(b. 1503, Parma, d. 1540, Casal Maggiore)

Madonna dal Collo Lungo (Madonna with Long Neck)

Oil on panel, 216 x 132 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

This was painted for the church of Santa Maria dei Servi at Parma. It is the masterpiece of the culminating period in the art of Parmigianino, done almost the same time as the frescoes of the Steccata at Parma. The painter worked upon the picture for six years, but this notwithstanding, it remained unfinished. It is a work of intense if somewhat aloof poetical feeling, this effect mainly arising from the splendid abstraction of the forms, so smoothly rounded under the cool and polished colour.

The painting takes its subject from a simile in medieval hymns to the Virgin which likened her neck to a great ivory tower or column. Appropriate to the traditional understanding of the Virgin as an allegorical representation of the Church, this imagery was also exploited in poems. Thus the exaggerated length of the limbs of the Virgin and her son, as well as the presence of columns in the background of the painting, are not contrived merely for their decorative value, but clearly signal the painting's religious meaning.