CORREGGIO was an artist unique of his kind. He belonged to no special school, but formed his own peculiar style. The cause of this spontaneity may partly be accounted for by his narrow sphere and isolation from the great art centres, for he was a local genius, little known and little knowing beyond the limits of Correggio, Parma, and Modena. He had consequently few opportunities of comparing his work with that of his greater con-temporaries. His style was also partly due to his own character : he abhorred sorrow and gloom, and clung to joy and lightness in every-thing. Thus it became his aim in art to give the most graceful expression to his ideas, and to charm the beholder with beauty. To reach these ends he used every means he could either learn or invent to harmonize his tones, blend his lights and shadows, soften and round his outlines, and render every face agreeable.
Mengs, who made the most thorough analysis of his art, places Correggio in a triad of great luminaries, the other two being Raphael and Titian. They each selected a certain phase of art to bring to perfection. Raphael chose expressionthe soul of artwhich he found in composition and design ; Correggio gracethe mind or intellect of art–which he worked out in chiaroscuro ; Titian, truth to nature, or corporeal art, which he expounded in colour. ” Raphael,” says Mengs, ” is the greatest of the three, because expression of the inner soul is the highest aim. Titian, I take it, is the last, because truth is only a duty of art, but not fulfilled in its highest meaning without the mind to select the best truths, and the soul to bring out their inner meanings.” It is said that Correggio’s mind was formed by the graces, and certainly there was a strong pagan element in it. His mind rebelled at all expression of the deeper emotions. As the weeping of a child changes to smiles on the first diversion, so he cast off anything approaching to the sad or the terrible. If he had known the works of Michael Angelo, his force and terribilitâ would have smitten Antonio with horror.
In his first works he tried to imitate nature, but soon found that this was not enough to make a pleasing picture ; he realized that one must eliminate the bad from the good, and so he began to render his figures more graceful by soft-flowing outlines, to avoid strong contrasts of colour, and to mitigate his shadows with reflected lights. Thus his inimitable style was gradually formed, and he became the greatest master of chiaroscuro which Italy has ever possessed. His technique was in every way masterly, the roundness and morbidezza of his flesh is inimitable, and he could play with colour in a way that not even Andrea del Sarto could surpass. His admirers, the Caracci, tried to imitate his style, but failed ; their drawing was always harder, their colouring less fused. Sir Joshua Reynolds says of him : ” The excellence of Correggio’s manner has justly been admired by all succeeding painters. This manner is in direct opposition to the dry and hard manner which preceded him. His colour and mode of finishing approach nearer to perfection than those of any other painter ; the gliding motion of his outline and the sweetness with which it melts into the ground, the clearness and transparency of his colouring, which stops at that exact medium in which the purity and perfection of taste lies, leave nothing to be desired.”