Parma Cathedral

Correggio — The Duomo of Parma 1526-1530

(b 1490-1534)

In Parma, Italy, the home of Verdi and Parma ham, is an eye popping golden yellow fresco in the cathedral. It is a conventional cathedral with a long nave covered in frescoes of all of Christ’s life, such as the crucifixion, Last Supper, expelling of the money changers from the temple. Painted prophets perch on clouds under the corner of each mural. The multiple scenes create a confusion of the eye it being a distracting art, busy and ordinary. As you proceed up the nave, you mount steps to stand under the central dome. There a golden muted explosion, a fire works floats above you, way above you.

Fresco by Correggio at Parma CathedralYour neck cracks, as you look up, up, up, to see an eight sided base of the cupola illuminated by eight clear glass rose windows, flooding in the sun.

First as you proceed up the base of the dome there are prophets on clouds, tending to little girl putti whose seven year old legs dangle off the grey clouds. The theme is the Virgin Mary ascending to heaven, the spot way on the very top of the dome.

The apostles are at the base of the 8-sided cupola; their robes fluttering as they exhort the Virgin on upwards to heaven.

Your eyes move up through a layer of clouds laced with 12 year olds, in a swirl of wind. Then a circle of cloud with countless legs, bottoms from the underside, either floating down or circling in a gyre, a symphony of nude legs. There are rings of faces all watching the up, up of it all.

Christ, a remote figure, caught at the very top of the work by a gust of wind, then thrown askew, a hang gliding, roiling figure. Only with binoculars can you see his face is down as he helicopters down surrounded by rings and rings of blonde, blue-eyed angels all watching the virgin’s ascension to a ball of yellow with nothing above except Christ at the top of the meisen yellow cove.

The virgin ascending is next to Adam and Eve to symbolize the Redemption. She is clotted with frolicking angels.

Correggio portraying all from underview, legs, legs, legs dangling, suspended, floating up, beyond your reach, up up and away with astronaut weightlessness. How do you capture ‘weightlessness’ with literally hundreds of figures? Correggio has captured the concept of the ascension.

Titian was right when he saw it, he said “Get a big saw and cut that dome away, then turn it upside down, fill it with gold, and it will not be enough.”

Correggio in times past was viewed as the fourth master, together with Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael. But in the middle of the nineteenth century he fell out of favour. But this work is magic!