Parmigianino, Virgin and Child with Saints, study for a composition

Parma, Italy, AD 1526-27

This is a pen and brown wash drawing over red chalk. It was made as a study for an altarpiece commissioned in 1526 of the Madonna and Child with Saints John the Baptist and Jerome (National Gallery, London). With heavenly light blazing behind her, shown as long straight ink lines, the Virgin Mary stands on clouds and holds the Christ Child in her arms. She looks down at the figure of St Jerome with upraised arms below. To the right reclines the figure of St John the Baptist. The finished painting is different in composition.

In this drawing Parmigianino has suggested light and shade through a variety of means. Both hatching and cross-hatching are visible, but it is the use of brown washes that gives a greater sense of three-dimensionality to the figures. His pen strokes are short and curved for the figures as he works out their changing positions. A stronger and darker pen and ink line defines the final outlines of the figures.

Parmigianino's real name was Francesco Mazzola, but was known as the 'little Parmesan' as he came from the north Italian city of Parma. According to his Life by the artist-biographer, Giorgio Vasari, Parmigianino was working on this altarpiece in Rome when French and German troops entered and sacked the city in 1527. German soldiers broke into his house and it was only by making innumerable drawings for one of them that he escaped with his life.

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More information


D. DeGrazia, Correggio and his legacy: sixt, exh. cat. (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1984)

A.E. Popham, Italian drawings in the Depart (London, The British Museum Press, 1967)

J. Rowlands, Master drawings and watercolou (London, The British Museum Press, 1984)


Height: 258.000 mm
Width: 156.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1882-8-12-488



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