Design for the Tomb of a Youth

Parmigianino (Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola) Italian

Not on view

This expressive composition is one of four extant drawings of funerary monuments done by Parmigianino in his Roman period around 1524 and 1527. The overall treatment of this design—presumably for a wall tomb—is the most pictorial of the small group of such drawings, and omits (as the drawing does not appear ot have been cut at the top) the pedimented architectural framing elements that are typical of early sixteenth-century Roman tomb sculpture in the antique-revival style. Moreover, Parmigianino's design shows little concern for the three-dimensional nature of the sculpted structure, and it is not atl all clear, for example, just how the garland-framed oval containing the vision of the Virgin and Child in the clouds would have been constructed with respect to both the flanking angels and the effigy of the deceased.

This pictorial conception, together with the use of colour, perhaps suggest that the preset sheet was intended for a painted ephemeral monument.The small angel on the left extinguishes the flame on a long torch in allusion to death. Still a young man, the deceased is portrayed as if asleep, reclining on a simple bier. He holds a small book, and another book rests to his right, but his identity remains a mystery, for there is neither a family coat-of-arms nor any other type of heraldic decoration to provide a clue, and the design for the area of the epitaph on the bier is incomplete. While the young man's identity is not known, the books may refer to his scholarly career cut short by death. This study is closely related in size and design to a sheet by Parmigianino in the Louvre (Popham no. 378, pl. 214), drawn with a somewhat bolder handling of the pen and without colour. There, the deceased wears a bishop's mitre and vestment, and reclines in the opposite direction. The visual evidence, although frustratingly fragmentary, suggests that the Louvre drawing may have been intended as a competing design for the tomb of a member of the Armellini family at Santa Marla in Trastevere in Rome, carved by Michelangelo Sense after Baldassare Peruzzi's design (see Wolk-Simon in New York 1994, nos. 7, 93 and Ekserdjian 1994).

Whether the Metropolitan Museum and Louvre drawings were intended for the same project, however, is open to question. Be that as it may, the design without the inscription D.O.M was reproduced in reverse in an etching by Angelo Falconetto (Bartsch XX.104.6.13). Falconetto's print shows that Parmigianino's design originally included a further oblong plinth with a scene of a pagan sacrifice below the epitaph. The drawing technique with delicate touches of brown and yellow wash seems to be inspired by his contact with the young artists trained in Raphael's workshop, especially Giovani da Udine. Curiously, the Falconetto print after the Metropolitan Museum tomb design is portrayed in the upper right of an early seventeenth-century of the Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle (Van Regteren Altena 1956, p.20, fig. 2).

(Carmen C. Bambach)

Design for the Tomb of a Youth, Parmigianino (Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola) (Italian, Parma 1503–1540 Casalmaggiore), Pen and brown ink, brush and brown and yellow wash, over leadpoint and stylus ruling, the paper rubbed with charcoal

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