Queer Places:
Borgo del Parmigianino, 43121 Parma PR
Santuario della Madonna della Fontana Casalmaggiore, Provincia di Cremona, Lombardia, Italy

Parmigianino (literally, "the little guy from Parma") is the name given to the sixteenthcentury Italian Renaissance painter Francesco Mazzola (January 11, 1503 - August 24, 1540). Hailing from the Emilian town of Parma in north-central Italy, where he was born in 1503, Parmigianino is almost universally recognized as one of the most important practitioners of the cultural style that dominated Italy and much of Europe in mid- to late-sixteenth century: Mannerism.

Little is reliably known about the personal life of this rather eccentric painter, a lifelong bachelor, although much has been speculated. However, his superbly refined and tortuously complex style has often appealed to a gay male audience sensitive to the extremes of taste embodied by Mannerism.

Parmigianino also often imbued his subjects with an overt or subtle eroticism, some of which may be interpreted homoerotically.

Reared by two painter uncles in Parma, Francesco was something of a prodigy, commissioned to paint important frescoes in the Cathedral of Parma at the age of nineteen in 1522. Two years later he was in Rome, presenting one of his most famous works to Pope Clement VII: Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.

This work, a virtuoso bust-length depiction of the young artist as though reflected in a curving, convex mirror, already showed many of the characteristics of Parmigianino's later work: facility, grace, and, especially, invenzione (inventiveness or imagination). The power of the work is such that it inspired poet John Ashbery to write his poem of the same name almost four centuries later.

Leaving Rome after the Sack in 1527, Parmigianino wandered through Italy, eventually returning to Parma after a successful stay in Bologna.

Around this time he painted the famous Cupid Carving His Bow, which depicts a highly androgynous Cupid carving a deadly-looking bow for his arrows of love, as two putti struggle at his feet.

This painting refers to Renaissance ideas about love as a painful experience, but the ambivalent gender of the main figure marks an interest in androgyny that, while it toys with expressions of sexual identity, relates to the artist's documented interests in the arcane science of alchemy.

Toward the end of his life Parmigianino was reportedly obsessed with alchemical experimentation, to the detriment of his artistic career.

Parmigianino's most famous work, Madonna of the Long Neck, from around 1535, was never finished. The artist's interest in gender ambiguity is clearly evident here in the androgynous attendants who swarm at the Virgin's right side. An oversized, almost alien-looking Christ child sprawls languidly across her lap while a mysterious, tiny figure of a prophet unrolls a scroll in the background. The Virgin herself, with her greatly elongated proportions and contrived pose, epitomizes the hyperbolic grace and artifice that were hallmarks of Mannerism.

While Parmigianino's drawings do include overtly homoerotic images and male nudes (as the Figure Study of 1526-1527), his own sexual orientation is as ambiguous as the androgynes he painted. Cecil Gould sums it up coyly, "Judging from the totality of his art, I suspect that his instincts were bisexual."

The appeal of the artist to a gay audience is his exploration of an extreme aestheticism that can be appreciated for its artistic imagination as well as for its camp excessiveness.

On 5 August 1540, during a torrid summer, the artist fell ill, perhaps with malaria, and made a will, leaving heirs his three servants still minors, who were perhaps also his assistants in art, and 100 scudi to his sister Ginevra. Taken by "a severe fever and a cruel flow" (Vasari), within a few weeks he died, "and in this way he put an end to the troubles of this world, which was never known to him except full of annoyances and trouble ". He was buried in the church of the Servites near Casalmaggiore, naked with an archipressus cross on his chest at the top, as he ordered, according to the Franciscan custom. Since 1846 he is remembered there by a plaque, placed in the second chapel on the left.


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