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The Art of Meditation

 
 

On Long Slender Necks....

   

 

The art of meditation: Contemplation.  Not the zoning out to nothingness, but instead the freedom of letting your mind wander towards focus, the honing in to discover.  Meditation literally means ‘thinking over,’ the act one of reflection, of pondering subtleties....and like Proust (and this we learnt from Alain de Botton), we sometimes favor the introspection of looking at a reproduction of a painting for long, long minutes to the mad scramble of negotiating the crowds at museums.

 

And so, we stopped to contemplate Parmigianino’s Madonna with the Long Neck, (click the picture above for a detail view) one of the most famous Mannerist paintings. Mannerism (from maniera or manner in Italian), a 16th century movement following the High Renaissance, and essentially the beginning of that thing known as personal style, the emergence of the first Modernists one might say.  One could no longer look at a piece of art, and not think of the painter.  The personal signature.  Interpretation.  Mannerism began with Raphael and Michelangelo (the Sistine Chapel with its figures in poses that are stylized and unnatural but so very lovely), and includes El Greco (his figures with their elongated proportions), and Benvenuto Cellini (the famous salt cellar in gold and enamel where land and ocean intermingle).  It was a sophisticated and knowing tweaking of the Classical vocabulary in art, architecture, and sculpture—notions of symmetry, naturalism, realism, proportion, perspective, orders all transformed, but to advantage.

 

Parmigianino takes the commonplace and sedate, that old standard of art, the Madonna and Child, and imbues it with loveliness as well as more than a hint of sensuousness. The swanlike slenderness and curve of neck, the long splayed fingers—length here is exaggerated to imbue a sense of grace and sinuosity.  Willowy and sylphlike, perfect oval of tilted head, she holds the child, who is a rather large baby and could almost be cherub or Cupid. Even the angels all crowded in on the left are svelte creatures; the right hand side of the painting is balanced by a long column without a capital, and a miniature St. Jerome with a scroll in his hand.  Proportion, symmetry, and perspective thrown to the winds.  Sensuousness is emphasized.  The wet drapery technique emphasizes both breast and navel.  There is the long lissom leg of an angel on the extreme left.  And then there are the religious allusions.  Medieval poems compared the Madonna’s neck to an ivory tower or column.  Madonna del Collo Lungo as it is known in Italian.  Vasari also noted a cross on a vase that one of the angels holds, but apparently that can barely be seen now.  The child with a certain lifelessness of form could also be seen as alluding to the Christ in Michelangelo’s Pieta.

 

This painting then that is so very beautiful, and all because of its distortions.  The composition more harmonious because of its asymmetry, the Madonna more exquisite because of the unnatural slenderness and curve of neck.   In the end, after meditating on Mannerism, on all things beautiful with long slender necks—swans, giraffes, old Islamic glass bottles—we think that one must have the vocabulary to be able to truly splatter paint or words with dexterity, to break the rules with anything bordering on brilliance one must first master the language.   

 

Contemplate: Explore the paintings of Parmigianino Online

 

Visit: Florence and the Uffizi Gallery

 

Read: How Proust can Change Your Life, Alain de Botton

 

Tags:  food  travel  italy  museums  sculpture  

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


One of the ignudi in a stylized pose, from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel

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