Antonio Da Correggio – Design And Composition

Correggio’s drawing appears to be formed on one principle—to avoid angles, and keep only to the most graceful curves ; his child-angels have rounded forms, his women sinuous attitudes. The hardness of outline in the dress of his men is generally counteracted by a loosely flying scarf or draped mantle, such as in the Joseph of Arimathea in The Deposition at Parma, and the St. Joseph in The Repose in Egypt. Even in depicting a Christ he cannot bring himself to the conventional emaciation, but he makes Him with round fleshy limbs and elegant contour. Mengs thinks that although he never went to Rome he must have seen and studied some classical works ; but even in his mythological pictures there is little sign of classicism beyond the subject itself. They are all of the voluptuous, sensuous style, which belongs more to the romantic school than the classic. In fact, he is in colour what Chopin was in music, entrancingly delightful, but as far removed from the grandeur of Michael Angelo on one side, and Andrea del Sarto’s light ringing scale of colour on the other, as Chopin was from the massive power of Beethoven and the light melody of Mozart.

There was always a touch of paganism even in Correggio’s religious pictures, and yet he was too naturalistic ever to be truly classic, for classic art is restrained and impersonal. His Madonnas, his Christs and his angels are all the most beautiful forms he could conceive, but always human, never Divine ; so his pagan deities are equally exquisite and equally human. A truly Greek Venus is an abstract ideal. Correggio’s Goddess seems a living and breathing being.

Correggio’s composition is perhaps his weakest point. Mengs asserts that his inventions were only inspired by sentiment and not reflection. He was deficient in imagination and his grouping often faulty. In The Madonna of St. Jerome at Parma the gigantic figure of that saint dwarfs all the others, and in the exquisitely painted Deposition from the Cross at Parma the lines of the three principal figures—the dead Christ, the fainting Madonna, and Mary Magdalene—all lean one way ; this may certainly have been intentional if Correggio wished to give a feeling of lassitude to the whole picture. Sometimes, however, his grouping is picturesque — indeed, almost theatrical — but there is such a mannerism in his faces, that, as far as expression goes, there is but slight difference between his Madonna and a Venus. ” If his groups were well put together, it was more with the object of massing his lights and shades than for the life-like action and expression of the different figures. He was past master of the art of foreshortening, and carried it even to excess. So great was his repugnance to straight lines that he scarcely painted a head which was not seen either from above or below.”

It is said that he studied the art of fore-shortening by making little figures of clay and hanging them in the direction he wished to represent them.

In his draperies Correggio has also sought the pleasing rather than the true. While they are beautifully shaded and toned, they are not always natural. Mengs says he worked from small models which he dressed in rags or paper, consequently the drapery was arbitrary rather than falling in natural folds. He was apt to give such importance to his draperies that the figure suffered ; the nude was often disguised or cut off by them. A good instance of this may be seen in The Adoring Madonna of the Uffizi, the form of whose lower limbs is completely lost, and no indication of feet can be seen beneath the flowing robe-. And yet, though in his Madonnas he may have sacrificed the form to the drapery, in his angels and celestial beings he did the opposite—i.e., sacrificed everything to the nude. Evidently, with him the Madonna was the only spiritual being to whom a semblance of clothing was needful. Angels, small and large, crowd his frescoes and canvases, but they are the “human form Divine,” unveiled and unrestrained. Their action is violent, but their forms perfect, the exact antithesis to Fra Angelico’s ethereally robed and calmly dignified angels. His boy angels have every possible human attribute except clothes ; they dance and romp and play pranks with the Madonna’s vestments and the archangel’s wings — iii fact, if they were anywhere but in religious pictures they would stand as mischievous imps. The genii that attend his pagan goddesses are precisely the same as the angels around the Madonna—the perfection of child-form, and perfection of human flesh-painting, but utterly devoid of divinity.