Bishop Saint in Bust-Length (Cartoon for an Altarpiece)

Artist: Parmigianino (Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola) (Italian, Parma 1503–1540 Casalmaggiore)

Date: 1503–40

Medium: Brush and brown wash over black chalk

Dimensions: 28-1/4 x 16-1/16 in. (71.8 x 40.8 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Van Day Truex Fund, 1995

Accession Number: 1995.306


Discovered at auction in 1995, this drawing is the only extant autograph cartoon (full-scale drawing) on a monumental scale by Parmigianino. In size and design, it is close to the broadly painted bishop saint at the left in the artist's Madonna of Saint Margaret (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna), executed in 1529–30 for the convent church of Santa Margherita, Bologna. Parmigianino calibrated the difficult three-quarter view of the saint's head, seen "from below" (di sotto in sù), with the help of a grid of vertical and horizontal parallel lines, incised with a stylus against a ruler and now only faintly visible. He used these lines as a guide in placing the saint's foreshortened facial features along the curving axes of the head. Over the charcoal underdrawing, he rapidly applied the two colors of wash in a manner similar to that in his mature easel paintings. The treatment of the bishop's hands with quick, broad brushstrokes recalls his painted Portrait of a Man with a Book (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), a panel that is similar in scale. The motif of the flamelike praying hands lit from below is among the most distinctive of Parmigianino's stylistic devices and would often be emulated by Girolamo Mazzola Bedoli, the artist's less talented older cousin.