“Within his own magic circle Correggio reigns supreme, no other artist having
blended the witcheries of coloring,
chiaroscuro, and faunlike loveliness of form into a
harmony so perfect in its sensuous
charm…. Both chiaroscuro and coloring have this supreme purpose in art, to
effect the sense like music, and like
music to create a mood in the soul of the spectator.”
“Correggio was the first painter who warred against all flatness of surface; the
play of his light and shade and the
position of his figures equally assist the appearance of depth in space.”
“Correggio’s happiest gift lay in his power of rendering grace and sweetness
without over-passing the exact point
where such grace and sweetness degenerate into an insipid elegance. The robust
and healthy structure of his
figures saved him from this pitfall…. The innumerable cherubs, genii, and
children scattered throughout his works
are the result of his delight in the pictorial expression of grace and
happiness. No other painter has succeeded in
rendering these little creatures with such truth of form and expression, with
such a knowledge of their naïve
simplicity and pretty grotesqueness of pose.”
ANTONIO ALLEGRI DA CORREGGIO
 ALL our histories dwell at length upon the wonderful period known as the
Renaissance. After those centuries of
depression and ignorance, the Dark Ages, the learning of ancient Greece and Rome
sprang anew from its buried
condition—it was born again, or had its new birth, which is the literal
meaning of the term Renaissance. Italy was
so much the home of this re-awakening that the period is frequently spoken of as
the Italian Renaissance. This was
only natural, for Italy had seen the rise and fall of Rome’s proud civilization,
grand in itself and embellished with
all that was beautiful and valuable in Grecian culture. In the Renaissance men
 and women read the literature of old Greece and Rome with a fervor that amounted
almost to fury.
To give reality to this civilization, long buried from men’s sight, wonderful
classical statues were unearthed where
proud buildings or beautiful gardens had stood. Statues like the Apollo
Belvidere and the Laocoon, besides
hundreds of others less famous, made the ruins of Rome so fascinating that
thoughtful men could not keep away
from them. We know how Michael Angelo often assisted in restoring broken and
lost fragments of these exhumed
statues, and how our dearly beloved Raphael contracted the fever of which he
died, while digging in the ruins of
We realize what a powerful force this revival was in intellectual things when we
recall that it is accounted one of
the most potent causes of the great Elizabethan period in English literature,
when Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton
gladdened the world.
Sculpture and architecture felt the all pervasive impulse, and statues and
buildings arose to match the lofty ideals
floating in men’s minds. The impetus given to Italian painting was beyond that
given to any of the other arts.
Names like Raphael, Angelo, and Correggio are ample proof of this assertion.
Symonds, the supreme writer on
this period, speaks of Raphael as its melodist, Correggio as its Ariel, and
Michael Angelo as
 its prophet. In other numbers of this series we have studied Raphael and
Angelo. It is now our pleasant task to
analyze Correggio, the mystic and yet joyous creature of this golden time of
Like the Ariel of Shakespeare’s creation, for whom Symonds names him, we shall
find him at times quite as
difficult to follow, for biographical matter is scarce on Correggio, and so long
has his name gathered about it
interesting legends that it is well nigh impossible to separate the true from
the false. Of the artist’s works, however,
we have a large number at once beautiful and well known, which are indisputable
evidence of his greatness.
If we could have the originals before us we should undoubtedly, first of all, be
charmed by the master’s superb
coloring and the marvelous way his colors melt into each
other. As we shall, however, be
obliged to study from black and white reproductions of his paintings, we must be
satisfied with other qualities
quite as great if not so pleasing. Among these I shall name three, two of which
refer to the technique, or manner of
mechanical execution, and the other of only general application.
He has left us hardly a picture in which the foreshortening and the
chiaroscuro are not marked and
that adds the superhuman and bewitching element to
 very correct features. By foreshortening we mean the representing of
objects in slant position, one further
back than another, on a plane surface. An extended arm or leg represented in
this perspective often occupies very
short space in proportion to that used by other parts of they body.
Correggio’s joyous, kicking angels, an almost invariable feature of his
pictures, afford fine opportunity to show
this matter of foreshortening. The babe in the famous “Holy Night is a
fine illustration of this principle of
drawing. Examine it carefully, and one at once notices the exceedingly short
space occupied by the upper portion
of its body and yet a perfectly formed child is represented to our eyes.
Chiaroscuro means literally light-dark, and has particular
reference to an artist’s use of light and
shade. Defined more specifically, it is that quality which gives to the things
represented in shadow the distinctness
of objects seen in the light, and to the things represented in the light the
softness and mellowness of objects seen in
the shade. It is a mysterious quality to obtain and could hardly be reached by
following any set rules, so we have a
right to consider Correggio’s unrivaled skill in this matter an intimate part of
his individual and inimitable genius.
It is this quality of his more than any other which characterizes his pictures.
 As to the third quality so evident in his work, if we could imagine all the joy
of that jubilant period epitomized in
the work of one man that work would be Correggio’s; joy for the old learning and
art, long thought lost, but now
recovered; supreme joy in the added blessing of a Redeemer in the form of a
comely child; joy in life itself, real as
it is hear on earth, or imaginary as it is in Heaven.
He has given us angels of all ages and degrees but never a contemplative
one—some that serve about the throne,
others who wait on men or attend unconscious children, and cupids who make havoc
with men’s hearts,
sharpening their arrows for new conquests on unsuspecting victims. Every being
he touches smiles and for the
once, at least, is happy. Even John the Baptist, contrary to all traditions,
loses his haggard looks and smiles out at
us, a well-fed and thoroughly contented saint (see “Madonna with St.
George”). Even Magdalen, in the
solitude of her penitential cave, surrounded by the symbols of penitence, gazes
at us perfectly contented and not
too mindful of the book before her.
MADONNA WITH ST. GEORGE
Sometimes this levity in representing personages we have always thought on with
solemnity jars upon us, but in the
main we are captured by the joyousness in all his works. He was indeed well
named the Ariel or Faun of the
Renaissance, so much does he abound in
 elemental light and brightness. Like Ariel he abridges space and puts us into
instant communication with the
smiling hosts of Heaven.
Of Rembrandt and Murillo we remember that they never wandered far from home, and
so we studied Holland and
Seville to understand them better. What was true of those men in this regard
was even more true of Correggio,
whose whole career, short in years but long in art, was spent, we might almost
say, in three cities of Emilia not
more than forty miles apart. These were Correggio, where he was born, Modena,
where he painted some of his
renowned altar-pieces, and Parma, whose convents and churches were so
wonderfully frescoed by his masterful
In other sections of Italy all the glory of the Renaissance had gathered about
single cities as at Rome, Florence,
Milan, and Venice, but here in Emilia it was different. Emilia is the upper
part of central Italy, having the Po for its
northern boundary. It includes the most picturesque part of the Appenines and
reaches to the Adriatic on the east.
Within its borders are not only the three cities already mentioned as associated
with Correggio’s life but others of
even greater importance in art and history.
The largest of them are Bologna, the seat of one of the greatest universities of
Europe; Mantua, where Isabella
 d’Este held one of the most brilliant courts of the time; Rimini, forever
associated with the unfortunate Francesca
da Rimini and lastly Ravenna, which, in spite of its incrustation of wonderful
mosaics put there by loving hands in
Mediæval times, stands forsaken even by the sea which used so kindly to lave its
feet, the abiding place of rats and
owls, the breeding place of malaria.
Throughout this district the Renaissance glowed with all its splendor, confining
its light to no one point. Here
poets sang and cultivated women encouraged art in all its forms. If war and
siege wrought their devastation here
and towns passed from one lord to another, there was an intellectual side to
life that mitigated these evils. To the
town of Correggio there was unusual compensation, for here Antonio Allegri was
born in 1494.
The family name Allegri means the very thing this artist seemed born to
illustrate—light and joyousness. The name
by which we know him, Correggio is merely that of his native town as is so often
true of the names of Italian
As has been before stated biographical matter relative to the artist is very
scarce. In the absence of authentic data a
great net of legend has grown up about his name. Some otherwise reliable
authorities assert that he was extremely
poor, a great miser, and his death
 most miserable, precipitated by his own greed. Indeed, such a strong hold had
these legends taken that a northern
dramatist has painted the life and death of Correggio in a thrilling tragedy in
The latest and best authority, Corrado Ricci, in his elaborate life of the
artist discards these absurd legends and
interprets bits of authoritative matter in a broad and scholarly way, so that he
makes Correggio, aside from his
genius, a man of ordinary experience who lived in a small house, who never
traveled far from home and who was
sufficiently imbued with the spirit of his own individual art to pour it out in
rich profusion for our edification; a
glory so dazzling that we need no other matter with which to interest ourselves
in considering him.
If, then, in the following pages more attention is bestowed on the master’s
works than on his life the reasons will
be obvious—to avoid disputed ground and to emphasize the better part of the man.
It is possible to trace the family of Allegri back for several generations. In
earlier times they were cultivators of the
soil and it is quite certain that the branch to which Antonio belongs took
refuge in Correggio in 1371, when their
town of Castellazzo was destroyed.
Correggio’s father was well-to-do, and instead of following the arduous
occupation of his ancestors he
 became a “victualler,” that is, one who supplies the necessities of subsistence
in clothing as well as food. Of the
painter’s mother we know nothing except her name, Bernardino, and that she
brought her husband a small dowry.
His early years, too, must go without comment. At the age of thirteen he seemed
versed in the things which a boy
of that age usually knows.
Besides this he had developed an unusual talent for drawing and painting. It is
supposed that he acquired this last
in the studio of his uncle Lorenzo. He was a painter of the time whose work was
so poor that it hardly justifies us
in calling him Correggio’s master. Still we know that often poor workmen are
able to tell others how the very
work they fail in should be done.
Whatever may have been the definite art training which Correggio received, the
air in which he lived was full of
the aroma of great painters, one of whom, at least, had a strong influence over
our young artist. Andrea Mantegna,
so much a master of foreshortening, hard line drawing and perspective that his
work marks an era in the history of
Italian painting, was living during Correggio’s early years. It is barely
possible that Correggio studied in the
famous school he founded at Padua, where the son of the great master of line
continued his work after him.
Mantegna delighted so much in solving the problems of drawing that his
pic-  tures always resemble statuary in hardness of outline. This very thing seemed
to be the foundation on which
Correggio built his magnificent and illusory art.
There seems to be no end of supposing in Correggio’s case. In our search for an
art antecedent for him we are led
in many ways. Some, noticing the likeness in some of his smiling heads to those
of Da Vinci, declare that he must
have visited Milan not far away and the home of that master’s works. Others,
feeling the Renaissance glow
especially in his mythological subjects, feel quite as sure that he must have
visited Rome. The records, however,
give no authority for such visits, interesting as they would undoubtedly be in
analyzing his art.
He was but nineteen and living in the small old house where his grandfather had
lived before him when he
received his first commission to paint an important picture, “The Madonna San
Francisco.” Previous to
this he had evidently attained some celebrity in his art for the two greatest
women of his section, Isabella d’Este and
Veronica Gambars, in their correspondence speak familiarly of him and his work.
MADONNA SAN FRANCISCO
Several pictures of the Holy Family and of St. Catherine dating from this early
time are extant. These are
interesting not so much for their own intrinsic worth as for the fact that they
show us how early he was
 thinking about those subjects which, in the heyday of his genius, he was to
glorify almost more than any other
“The Madonna San Francisco” was painted for a monastery in Correggio
built to the honor of St. Francis.
The contract was made in the artist’s bedroom on the ground floor of his simple
home. On account of his age his
father had to act for him, and his mother too must have been living at the time.
We can imagine the pride and
delight of the parents when their youthful son was given so important a
commission. How large the hundred gold
ducats which he was to receive for the work must have looked to the young man
not yet twenty and a minor before
The picture, although such an early one and constructed on the conventional plan
of the time, is pleasing and quite
worthy to be the forerunner of his later works. The Madonna sits on a high
throne in the center holding the Child,
who seems diminutive, in her arms. On one side is St. Francis in an inquiring
attitude, and St. Anthony with his
lilies and his book. On the other side are St. Catherine with her foot on the
wheel which was used in her
martyrdom, and John the Baptist with his usual camel’s hair robe, reed, cross,
and general unkempt appearance.
The pedestal on which the Virgin is seated is elaborately painted, the medallion
 with the supernatural light about his head and the tablets of stone in his
hands. In the upper part of the picture
immediately under the arch is an exquisite glory of angels flanked by two
adoring cherubs, who, it seems, would
come nearer to Mary.
Like many of the other treasures of Italian art this picture has not remained
where it was first placed. It is now in
the Dresden gallery, the home of so many other gems of the painter’s art.
Among his other early pictures we can hardly pass the “Gipsy Madonna,” known as
“La Zingarella,’ from
the strange turban she wears upon her head, or as the “Madonna of the
Rabbit from the little creature who
shows himself in one corner of the picture. The mother, apparently Mary, bends
lovingly over the child whose
chubby foot she holds caressingly in one hand. Indistinct angels in the foliage
above apparently enjoy the sight of
the weary and loving mother bending over her little one.
Beautiful as are these early pictures of the master his real glory truly begins
with his arrival in Parma in 1518.
Parma was, next to Bologna, the largest city on that great highway between the
north and south along which there
had always been such a strong current of life. This beautiful city, girdled by
hills from which numerous small
streams of Italy flow, looking out on
 productive plains at its feet, situated in the very heart of Emilia and
consequently in the center of Renaissance
thought outside the great cities, with its convents and churches, offered to our
painter quite as great scope for his
art as did Rome to Angelo or Venice to Titian. Indeed, it is quite as
impossible to study Correggio’s art outside of
Parma as to study Raphael’s and Angelo’s outside of Rome.
We can appreciate the playfulness of his genius and occasionally the loftiness
of his thought through the great altar
pieces and easel pictures scattered about Europe, but to see him in all the
plenitude of his powers we must see his
frescoes in San Paolo, in San Giovanni and in the Cathedral of Parma. In some
of these he rises almost to the
grandeur of Angelo, transcending his own peculiar powers that were wont to
produce only forms of light and
When Correggio arrived in Parma, while there was no regular school of art
maintained among her painters, yet
there were many artists and deep enthusiasm for art among the people. Correggio
came to them almost like the
fulfillment of their ideal vision of art perfection. Whether the monks of St.
John the Evangelist or the abbess of the
convent of St. Paul first extended the invitation to Correggio we know not, but
from a study of the work it seems
that San Paolo was decorated first.
 We are accustomed to think of a convent as a most solemn place, with small
cell-like rooms bare of ornament,
where perpetual silence reigns and no thought of the world enters. This is true
of such institutions in our time but
when Correggio went to Parma no such restrictions had been imposed by the church
on her religious houses.
MADONNA AND CHILD
The convent or school of San Paolo was, in fact, a pleasant place. The inmates
talked together, their rooms teemed
with objects of Renaissance art, the sound of musical instruments broke the
silence. It is necessary that we should
understand the manner of life in the Italian convents of the time to account
logically for the subjects selected by the
abbess and painted by Correggio on the walls and ceiling of her convent.
If subjects for such a place were to be selected now they would be of the most
solemn and religious sort such as
would promote spiritual life and thought. Quite contrary to this was the
selection for San Paolo. The camera, or
chief room, of the convent was the apartment decorated. The ceiling was painted
to represent an arbor whose
leafage was supported by trellises, the sixteen main lines of which came to a
point in the center where the arms of
the abbess were emblazoned. Rich ornamental pendants of fruit filled in the
narrow spaces of the triangles.
In the wide portions were sixteen oval openings through
 which smiling cupids engaged in various antics look out at the spectator. In
each of these openings there are two
and sometimes three cupids. Some reach for fruit, others wrestle with each
other or caress a dog or play with a
stag’s head, while still others blow lusty strains from a conch shell in
imitation of the large satyr over which they
Throughout the whole series there is the childish glee and frolicsomeness of
nature itself. This ceiling might almost
stand as the artist’s album of smiling, playful children.
Below these sixteen triangular compartments of the ceiling are as many lunettes,
semi-circular spaces over windows
and doors, in which the artist represented figures from mythology such as
Minerva, Ceres, Juno, Bacchus, the
Graces, the Earth and enough others to fill the spaces.
We love to gaze up at the brilliant ceiling with its smiling Cupids but the
figures of the lunettes are more wonderful.
The “Diana over the fireplace is a fine example of Correggio’s treatment
of these subjects. Surrounded by
airy attendants and partially enveloped in a gauzy veil, she gazes at us from
the edge of her chariot. On her brow,
the same type which we see in many of the artist’s sacred pictures, is the
crescent moon, at once her symbol and the
central figure in the abbess’
 coat of arms in the ceiling above. Altogether it is one of the loveliest
figures in mythologic art.
We can imagine the interest of the gentle pupils and their abbess in the
progress of the work and in the young
painter who knew so well how to use the implements of his art. Nothing could
show more emphatically the
control that the re-vivified ancient learning held over men’s minds at this time
than these very decorations in San
Correggio must have completed his great work in short time for, in 1520, we have
record of him receiving part
payment for work done in San Giovanni Evangelista, the church and monastery
erected in honor of St. John the
Between these two great pieces of work Correggio returned to his native city,
where he was married to Giralamo
Merlini, a young woman of seventeen years, the daughter of a wealthy country
family. One son and three
daughters came of this marriage. The son became an artist and followed, weakly
it must be said, in his father’s
We have no details of the home life of the artist but if we have a right to
infer anything from his works it is this,
that his domestic life was happy and his wife beautiful and lovable, else how
could he have given us his fine Holy
Families and his sweet-faced smiling Madonnas?
 It is said that Correggio’s wife was always in delicate health and that on this
account she early made her will. She
died five years before her gifted husband.
To the traveller who visits San Giovanni Evangelista to-day it is difficult to
imagine its internal beauty in
Correggio’s time. The monastery has been turned into a headquarters for
soldiers. Wind and weather have done
their utmost to destroy every trace of painter and sculptor. The church is
fortunately in better condition, but even
here time has not dealt over kindly with its treasures.
For years previous to Correggio’s going to Parma the Benedictines, whose church
and monastery this was, had
done their utmost to enrich them with high class ornament. They had been
successful in their efforts and
Correggio was now to add the last touch to the superb incrustation of fresco and
His work on this church was varied. On the ceiling of the cupola he painted the
ascension of Christ. He put a
frieze around the body of the church painted in chiaroscuro, and he gilded much
of the ornament already in place.
For it all he received 262 gold ducats (about $600 of our money) paid in regular
The most wonderful part of his work here is the ceiling of the cupola. The
ascending Lord rises steadily from the
circle of his eleven apostles. The background
 of the ascending figure is a glory of innumerable angel heads shading from deep
shadow to transparent light. The
apostles are accompanied by angels and all together they float upon the clouds.
In simplicity and grandeur of effect
this work exceeds any other that Correggio did. It is, to my notion, the one
work in which he exceeds himself and
approaches very near to Michael Angelo in strength. The apostle just at the
feet of the rising Christ would grace the
strongest and most beautiful thing Angelo has left us in fresco.
In the triangular spaces between the windows just under the cupola are the four
Evangelists. Each is accompanied
by his appropriate symbol and by some saint who shares in the action. St. Luke
resting upon his traditional ox
dictates earnestly to St. Ambrose. St. Mark with his lion talks to St. Gregory.
St. John with his eagle is evidently
laying down some propositions to St. Augustine who as carefully rehearses them,
while Matthew speaks the words
which the aged St. Jerome writes earnestly in his book. In all are the usual
cherubs and supporting clouds.
Two other paintings in San Giovanni are worthy of our study before passing to
Correggio’s decorations in the
Cathedral. “The Coronation of the Virgin” was painted in the apse, or
extreme end of the church. A more
beautiful Madonna never came from our artist
 than this, with her delicate hands crossed high on her breast as she inclines
her heavenly head to receive the circle
of diadems with which the Christ would crown his earthly Mother. A dove breaks
through the clouds and
approaches, while all the air above and the clouds below them teem with
exquisite Cupid forms and faces.
Unfortunately the original has been destroyed and only a copy remains.
CORONATION OF THE VIRGIN
In the other painting, “St. John the Evangelist” sits with that far-away
look as if communicating with
Heaven itself, while he writes, supposably, his wondrous book. The symbolic
eagle is here but not the mere
conventional creature so often seen. He is a real eagle pluming himself, indeed
drawing from his strong wing the
very quill with which to endite the epistle of St. John.
ST. JOHN THE EVANGELIST
With these two fine specimens of Correggio’s art let us turn to the Cathedral of
Parma where we can conjecture that
Correggio, his brain filled with Renaissance and Mediæval forms, thought to
paint his masterpiece. Here a vast
dome was at his disposal and it was but natural that he should plan a work
elaborate and appropriate to fill the
On the centre of the ceiling is a dense circle of angels bursting from the
clouds surrounding the Virgin who rises
upward to meet her God. In the centre of the
 circle of cloud forms, an angle descends to welcome the ecstatic Mary whose face
glows with all the joy of one
about to enter Heaven. It is indeed a beautiful legend that does not allow the
Mother of Christ to know the
darkness of the grave. That vacant tomb occupied only by lilies of miraculous
growth and the ecstatic face of the
disappearing Mary are a fitting close for this story of divine motherhood.
ASSUMPTION OF THE VIRGIN
Just outside the circle described is a wider one lower down made up of the
wondering disciples and their angel
attendants as they gaze upward, watching this latest glory in their experience.
Below still further, in the space
between the windows, are saints with clouds and cherubs. Throughout there is
wonderful foreshortening. The
very thought of representing hundreds of beings all in action makes one dizzy.
Much as we may admire Correggio, however, we cannot but feel that in this work
there is too much material just as
in Angelo’s “Last Judgment” and Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Confusion
is the inevitable result. We
may shrink from the coarseness of the remark but we are somewhat in sympathy
with the canon of the Cathedral
who, after gazing intently at the elaborate fresco, remarked that it looked like
“A hash of frog’s legs.” Such
overloaded works come to us from superior minds to show us, perhaps, our own
 It is said that Titian dissuaded the canons from having the work altogether
erased. After studying the dome some
time he exclamed [should be: exclaimed], “Turn it upside down and fill it with
gold; even so you will not have paid
its just price!”
In the intervals of these gigantic works in fresco our magic painter, we cannot
count him otherwise, so fertile was
he in invention, so rapid in execution, make some of the finest easel pictures.
Of these perhaps the “Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine” is the greatest.
We have seen how when little more
than a boy he tried to work out this beautiful story in picture. The legend is
so charming and so popular in art that
it will bear repeating. Even from her birth St. Catherine was a remarkable
child. The halo that encircled her head
then was with her all through life. She was a devoted and expert student, even
in childhood delighting in the study
of Plato’s philosophy. For this reason she is looked upon as the patroness of
schools and learning.
MYSTIC MARRIAGE OF ST. CATHERINE
At the age of fourteen she was left queen of her father’s kingdom, but her
retiring and studious habits did not
please the people and they begged her to find a husband. She acceded to their
wishes but required four things of
him who should rule with her—that he should be king in his own right, so noble
that all would wish to worship
him, so beautiful that angels would
de-  sire to see him and so benign as to forgive all offences. To find such a mortal
man seemed impossible, but a holy
hermit showed her the picture of the Christ Child and his mother, and she loved
the child, believing him to be the
one she sought.
In a strange dream one night she thought she was led to the Christ Child but he
put her aside saying she was not yet
beautiful enough. Then she went away sorrowful and she and her mother were
baptized and lo ! the following
night, in another but more beautiful dream, she was again brought to the Divine
Child and he betrothed her with a
jeweled ring which remained upon her finger when rosy morning dispelled the
Such in brief is the story that many artists have essayed to paint. Among all
the attempts it is quite safe to say that
Correggio’s is the most beautiful. Let us study it as it occupies precious
space in the gem-room of the Louvre.
Against a beautiful landscape background, in the light distance of which are
hills and cities and an indistinct
martyrdom of St. Catherine, and in the dark shades of which the death of St.
Sebastian is represented, sits the
beautiful Christ mother holding upon her lap the Child in the act of placing the
ring of betrothal upon the finger of
the seraphie St. Catherine. The center of the picture is marked by a fine group
of hands—the Virgin’s, holding
 St. Catherine’s while the baby hand of the Child singles out the finger to
receive the ring. The saints’ other hand
rests on the wheel which prefigures her martyrdom.
MADONNA OF ST. SEBASTIAN
If we were to imagine the picture painted in the elemental colors of the rising
and setting sun we could hardly then
guess of its splendor. None but Correggio’s hand could have given us the
beautifully modelled head of St.
Catherine, with its glorious hair bedecked with jewels, or that of Mary so young
and yet so filled with motherly
love as she assists in the mystic rite.
Other great pictures of this time on which we cannot dwell at length are
“Christ in Gethsemane,” a work
strong in light and shade, approaching Rembrandt in its lonely sublimity.
“The Adoring Madonna” who
kneels on some steps in a grand old ruin and with extended hands worships the
Child who lies before her. This
picture is much admired and often reproduced but it savors a little of affected
sweetness to which Correggio at
times comes dangerously near.
“The Noli me Mangere” (Touch me not) where the Magdalen throws herself at
the Master’s feet to implore
forgiveness, we must place high among Correggio’s works for its marvellous
facial expression and for the dramatic
action of both figures. We can guess His benign words and her shrinking as she
exclaims: “ I am unwilling that
Thou shouldst touch me”
 Another famous and popular picture, “The Reading Magdalen,” has in recent
criticism been denied to
Correggio. It has so long been attributed to him, however, that it seems
necessary to make some mention of it in
this sketch. It is of small dimensions, hardly one and a half feet long, and
painted with all the smoothness of the
Flemish masters. It is so small and gem-like that the temptation to steal it
has been so great that it has been found
necessary to chain it to its place in the gallery and secure it with a lock. It
is likely that it was painted by Adrian
Van der Werff.
“The Madonna della Scala,” (Madonna of the Staircase) also belongs to
this period. It is the simplest of all
Correggio’s pictures of this subject, there being no cherubs and no accompanying
saints, only the two figures
engross our attention. Vasari tells us that it was painted over one of the
gates to the city of Parma. Later, when it
was threatened with destruction from its exposed condition it was removed to an
oratory within the city. Its name
came from the steps near it leading up into the apartment over the city gate for
which it was painted.
MADONNA DELLA SCALA
Between 1524 and 1530, Correggio did the great altar-pieces by which we know him
best, “The Madonna
Scodella,” “The Madonna with St. Jerome” and the far-famed “Holy
Night.” In his devotion to
 His work Correggio often escaped the perils of his time. This was not so,
however, when the hordes of Constable
de Bourbon swept every thing before them as they cut their way down from the
north to the memorable sack of
Rome in 1527.
MADONNA WITH ST. JEROME
Parma lay directly in their path and she suffered accordingly. Her churches
were desecrated, her peasants robbed
and murdered. Correggio at his work in the Cathedral must often have beheld the
smoking, reeking landscape
devastated by these marauders. Still he worked on in his own seraphic way,
angelic forms dropping from his
brush as if Italy were peopled with ministering angels instead of avenging
MADONNA DELLA SCODELLA
“The Madonna with St. Jerome,” or “Holy Day,” as it is sometimes
called, is still in Parma. Its
history is an interesting one. It was ordered by a noble lady of the house of
Bergonzi who was so well pleased that
she sent the artist a present over and above the price agreed upon. This was a
strange present, for it consisted of
“two loads of wood, several bushels of wheat and a hog,” but it must have suited
Correggio as he selected it
himself at the lady’s request.
The fame of the picture spread, and it was difficult to keep from selling it so
great was the demand for the precious
work. At one time it was walled up, again it was chained to its place and
secured by four locks.
 With diligent care the citizens held it to grace their town until Napoleon, the
universal despoiler, carried it off to
Paris amid the lamentations of the people. Happily, however, it was restored to
Parma by the treaty of 1815.
There it may be seen to-day, little changed by the nearly four hundred years
which have passed since it came from
the painter’s hand. All the great points in Correggio’s art are emphasized in
the composition. The Madonna, lovely
as his Madonnas always are, hold the somewhat elfish Child who is the center of
interest as usual. In the
foreground is a grand St. Jerome, with his partially unrolled scroll in his hand
and his faithful lion at his side.
Between him and the Madonna is what seems to me the most wonderful angel of
Correggio’s creation. He has an
ineffable smile on his face and points out to the Christ Child a passage in the
open book he holds.
On the other side of the picture, a balance, as it were, to the St. Jerome, is a
beautiful Magdalen, who leans her
head against the body of the child and caresses his wee foot, while his baby
hand strays among her loosened
tresses. At her back a mischievous Cupid peers curiously into her alabaster
vase. A carelessly lifted curtain reveals
a back ground of exquisite beauty, where blue hills rise beyond classic ruins.
 A great authority says of this picture “It is justly celebrated as one of the
finest productions, not only of Correggio,
but of Italian art. The whole composition is radiant, palpitating, living; the
conception is marked by the most
perfect originality and independence.”
Another of the gems of the Parma gallery is the work known as “The Madonna
della Scodella” from the
cup with which Mary reaches for water poured by an angel in the shade. The
scene is taken from the return of the
Holy Family from Egypt. The Child held by the Madonna is no longer a babe, but
a happy, smiling boy of four or
five. Joseph, one of the principal figures of the composition, is gathering
fruit from the palm tree in whose shade
they are resting. That this fruit may be more easily obtainable numerous angels
sport among the branches,
incidentally bearing them down to Joseph’s reach. Perhaps no idea is more
striking in this picture than the way in
which the angels make themselves useful. One fills the Virgin’s cup; another
tethers the ass just within the shadow,
while those above make the picking of the fruit less laborious.
It is generally conceded that “The Nativity,” or “Holy Night,” of
the Dresden gallery is Correggio’s
masterpiece. Let us examine it in detail and see what are the qualities which
entitle it to this high place. The stable
represented seems to have been built among
 ancient ruins. All about are blocks of stone and one column still stands erect.
In the center kneels the Virgin with
her arms about the Divine Infant and her face irradiated by the light from his
refulgent body as he lies on a pallet of
straw or husks. The light is so intense that the shepherds who have come to see
the wondrous Child shield their
eyes and the others stand out in bold relief against the shades of night.
ASCENSION OF ST. THOMAS
The shepherdess carries a basket from which goslings peer at the light-producing
Child. The young shepherd
converses with the old man who draws off his cap while his dog gazes at the
heavenly vision, his head strongly
illuminated by the supernatural light. In the immediate background is Joseph,
pulling the ass away to where other
shepherds manage the oxen of the stable. In the further distance the dawn, just
beginning to show, lights up gently
a long line of hills. In the upper left-hand corner a group of angels, some in
attitudes of adoration and some
simply kicking for joy, show their appreciation of the marvellous sight, for
truly this is “the light that never was on
land or sea.”
The most wonderful thing in the picture is the way the light is managed, coming
from the Child and illuminating
the bystanders. Next to the Sistine Madonna this is the greatest picture of the
noted gallery where it hangs.
 May we not add to this statement that it is the world’s greatest Christmas
In the late years of Correggio’s life he devoted much time to the composition of
mythological pictures. The same
qualities which made him excel in his sacred pictures enabled him to picture the
mythological world in so satisfying
a way—divine coloring, lightness of touch and vivacity of action. Of this we
need no other evidence than any one
of the following pictures, “Io and Jupiter,” “Anthiope,” and the
“Danae,” or “Rain of
Gold.” “The Rain of Gold” has long been a favorite among these
pictures because of the very beautiful
Cupid who sits on the foot of the couch of Danae and the two little loves who
sharpen their arrows near its head.
Whatever had been Correggio’s skill either in sacred or mythological subjects,
in 1534 his work was finished, for in
March of that year he died when he was hardly forty years old, with the
increasing glory of his fame fresh upon
him. Like Raphael and Masaccio he left the world at the very height of his
powers. Like some magic creature of
the upper air he slipped away from the world while it was yet dazzled with the
glorious vision he brought with him.
For a hundred years the tomb of the artist in the church of St. Francis remained
undisturbed. At the
 end of that time it was destroyed to make room for improvement.
There are no genuine portraits of Correggio. It is expressly stated that he
never had one painted, so that we are
dependent wholly upon those which are purely imaginary.
As to Correggio’s character, we have only Vasari’s words; “He was of very timid
disposition, and exerted himself
to excess in the practice of his art for the sake of his family, who were a
great care to him; and although by nature
good and well-disposed, he, nevertheless, grieved more than was reasonable under
the burden of those passions
which are common to all men. He was very melancholic in the exercise of his art
and felt its fatigues greatly….
Oppressed by family cares, Antonio was so bent on saving that he became miserly
to a degree.”
This passage has been misinterpreted until our painter has been set down as a
miserly, melancholy man. When the
fact seems only to be that, never receiving large sums for his pictures, he
became economical as he advanced in
years, a very natural change as most men of middle age will confess. From this
controversy regarding biographical
detail we may most profitably turn away to consider anew the lovliness of his
almost divine work. There, at all
events, is joy unbounded.
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