Correggio (Antonio Allegri)
Italian, 1489–1534
Virgin and Child with the Young Saint John the Baptist
c. 1515

Oil on panel
25 1/4 x 19 3/4 in. (64.2 x 50.2 cm)
Clyde M. Carr Fund, 1965.688

Antonio Allegri, known as Correggio, painted numerous images of the Madonna and Christ with Saint John the Baptist during his brief career in the early 16th century. Renaissance art of this period was characterized by idealized, harmonious compositions of religious and mythological themes. In this example, the artist concentrated on the physical and emotional relationship between the three biblical figures, particularly between the two children.

The Virgin, Christ, and John appear in the stable compositional shape of a pyramid. Mary, the largest element, twists gently in a contrapposto pose. Her arms form a triangle that softly encloses the children. The bodies of Christ and Saint John are more active forms in the grouping. Their angular movement is echoed in the diamond-shaped pattern of the trellis supporting a lemon tree, symbol of the Virgin. Although there is no biblical account of a meeting between the infants Christ and John, scenes showing their playful encounter often appear in Renaissance and Baroque painting to foreshadow their relationship as adults (beginning when John baptizes Christ).

The rediscovery in 1965 of Correggio’s Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist added considerably to knowledge of the artist’s early development. He lived and worked in the northern Italian city Parma, an area far from the great artistic centers of Renaissance Italy. This work was made during a phase in his career when he had begun to outgrow a provincial style and incorporate influences from other major Italian and Northern European artists. For example, the soft, evocative landscape in the background demonstrates Correggio’s attraction to the work of the German artist Albrecht Dürer. The soft outlines and hazy modeling of the figures illustrate his awareness of the sfumato technique employed by Leonardo da Vinci. The gentle sensuousness of the figures and the tenderness they show one another, however, reveal Correggio’s unique style.