Italian Paintings – Antonio Allegri


Between Modena and Mantua, in the little town of Correggio, was born in 1494 the greatest painter in the north of Italy. His name was Antonio Allegri. He is called Correggio from the town where he was born. He is one of Symonds’ four archangels of painting. He describes him as “the Ariel or Faun, the lover and light-giver. He surprised laughter on the face of the universe and paints this laughter in ever varying movement.”

When he was quite a young man he went to Parma, and there, in the Cathedral, the church of San Giovanni and the convent of San Paola, he did some of his greatest work. The frescoes in the dome of the Cathedral contain more than a hundred figures ; the subject, the Assumption of the Virgin. It is full of glorious life, and wonderful in execution. The people of Parma did not appreciate it, and in 1530 the canons of the church determined to have it effaced. Fortunately for the world before this was done, Titian passed through the city in the suite of Charles V. He could not say enough in praise of the work. He said to the people, “If you had filled the church with gold you would not have paid what it is worth.”

In the museum at Parma is his St. Jerome, a picture of wonderful beauty. Browning, in Bishop Blougram’s apology, makes the Bishop say :

“We mortals cross the ocean of this world Each in his average cabin of a life; The best’s not big. How prepare?”

In making the list of furnishings, he says :

“And Parma’s pride, the Jerome, let us add: ‘Twere pleasant could Correggio’s fleeting glow Hang full in face of one where’er he roams, Since he, more than the others, brings with him Italy’s self.”

Symonds says: “Turning from Correggio to Raphael we are struck by the affinities and differences between them. Both drew from their study of the world the elements of joy which it contains ; but the gladness of Correggio was more sensuous than that of Raphael; his intellectual faculties were less developed; his rapture was more tumultuous and Bacchantic. Like Raphael, Correggio died young; but his brief life was spent in comparative obscurity and solitude, far from the society of scholars and artists, ignorant of courts, with no princely patronage. He wrought for him-self alone the miracle of brightness and of movement that delights us in his frescoes and easel pictures. In his work there was nothing worldly that divides him from the Venetians, whose sensuousness he shared; nothing scientific that distinguishes him from Da Vinci, the magic of whose chiaro-oscuro he comprehended; nothing contemplative that separates him from Michelangelo, the audacity of whose design in dealing with forced attitudes he rivaled. The cheerfulness of Raphael, the wizardry of Leonardo, and the boldness of Michel-angelo met in him to form a new style, the originality of which is indisputable, and which takes us captive not by intellectual power but by the impulse of emotion ; and when we call him the Ariel of painting, this means that we are compelled to think of him as an elemental spirit, whose bidding the air, and the light, and the hues of the morning obey.”

He died March 5, 1534, in the forty-first year of his age. He was buried in the sepulcher of the family in the Franciscan convent at Correggio.

( Originally Published 1912 )

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