Antonio Allegri, largely known as Correggio, was an Italian painter and draftsman. Born in 1494 in Emilia-Romagna, Italy, he was a renowned painter of the school of Palma of the High Italian Renaissance, whose works inspired the style of Rococo and Baroque artists.
Correggio is remembered for producing the most sensuous and vigorous artworks of the 16th century. Allegri mostly worked in the north Italian towns, but in the later pictorial developments, his works seemed to have a major influence. With the rich colouring incorporated in his works, the theatrical illusionism and feathery brushwork were too irresistible, that they ended up featuring in other works in the 17th century. For this, Correggio was considered a master to the Baroque.
Most of Correggio's career remains largely undocumented. He is said to have been a self-taught artist, son to Pellegrino Allegri, who lived and worked as a tradesman in Correggio. The narrative of him being a self-trained artist is, however, disputed by the anatomy used in his artwork, the perspective and the optics. His uncle, Lorenzo Allegri, who was a moderate painter at the time, is believed to have passed on his abilities to Correggio. He is also said to be a student of other local painters, including his cousin Quirino Allegri and Antonio Bartolotti.
He is traditionally said to have taken up his studies in Modena in 1503 before leaving for Mantua in 1506. This is the period during which Andrea Mantegna, a famous painter in Mantua, died. Before his death, Mantegna had not completed decorating the Church of St. Andrea. It is in this regard that Correggio is said to have taken up the painting and finished working on the Mantegna family's chapel. The Madonna and Saints and the Entombment of Christ are said to have been painted by Correggio in his early years. Correggio married Giovanna Merlini in 1521, and between this year and 1527, they had four children. It was in 1524 in Parma, where he executed his first most challenging and large commission, the decoration of the church of St. John the Evangelist.
Despite his early works having been inspired by Mantegna, he seemed to project the characteristics of an early famed Italian Renaissance painter, Leonardo da Vinci, born in 1452 and died in 1519. In his works, Mantegna focused more on controlled lines to define form, while Leonardo just like Correggio preferred chiaroscuro, undefined and shaded contours. In his early career, Correggio is also said to have visited Rome, where he got a pinch of inspiration from Raphael and the Vatican frescoes of Michelangelo. Soon after leaving Mantua, Corregio painted a defined piece of the altar of the Madonna of St. Francis, which was then commissioned in 1514. Some of the best-known works by the artist in his early years include Christ Taking Leave of His Mother, the Nativity and the Adoration of the Kings.
His Competent Works
Between 1518 and 1519, Allegri was invited by Giovanna Piacenza to Parma to complete one of the most magnificent and complex works. Here, he executed his first mature work, after decorating the ceiling of the Abbess Giovanna da Piacenza parlour in the Benedictine nunnery of St. Paul, which is today referred to as the Camera di San Paolo. This painting expressed influence in the fresco, evidence that Allegri had indeed been to Rome. There are temperaments of the Mantegna’s murals in the 1494 Castello at Mantua, but his concept in this work was original.
For this incredible piece, he was assigned to work on Parma’s dome of the church of San Giovanni Evangelista. Although Vasari claimed that Correggio had never been to Rome, the style of his mature works portrayed that he may have taken such a trip before 1518. His figures had expressive tenderness, which made Allegri to be considered the most modern and daring painter with Renaissance ideals. His emotional style of painting was adorned with explosive Roman Mannerisms and Venetian colours. With his inclusion of colour and diagonal composition, Allegri was able to obtain detailed spatial depth, something that became his painting characteristic.
His successful completion of the covenant of San Paolo opened more opportunities for other fresco programs. Among them was the dome fresco of the Ascension of Christ painting in 1520 and the apse, which were then followed by the commissioning of the nave frieze of the Benedictine church. These projects took him four years to complete. His 1522 Vision of Saint John the Evangelist is said to have been inspired by Raphael and Michelangelo.
In his career, most of Correggio's paintings were of religious nature, coupled with mythological themes. Only a few of them were portraits. His poetic and original compositions were mostly reflected in the altarpieces he made for the local towns and Parma. The Adoration of the Shepherds contracted in 1522 and completed in 1530 was among his most intimate, monumental and revolutionary works, including the Madonna of St. Jerome and Night (La Notte), considered to be his masterpieces. Vasari was quick to note the competitive use of colour in Correggio’s paintings, but also pointed out that most of his works were clouded by an untidy appearance, while others possessed exceptional beauty.
In his late works such as The Virgin Adoring the Child Jesus, The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine, which is considered a visual essay and in The Madonna of the Basket, Correggio employed medium oil painting. The most remarkable effects of the oil texture were achieved in The Rape of Ganymede, the Jupiter and Io and the Danae. The effects bring out a sensuous characteristic, which is not pornographic, lightly painted on the canvas.
Later in the 17th century, Correggio was largely imitated, with most of his influence being captured in the Parmese painting, particularly in Parmigianino’s Mannerist painting. His illusionistic opening of ceilings was adapted and to some extent, even vulgarised. The Baroque painters copied him in the 17th century, notably the Giovanni Lanfranco, between 1582 and 1647. In the French Rococo style, Correggio was an idol, with his altarpieces becoming extensively copied by studying artists in the 18th century in Italy. As the art reputation of the 18th century declined, his reputation and fame also waned.
His Mural Paintings
Correggio is historically said to be the last of the Renaissance mural painters. In Parma, he completed three fresco commissions, among them, the decoration of the 1518-1520 abbess drawing room. In this painting purely focused on the Benedictine convent of S. Paolo, at the fireplace is a painting of Diana in her chariot with fruits hanging from the roof. The decoration of the church of S. Giovanni Evangelista was his second mural commissioning.
In the cupola painting, Correggio included an array of saints surrounded by angels, some looking at the figure of Christ and others facing the viewer. He then painted frescoes in the cathedral of Parma, transforming the interior into a vision of the opening of the heavens for the assumption of Mary. On the painting are angels dancing joyfully in the clouds and saints surrounding heavenly light as Mary opens up her arms in a gesture of delightful response. Angel Gabriel is seen coming to greet Mary, is painted in a bold composition at the centre and is flying on ahead of her.
Although Correggio's artwork is believed to have had a revolutionary impact in the painting industry, it is considered to be highly electric and cannot be put into one category. Given that not much is known about his teachings, it is not easy to determine his works' stylistic qualities that could have influenced his talent. As a person, Correggio is known to have been melancholic and introverted. He may not have had disciples who can be directly pointed to but was highly influential on touring artists outside his Parma hometown. Some of the artists who have been influenced by Correggio’s works include Giovanni Maria Francesco Rondani, Parmigiano and Giorgio Gandini del Grano.