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HISTORICAL AND CRITICAL
If Raphael's name is mentioned preferably to those of other painters, it is merely because he reached, in every part of painting, a remarkable degree of perfection; but other artists have surpassed him in some points. Thus, when Colouring is the theme of praise, Titian, Rubens, and Murillo, are named first. If Light and Shade be spoken of, Francesco Barbieri and Rembrandt are preferred. Dominichino Zampieri and Guido Reni, are quoted as those who have rendered best the expressions of their figures. But Correggio is considered as having put most grace in his compositions and in the attitudes of his figures.
Antonio Allegri was born, in 1494, at Correggio, a village near Parma; from which he is often designated by the name of Correggio. It cannot be positively asserted that he had a master, for he created to himself a manner that appertains in nothing to that of any other artist. Yet it is presumable that he received his first lessons in drawing from one of his
HISTORICAL AND CRITICAL NOTICE
uncles, named Lorenzo, and that he also had assistance from Francesco Mantegna, the son of the celebrated Andrea, who died in the year 1506, and whose pupil, for this reason, he cannot be considered. It is also thought he learnt the art of modelling, from a sculptor named Francesco Bianchi. At the early age of sixteen, Correggio painted at Carpi, a picture, which is now in Dresden, and in which are represented the Virgin and Infant Jesus receiving homage from St. John the Baptist, St. Francis, St. Anthony of Padua, and S. Catherine. Some authors have asserted that this artist's family was poor: Mengs on examining his pictures carefully, was convinced of the contrary, by observing that he always made use of very fine canvass, often of copper plates for paintings of small dimensions, and that he used, in profusion, dear colours, such as Gum Lac and Ultramarine. It however appears certain that he went neither to Rome, nor to Venice; and that he was indebted solely to his own genius for all his talent.
Correggio is never mentioned, without his name bringing to mind an exclamation he made, when viewing a picture by Raphael Lut if it is true that on seeing it, he cried out: Anch'io son pittore, And I also am a painter; far from believing that it was the sight of this picture, that inspired him with a taste for painting, we believe on the contrary, that he must have felt, on seeing it, there was nothing to prevent his arriving at such a degree, and from deserving a similar reputation. This will appear the more probable as this expression was not elicited by the sight of Raphael's grand compositions in the Vatican; but by that of the small picture of the Fives Holies which is far offering all the sublimity, so often displayed in Raphael's numerous works.
The characteristics of Correggio's talent are, Gracefulness, a great knowledge of Light and Shade, and an inimitable Colouring. He was the first who dared represent figures seen
from below, a difficulty avoided by Raphael. He thus overcame all the points remaining at that time to be conquered, and reached perfection in this part of perspective. It is often arduous to rightly appreciate the talents of this painter; for his pictures are scarce, and those, occasionally met with, offering but a small number of figures, enable to judge of him only with respect to expression and grace.
One of the most spirited, grandest, and most learned compositions due to Correggio's pencil, is that which he did in the Monastery of St. Paul. Over the chimney-piece, Diana is represented, hunting with a crowd of little Loves: in the vaulted ceiling, the Graces, the Parcæ, and Vestals, are occupied at a sacrifice; Juno crossing the skies, and other allegories which seem to suit but little with the decorations of a convent. But it must be remembered that in Correggio's time, the Nuns of St. Paul were not immured in cloisters, that Jane of Piacenza the Lady Abbess, who then ruled them, did not lead the regular life now required in convents. These paintings did so much credit to the artist, that he was soon afterwards commissioned, by the Monks of Monte Cassino, to paint the Cupola of St. John. This fresco and the other designs of the nave of this church, occupied him from the year 1520 to 1524. He received 5,600 fr., or L. 224, for this work.
The subject of this Cupola is the Ascension of Our Saviour in presence of the Apostles; their attitudes express respect and astonishment. This cupola has been engraved at Bologna, in 1700, by Giacomo Maria Govannini, in a series of nine plates. Wiren the size of the figures, the beauty of the naked parts, the science displayed in the fore-shortenings, and the skilful manner with which the draperies are cast, are considered, it will be acknowledged, that this work would have been the painter's master-piece, had he not surpassed it, in that of the dome of the Parma Cathedral, representing the
HISTORICAL AND CRITICAL NOTICE
Assumption of the Virgin, which he finished in 1530. By far greater than the preceding one, the artist has also introduced in it the Apostles in pious attitudes, and yet quite different from those they have in the former Fresco. The top of the cupola displays an immense number of the Blessed, grouped and separated in a most admirable manner. Then a multitude of angels of various sizes, some accompanying and supporting the Virgin, others playing upon instruments, or celebrating her triumph by their songs, or holding torches and acerras upon which perfumes are burning. Although this grand Fresco is much damaged, still it produces a delightful pleasure to the soul. The variety of the figures and their beauty, show with what attention Correggio studied nature. This large Fresco was paid 4,200 franks, or L. 178: it was engraved in 1642, at Florence, by G. B. Vanni, in a series of 15 plates. This artist would often stop in his walks to see children at play; he studied their motions, their joy, their anger; he knew how to express in his drawings their round forms, the innocence of some, the mischievous mirth of others, and the gracefulness of all.
It is at Parma only where these magnificent Frescos by Allegri, can be admired. It is also in the academy of the same town that is now seen his famous picture known by the name of St. Jerome, and given in this work, no.44; and the Dead Christ, no. 27.
Amongst the other oil-paintings by this artist, we must particularly mention Jupiter and Antiope, no. 128 of this collection; at Florence, a Virgin adoring the Infant Jesus at Munich, an admirable Ecce Homo; in the Dresden Gallery the famous Nativity, known by the name of Correggio's Notte, no. 571; and the small figure of the Magdalene lying in the desert, no 17, which was paid 150,000 franks, or L. 6000, by Augustus III, King of Poland. In the Gallery of Sans-Souci, Leda Bathing, formerly forming part of the Orleans Gallery.
OF ANTONIO ALLEGRI.
In the Vienna Gallery, three pictures representing Jupiter and lo, the Rape of Ganymedes, no. 524, and Cupid shaping his bow. But this picture is attributed by some persons, to Francesco Mazzuoli, known under the name of Parmiggiano. Finally, a Christ Praying in the Garden of Olives, now in the possession of his Grace the Duke of Wellington, who captured it whilst pursuing Joseph Bonaparte, after the battle of Vittoria. This precious picture had been purchased at Milan, at the rate of 57,000 franks, or L. 2280, for Philip IV, King of Spain.
Italy lost Allegri at the age of 40. It has been said that having received at Parma 200 franks, about L. 8, in copper coin, as the payment of a picture; he carried this sum himself to Correggio, and that the journey of four leagues, in very warm weather, brought on him a pleurisy, of which he died a few days afterwards. Without discussing the singularity of this anecdote, it may be doubted, and the more reasonably, as it is known he left a competeney to his family.
Antonio Allegri died at Correggio, in 1534; leaving a widow with four children. Particulars concerning his life and works may be found in the second volume of Mengs' Memoirs, in those of the Cavaliere Ratti, and in the Notices by P. Affo; in Lanzi's History of Painting, and also in a work intitled: Manierie Istoriche di Antonio Allegri, detto Il Correggio, di P. Luigi Pungileoni, Parma, 1818, 3 vols. 8o.