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Parmigianino, Madonna of the Long Neck

Video transcript

so here we're looking at the great Mannerist painting by parmigianino called the madonna with the long neck it's a fun painting and it's a tall painting it's big and Madonna is big she's big in funny places too if you look at her head her head it's really tiny and her - her her hips especially right she's got really really wide hips and then she comes down on these tiny little toes so it's always seem to be like her body's in the shape of a diamond in a sense she's a landscape on which Christ sits Christ Himself is also quite large it's not just large but look at the way he slays his body is this crazy kind of torsion with his arm falling almost dislocated from his shoulder there is a precedent for that way that his left arm falls down if you think about Michelangelo's pietà and Christ here as a child but perhaps echoing when Mary will hold Christ in images like the Pieta when Christ is dead and in fact Christ looks asleep but there's also a way that he looks dead - so that reference actually in some ways explains the mass of her lap because in that sculpture Mary is quite substantial in order to be able to support the dead body of her son it's so clear when we looking at this that we're not in the high Renaissance anymore so what happened yeah mannerism happened it's almost like the artists of the high Renaissance had done everything that could be done they had perfected the naturalism that they had sought after since the time of jata so all the illusionism that was at the service of the high Renaissance is here being used to distort and to transform the body it's not so much an ugly deformation as a kind of deformation that accentuates a kind of extreme elegance exactly it takes that ideal beauty and elegance that was in the high Renaissance that was there and exaggerates it and one way of thinking about mannerism is to think about it as are taken from art instead of art from nature you know we think about the Renaissance as being based on observation of nature and the natural world but when you look at this you think back to works of art like Michelangelo's Giuliano de Medici and that long neck or back to the Pieta that makes a lot of sense the idea that this is art that is self referential that is referring to its own traditions the respect for human anatomy and we're trying that naturalistically that's not important matters in fact I think there's a letter from one manner as artists to another manner as artists where he says something like take a left hand and put it on a right arm it's like there's a willful complicating of the body and setting up relationships between forms that are absurd look at the relationship between the vos that's being held by the angel in relationship to his/her thigh look at the relationship between the massive Virgin Mary and the Prophet in the lower right corner that is presumably impossibly far away but somehow just a tiny figure at the feet of the Virgin and look to it the way that the Virgin holds her hand to her chest with these impossibly long almost boneless fingers there's a way in which the gestured fails to mean anything means gesture yes drama as opposed to a specific intent of the figure yeah there's a kind of dramatizing here for its own sake exactly things like for that kind of willful compression that creates a sense of almost impossible if you look at the columns on the right there's actually a colonnade that is so deep in space it's seen it's such an oblique angle that it almost seems like a wall or a single column but if you look closely at the base you can see the alternating light and shadow that passes between those columns but there is ambiguity and that's in large part because that part of the painting is not finished so mannerism it seems to be this intense reaction to the perfection of the high Renaissance you know you have the Renaissance innocence building itself into a kind of extreme naturalism and then this seems to be almost a kind of flailing reaction those strictures were a sense that there was nowhere to go except to do something really different now all of these ideas were very much a part of a culture of court and I think it's important to recognize that there was a very specific very learned audience for these kinds of paintings and so these were not paintings that were made for the artists own wild interest this was considered a kind of high intellectual almost game