The mother of Jesus Christ, Madonna, the most popular woman in the majority of classical art, is typically depicted as a beautiful woman. Her son is Jesus, suggesting that she should be shown as a woman of equal significance. Prior to Parmigianino’s “Madonna of the Long Neck,” artistic works with Mary as one of the central figures is meant to honor her. Child. E. H. Gombrich points out that Parmigianino’s distorted representation of the woman could be seen as offensive due to the fact that is deviates so deeply away from the traditional, sophisticated, and sacred ideas of the Madonna.
I understand why people may consider this piece offensive, but that is hardly ever the intention of art. I do not believe that this painting should be viewed at offensive because of Parmigianino’s distinct techniques and intentions. Mannerism is an incredibly prominent style seen in countless Italian Renaissance pieces as well as some early Baroque art. The definition should not be confused with gestures in common speech. Artistic mannerism has an entirely different purpose and connotation. A painting with clear distortions, such as elongations and obvious imbalances, is likely a Mannerist painting.
Parmigianino’s Madonna is one of the most apparent examples of Mannerism, even carrying through to the title of the piece. Mary and Jesus are the central most figures, therefore they display the greatest amount of Mannerism. The most prominent distortion is Mary’s unusually long neck, and the rest of her body is also incredibly disproportionate. Her head is extremely small for her figure, as her hips are quite wide-set, and her hands are skeleton-like, also appearing to be much too large in comparison to her arms.
The woman is essentially the shape of a pear. Mary is not the only distorted figure in this piece, though. It is not unusual for the baby Jesus to be depicted as much larger than the average infant in classical art, but the way that Jesus is shown by Parmigianino is, by far, one of the most peculiar. Michelangelo’s “Pieta” displays a similar shape to Jesus as shown in “Madonna of the Long Neck,” with his left arm appearing to be almost dislocated in a way, draping over Mary, as well as looking a bit like a corpse set upon his mother.
The “Pieta” also depicts a Jesus that has already died, but the Jesus depicted by Parmigianino, strangely enough, appears to be in a position similar to that of the cross. This piece is clearly not traditional in the sense of technique, but I do not believe that “traditional” was Parmigianino’s intention. It can be said that the elongation of the figures is a dramatic interpretation of their elegance and importance, or maybe the elongation is a representation of reaching for the heavens.
With the shifting and progression of artistic eras, tradition slowly becomes a thing of the past with every movement. One thing I can determine is that Parmigianino intended for this painting to be like that of any other Madonna – honorable. Modern and Post-Modern artists introduced the concept of risky and potentially offensive art, not those in the Italian Renaissance. With the influence of Mannerism and Naturalism, the prevalence of idealism in Renaissance and Baroque art is so clear that it does not make sense to take offence to any pieces from this time.