The Alchemy of Beauty

Parmigianino - Drawings and Prints of the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

1 December 2009 - 1 January 2010

The Alchemy of BeautyParmigianino's career spanning barely two decades made a deep impression on Italian art. Although he created only around fifty paintings and most of his frescoes are found in his native Parma and its vicinity, nevertheless few other artists exerted such a great influence. Parmigianino had followers not just in Italy, but his work also inspired artists working at Fontainebleau and in Prague. His unmatched popularity was due in part to his delicate and elegant style, which naturally fulfilled the idea of beauty espoused by artists and writers in the sixteenth century. The beauty embodied in Parmigianino's works also served as an example to painters in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and indeed, the term imparmiginare was long used to describe an elegant and refined manner. Yet in the nineteenth century, as Mannerism received an unfavourable assessment, Parmigianino's name passed into oblivion.

Thus, in the early twentieth century, his art had to be almost rediscovered. The advance was slow but inexorable. The growing number of monographs and articles, however, merely laid the foundation for a "Parmigianino Renaissance" that bloomed on the five-hundredth anniversary of the artist's birth. In 2003, many of the major collections held exhibitions in honour of the artist. In the joint exhibition of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa and the Frick Collection, New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest contributed with loaning five drawings and two prints. Our Museum, however, has never before shown its own collection of drawings and prints by the artist. And yet the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest preserves no fewer than twenty of Parmigianino's own drawings. While these may not suffice for a monographic exhibition spanning all periods of the painter's career, they do give us a taste of his rich and diverse graphic legacy. Parmigianino's Budapest drawings cover—albeit fragmentarily—all major stages of the artist's life: the early years in Parma, the stay in Rome with all its hopes and disappointments, the most fruitful Bolognese period, and the final return to his native town ending in bitter failure.

The Alchemy of BeautyDrawings did not only play an important role in Parmigianino's oeuvre, but together with the prints made after them also served for contemporaries and subsequent generations to become familiar with his art. He collaborated with the leading printmakers of the period, and he also became the first sixteenth-century Italian painter to produce prints. Of his seventeen etchings that survived—with the exception of a unique arm study preserved at the British Museum, London—, the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest holds all his prints, including several exceptional impressions. Moreover, all the engravings and woodcuts produced by other masters in close collaboration with Parmigianino can now be presented from our collection.

The major part of the eighty sheets has never before been on public view. The exhibition was curated by Zoltán Kárpáti and Eszter Seres. The show is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue in English and Hungarian.