Parmigianino: attenuated elegance

His delicate ears, and superfine long nose, With that last triumph, his distinguished tail.

These lines by Sir William Watson run in total accord with Parmigianino's drawing of a levriero, illustrated on this page. This elegant greyhound, traced in delicate tints of sepia, is one of the jewels to be found in the Stuard Gallery in Parma.

Though one of Italy's smaller cities, Parma is a giant for its artistic and culinary heritage. Known the world over for its spicy Parmesan cheese, in Italy Parma is especially noted for its piquant history as the artistic center of the province of Emilia. Many a tenor has shaken in his shoes while making his debut at the Regio di Parma, the city's opulent opera house; and many a tenor has been whistled off the stage by Parma's exacting music lovers.

Its galleries are scattered through the ancient city center, all within easy walking distance, and most of them are devoted to the art of the High Renaissance and the periods immediately following. Its major churches are aglow with frescoes of Correggio and Parmigianino, the two most gifted artists in Parma's brilliant past.

Parmigianino (1503-40) was born in Parma and given the name of Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola, but he is more happily known by his nickname: the little citizen of Parma. Correggio, one of the master painters of the High Renaissance, was the strongest influence in Parmigianino's early development. Parmigianino, however, was one of the first artists to react against the modes of the High Renaissance and to initiate the Mannerist style.

His study of the greyhound was made for the frescoes commissioned for the walls of the castle of Fontanellato, just outside Parma. Parmigianino was among the first Italian artists to practice etching, not only because of his great fluency of line, but also as a means of satisfying the public demand for his drawings. He used the etching needle with the freedom of a pen. It was Raphael's ideal of beauty of form and feature that influenced all of Parmigianino's work.

His paintings are distinguished by ambiguity of space, by the distortion and elongation of the human figure, and by the pursuit of what the art historian Vasari called gracem - a rhythmical, sensuous beauty beyond the beauty of nature. This last quality of attenuated elegance is especially evident in his numerous and sensitive drawings. His greyhound is a fine example.

As already pointed out, the greyhound makes his home in the Stuard Gallery. Giuseppe Stuard (1791-1834) was a wealthy nobleman whose interests were divided between two devotions - to his church and to his art collecton. Intelligent, cultivated, highly esteemed, he left his fortune and his collection to the congregation of San Filippo Neri for the ''decorous ornamentation'' of the institute - an obligation never to be forsaken - and to help the infirm poor, alone or abandoned. Thus he established his desire to unite art with charity.

For some years now the paintings have been under the loving care of Dr. Luigi Vittorio Roncoroni, a citizen of Parma who speaks of his city with glowing eloquence.

Recently the Stuard Collection has come under the supervision of the city government, and certain officials have cast a covetous eye on the institute's rooms for possibe use as office space. ''But what about the paintings?'' I asked. ''What would become of the paintings?''

''The paintings would be stored in the basement.''

One can hardly believe that the art-loving city of Parma might wish to suppress this extraordinary collection - a gallery that has served the public well for the past 148 years - in favor of office space!

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