Diana and Actaeon

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Parmigianino, Diana and Actaeon, 1523


Parmigianino, the Mannerist painter from Parma, Italy, got his start doing small commissions in his hometown for churches and in homes. This mural in the Castle of Fontanellato of Diana and Actaeon from Ovid's Metamorphoses is a prime example of the soon-to-be classic's early work. The painting covers the entire upper-half of the room, including the ceiling. It depicts the goddess Diana discovering Actaeon watching her bathe, and then turning him into a stag as consequence. Ironically, the story goes that Actaeon was next attacked by his own hunting dogs, who did not recognize their master. (Moral of the story: don't walk around in the woods or you may find a naked goddess, leading to your death?)

While the bodies and painting itself is not done with the upmost detail or precision, Parmigianino is crafting his own style that would later become "Mannerism." Later in the same year that he completed Diana and Actaeon, Parmigianino traveled to Rome to seek fame, which he did.

However, Parmigianino's short career was challenged by his inability to finish a commission after starting it. Instead of working on the canvas itself, he would sketch dozens of drawings in his notebook. Unsatisfied by his progress or the finished product, Parmigianino would rework and resketch the paintings until content with his art. Often this process took years, causing many patrons to find work elsewhere and give the commissions to another artist.

In one instance, Parmigianino was hired by a nobleman to paint his vault. Though, in classic Parmigianino fashion, he took his time and could not make any substantial progress whatsoever. As months went by, the patron grew frustrated by the painter's snail pace. Eventually, the aristocrat's patience expired, and he had Parmigianino arrested for taking too long.

A year after being jailed and then bailed out by a loyal patron and an architect, Parmigianino died in Casalmaggiore, Italy in recluse at the age of 37n. Today, few of his paintings of his survive because of their untraceability and the fact that Parmigianino completed but a handful works. Despite the small quantity of existing paintings, his style influenced other painters who would build off of what he started: Mannerism.

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