Madonna with the Long Neck  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Mannerism, 16th century art

The Madonna of the Long Neck (La Madonna del Collo Lungo), also known as Madonna and Child with Angels and St. Jerome, is an Italian Mannerism oil painting by the Italian painter Parmigianino in 1535, depicting Madonna and Child with angels. The painting remains incomplete because of Parmigianino's death in 1540.

Mannerism makes itself known by elongated proportions, highly stylized poses, and lack of clear perspective.


The painting depicts Virgin Mary as Madonna, seated on a high pedestal and swathed in luxurious robes, holding a rather large baby Jesus on her lap. On her left are visible six angels crowding around the Madonna and adoring the Christ. The unfinished face of the angel on the bottom left (from the viewer's perspective) can be seen more clearly in recent reproductions (top), following a restoration of the painting. Additionally, the angel in the middle of the bottom row now looks at the vase held by the angel on his right, in which can be seen the faint image of a cross. Before the restoration (as can be seen in the older reproduction, bottom), this angel looked down at the Christ child. The changes made during the restoration likely reflect the original painting, which must have been altered at some time in its history. On the Madonna's right (from the viewer's perspective) is an enigmatic scene, with a row of marble columns and the emaciated figure of St. Jerome. A depiction of St. Jerome was required by the commissioner because of the saint's connection with the adoration of the Virgin Mary. The painting is popularly called "Madonna of the Long Neck" because "the painter, in his eagerness to make the Holy Virgin look graceful and elegant, has given her a neck like that of a swan." On the unusual arrangement of figures, art historian E. H. Gombrich writes:

"Instead of distributing his figures in equal pairs on both sides of the Madonna, he crammed a jostling crowd of angels into a narrow corner, and left the other side wide open to show the tall figure of the prophet, so reduced in size through the distance that he hardly reaches the Madonna's knee. There can be no doubt, then, that if this be madness there is method in it. The painter wanted to be unorthodox. He wanted to show that the classical solution of perfect harmony is not the only solution conceivable; that natural simplicity is one way of achieving beauty, but that there are less direct ways of getting interesting effects for sophisticated lovers of art. Whether we like or dislike the road he took, we must admit that he was consistent. Indeed, Parmigianino and all the artists of his time who deliberately sought to create something new and unexpected, even at the expense of the 'natural' beauty established by the great masters, were perhaps the first 'modern' artists. We shall see, indeed, that what is now called 'modern' art may have had its roots in a similar urge to avoid the obvious and achieve effects which differ from conventional natural beauty."

Parmigianino has distorted nature for his own artistic purposes, creating a typical Mannerist figura serpentinata. The Madonna is of hardly human proportions, with long, elegant fingers; and is almost twice the size of the angels to her right. Of interest is the Madonna's right foot: it rests on cushions that appear to be only a few inches away from the picture plane, but the foot itself seems to project beyond it, and is thus on "our" side of the canvas, breaking the conventions of a framed picture. Jesus is also extremely large for a baby and he lies precariously on Mary's lap as if about to fall at any moment.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Madonna with the Long Neck" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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