(b. ca. 1490, Correggio, d. 1534, Correggio)


Italian painter, named after the small town in Emilia where he was born. (His real name was Antonio Allegri.) His career is poorly documented and his training has to be conjectured on stylistic grounds. Echoes of Mantegna's manner in many of his early paintings indicate that he may have studied that master's work in Mantua, and he was influenced in these works also by Lorenzo Costa and Leonardo, adopting Costa's pearly Ferrarese colouring and, in the St John of the St Francis altarpiece (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, 1514), his first documented work, Leonardo's characteristic gesture of the pointing finger. Later he developed a style of conscious elegance and allure with soft sfumato and gestures of captivating charm. Correggio may well have visited Rome early in his career, although Vasari maintains that he never went there and the obvious inspiration of the paintings of Raphael and Michelangelo could be accounted for by drawings and prints that were known all over Italy. Although he worked mainly in provincial centres, he was one of the most sophisticated artists of his time, blending disparate sources into a potent synthesis.

He was probably in Parma, the scene of his greatest activity, by 1518. His first large-scale commission there was for the decoration of the abbess's room in the convent of S. Paolo. The theme of the decorations is Diana, goddess of chastity and the chase, and the vaulted ceiling uses Mantegna's idea of a leafy trellis framing putti and symbols of the hunt. The S. Paolo ceiling was followed by two dome paintings in which Correggio developed the illusionist conception — already used by Mantegna - of depicting a scene as though it were actually taking place in the sky above. The first of these domes was commissioned for the church of San Giovanni Evangelista in 1520. The twelve Apostles sit on clouds round the base, while Christ is shown in steep foreshortening ascending to heaven. In the commission six years later for an Assumption of the Virgin in the dome of Parma Cathedral he used the same principle, but on a much larger scale and with still more daring foreshortening. These works reveal Correggio as one of the boldest and most inventive artists of the High Renaissance and they were highly influential on the development of Baroque dome painting (one of his most important successors, Lanfranco, was a native of Parma). He executed other important religious paintings, such as the Madonna and Saint Jerome, also called Day (1527?, Parma Gallery) and Holy Night (1530?, Dresden Gallery).

Other aspects of Correggio's work were even more forward-looking. His extraordinarily sensuous mythologies, notably the series on the Loves of Jupiter painted for Federigo Gonzaga in c. 1530-03 (Ganymede and Jupiter and Io in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; Leda in the Staatliche Museen, Berlin; Danae in the Borghese Gallery, Rome), foreshadow the paintings of Rococo artists such as Boucher, and it was at this time that Correggio's reputation was at its height.