Beyond the Canvas
The Unforgettables: Parmigianino's Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien
Updated: Jun 6, 2020
It's Mannerist week chez Fran. With its slightly unnatural proportions, that cheeky Bronzino got me thinking about the creation of illusion in painting, so I went trawling through the photos I took in Vienna 3 years ago and I picked out this gem.
Parmigianino paints himself at the centre of this rounded panel, his exaggeratedly large right hand thrust to the foreground. Everything around him appears distorted, as if the room is collapsing, maybe even spinning. In contrast, his almost angelic face is calm and collected as he gazes back at us. In a game of illusionistic reflections, the viewer and the artist are looking at each other through the same mirror. We see the artist and what he sees while he is also looking at himself in the same mirror (I’m getting a bit dizzy just writing this). It’s an exquisite visual enigma that sums up Parmigianino's unrivalled creative ingenuity and technical virtuosity.
Aged only 21, in 1524 Parmigianino travelled to Rome with a handful of works seeking patronage at the court of the Medici Pope Clement VII. With this small painting, only 24 cm in diameter, he was sending a very clear message to his prospective patron: "Look at me, look at what this hand can do." The focus is thus entirely on his own talent. This is a bold self-celebration of the artist's confidence made even more remarkable by the fact that, at the time, painters were considered little more than craftsmen. With this picture, Parmigianino was making a radical statement about both the changing status of the artist and the limitless possibilities of art.
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Francesco Mazzola called Il Parmigianino, Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror (c. 1524), Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna