs of Madonna serve not solely for decorative purposes, let alone the erotic ones, but have a religious meaning. Paoletti and Radke agree with this point of view and even examine the religious signs more closely.

In medieval hymns, Virgin’s neck was compared to a great ivory column, and the attenuated neck of Parmigianino’s Madonna is definitely the visual embodiment of this comparison. A single column behind the Virgin on the painting also speaks in favor of this interpretation. Even the most erotic features like the Virgin’s engorged nipples can be interpreted as the religious symbols of her ability to nourish the faithful. In fact, it is hard to believe that Parmigianino painted with the eroticism in mind.

First of all, he painted for Elena Baiardi’s family chapel in Parma, and the frivolous attitude could not be accepted in this case. Then, there is a cross on the vase, that Vasari noted when he first saw the painting in the mid-sixteenth century, and that symbolizes the Christ’s fate to be crucified. Finally, the very attenuated limbs are not erotic but symbolic. Mannerism did not have a goal of depicting natural and erotic; it was symbolical in the sense that it sought to embody the core idea of the things and not their natural appearance.


  1. Ekserdjian, David. “Parmigianino’s first idea for the Madonna of the Long Neck. ” The Burlington Magazine 126, no. 976 (1984): 424-429.
  2. Kleiner, Fred S. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: The Western Perspective. Vol. II. 13th ed. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009.
  3. Maniates, Maria Rika. Mannerism in Italian Music and Culture, 1530-1630. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979.
  4. Paoletti, John T. and Gary M. Radke. Art in Renaissance Italy. 3rd ed. London: Laurence King Publishing, 2005.

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Parmigianino's Painting Madonna With a Long Neck. (2016, Sep 19). Retrieved from

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