Antea and Madonna

I have an iffy attitude towards Renaissance painting. I find it too ‘heavy’ and often ritualistic. On the other hand, there is a sense of timelessness, an ornate delicacy that age does not seem to have tarnished.

Faces fascinate me. I do not quite recall when I first set my eyes on Antea by Parmigianino. They say it is his best work and compared with the Mona Lisa. “Due to the naturalistic presentation and the gaze of the model, historians believe that the artist knew the young woman, yet her identity remains a mystery. But her real name is but one of the mysteries which surround the paintings,” I read somewhere.

As far as mysteries go, there always seems to be that hint of it added to what already appears enigmatic. However, I do not agree that the gaze and presentation should assume that the artist knew the model. Art can take liberties with these aspects. And I do not see any hint of the Mona Lisa. This is an almost full-length portrait, Mona Lisa isn’t. This one’s expression is still, almost freezing. Mona Lisa has the hint of a smile and even the eyes are not stony.

So what makes Antea special? Her arrogance. Her deportment. I love the way her left hand is poised, almost suggesting “It’s got to be me”. Some say that she was either a courtesan or from an aristocratic family. I go along with the first view, for I think women of royalty might have liked to sit for their portraits. And woe to anyone who might ask them to stand…well, I would not have stood that long!

Now comes the courtesan theory. She does look innocent, but that is the true art of coquetry. It is the defiance in the small tender lips, ready to purse into a sulk. She is accustomed to attention and is demanding it. The clothes she is wearing seem to fit her but are not a part of her regalia. Her skill and appeal lie elsewhere and that is how her right hand turns inward rather subconsciously.

Interestingly, it is said that this same face is akin to one of the angels in Parmigianino’s Madonna of the Long Neck. I reckon she is the one on the right of the Madonna; her hair is golden here.

This painting is amazing. There is no religiosity here at all. Look at how everyone is so distant. No one except the mother is looking at the child, who is certainly no infant. Even the Madonna is not holding the child closer; it is like watching a piece of art. Her fingers are almost tentacle-like. You can see her belly and navel and breast and nipple through her clothes, which are not sheer. There is a reluctant softness to her expression.

The child, even in sleep, is reaching out; the right knee is curved as though ready to get back into a foetal position.

The Romanesque backdrop makes is appear like a painting within a painting.

The experts may have expert things to say. I guess I am not all that iffy about Renaissance art, after all.
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Exhibiting from 29th of January 2008 at the Frick Collection in New York


  1. FV
    My top notch choice for painter is Claude Monet who showed bright colors landscapes and his theme was revolving around simple natural impressionism....I always go for natural impressions....

    I don't go for paintings revolving around religions, mythology and history....

    Second one is Paul Cezanne in the line of impressional paintings....I simply love'em....

  2. Circle:

    I like your choice and we seem to agree...I will add, Renoir, Degas and Manet to the list.

    I am also quite in love with Cubism...I like that skewed look at things...ab kya kare dimaagh tedha hai na....


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