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

Madonna and Child with Saints

Oil on wood, 73 x 60 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

This painting dates to the early 1530s, when the artist, who had fled after the Sack of Rome 1527, was staying in Bologna for a few years, focusing on an intense production of altarpieces and paintings for private devotion like this one, commissioned by Count Bonifacio Gozzadini from Bologna.

From the time of his very early works Parmigianino broke away from Correggio, his master, being attracted variously by Raphael, by the light effects of Beccafumi and by the bizarre touches of German engravings. In this work, however, executed after his stay in Rome, there is an unexpected return to the art of Correggio, discernible in the poetry which emerges from the warm, golden colour blends, almost creating a fantastic pictorial vision, and in the ability to capture spontaneous family affections. However, this pervading tenderness is crystallized immediately, intellectually, in the relationship between these human emotions, the refined images of the finely rendered background, and the serious, contemplative face of the saint in the foreground.

The represented saints are John the Baptist, Magdalene and Zachariah. The stern gaze of the latter, father of John the Baptist, guides the beholder towards the Virgin, who is sitting down with the Child in her arms. Baby Jesus, with his large languid, thoughtful eyes, is held tight by John the Baptist, whose tanned complexion is in stark contrast with the pale skin of the Messiah. John the Baptist is bending over to give his cousin a tender kiss, which he returns, caressing his cheek. On the left, a sensual Mary Magdalene, her breast barely concealed by her long blonde flowing hair, shows the vase of anointing oils, her traditional attribute.