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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Antonio Correggio

As artists, we are, most of us, well aware of what it's like to go largely unappreciated by those of our own time.  But we all fantasize that this error of omission will be corrected sometime during the next hundred years. Thus we can very easily sympathize with the plight of Antonio Allegri Correggio.  It was only the coming of the Baroque era to Italian painting, several years after his death, that brought his work to the attention of young artists seeking an artistic idol whose style they might study and emulate.  They found in Correggio's paintings a dramatic, sensuous quality from which to draw upon in creating their own richly theatrical works of both religious and classical art.

Correggio's birth date is a matter of conjecture, variously dated as between 1489 and 1494.  Like many painters today, Correggio was a small town artist.  He never strayed far from the tiny, provincial town of Parma, Italy.  One of his earliest paintings, "The Holy Night", painted around 1530, is a nativity, typically labeled as being Mannerist, mostly based upon the period of time during which it was painted.  Certainly, there is a Mannerist quality to its figures, but the overall "look" of the work with, it's dramatic lighting emanating from the Christ-child, and it's moving, dynamic composition, seems much more akin to that of Caravaggio and the Early Renaissance artist, Mantegna than the contrivances of Correggio's Mannerist contemporaries like Tintorretto or Veronese.

(Adoration of the Shepherds),
1530, Correggio
 Correggio's work is nothing if not exciting.  He is equally at home whether painting mythological or religious subjects.  In either case, there is a sensuous quality to his work that blends sensual pleasure (sometimes even erotic elements) with spiritual joy.  Whether painting ecstatic angels or Io melting into the embrace of Jupiter, Correggio's dramatic visions draw the viewer into them, uplifting at the same time as they arouse the senses.  He was a master of tromp L'oeil in the tradition of Andrea Mantegna yet he goes beyond that.  His figures are so animated they appear to literally be struggling to free themselves from his frescoed walls.  Baroque artists such as El Grecco, Caravaggio, Rubens, and Rembrandt all owed him an important debt for demonstrating that they too could breathe vibrant life into the classical scenes and figures of their Renaissance idols.

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