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Parmigianino, The Madonna and Child with Saints

Key facts
Full title The Madonna and Child with Saints John the Baptist and Jerome
Artist Parmigianino
Artist dates 1503 - 1540
Date made 1526-7
Medium and support Oil on poplar
Dimensions 342.9 × 148.6 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by the Directors of the British Institution, 1826
Inventory number NG33
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Madonna and Child with Saints

This altarpiece was commissioned for a burial chapel in San Salvatore in Lauro in Rome. However, the political turmoil following the Sack of Rome in 1527 meant that it was never installed there. According to the art biographer Vasari, Parmigianino was working on this picture when imperial troops burst into his workshop but ’seeing him [and] stupefied at this work… they let him pursue it'.

It is a jarring, unusual, eye-catching composition. Saint John the Baptist dominates the foreground, staring at us intently. With his exaggeratedly long finger he points upwards to the Virgin and Child, seated in a burst of light against dark grey storm clouds. The Christ Child mischievously kicks his foot out of the painting towards us. Saint Jerome lies sleeping on the ground, exhausted from his vigils in the wilderness, clutching a cross with the crucified Christ. The unsettling spatial organisation is typical of Parmigianino’s self-consciously artificial style and is characteristic of the work of other contemporary artists, since commonly described as Mannerists.

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