Since 1578 Emperor Rudolf II had been trying with dogged persistence to acquire this painting, which meanwhile was in the collection of the Spanish king. It was only in 1605, with the help of his agent Hans Khevenhüller, that he finally succeeded in acquiring the coveted work. Probably created in Parma in 1534/35, the painting is among the key works of Upper Italian Mannerism, and Parmigianino had played an important role in the development of the style. The great popularity of his concept for this painting is attested to by some fifty known copies (cf. the one by Joseph Heintz; KHM, GG, Inv. No. 1588). Completely in keeping with the contemporary concept, which was sometimes accompanied by homoerotic desires, Amor appears here not as a small child but as an adolescent youth. With the back turned towards the viewer, the almost uniformly illuminated body of the messenger of love fills the entire height of the composition. His penetrating glance (reminiscent of Amor’s arrows) looks seductively from the painting. The weapon he is making in order to spreadjoy and pain in equal measure rests carelessly on the two books, in a gesture in triumph over their learned contents. Two putti, seen between Amor’s straddled legs, are wrestling behind him. According to one interpretation, the victor in their proxy struggle between palpable desire and quiet longing has not yet been decided. Parmigianino brilliantly characterises the different surfaces: Amor’s hair, which is artistically coiffed in delicate curls, the soft wings elegantly attached to his body and, finally, the skin of the three protagonists, the colour of which powerfully dominates the picture. This late work by the artist, who died in 1540 at the age of only 39, is distinguished by the smooth, brightly illuminated bodies and finelyworked details.
© Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2010