The Cathedral Dome by Correggio

Discovering an absolute masterpieces of the Renaissance: the decoration of the dome of Parma Cathedral, by Antonio Allegri, better known as Correggio

By Fabbriceria della Cattedrale

La cupola del Duomo by CorreggioFabbriceria della Cattedrale

At the beginning of the sixteenth century in Parma there was an extraordinary cultural fervour, which inspired such remarkable artistic expressions as the reconstruction of the monasteries of San Giovanni and San Paolo and the Basilica of the Steccata.

It was in this context that the presence of Correggio proved essential; it is to him that we owe the fresco of the Assumption of Mary in the dome of the Cathedral, the last of his works in fresco.
In a contract dated November 3rd, 1522, the artist undertook to paint the dome, the intrados, and the walls of the choir. The dominant theme of the project commissioned from Correggio was that of the Assumption, after which the Cathedral was named.

The choice of the iconography of the dome was inspired more by the three homilies dedicated by Giovanni Damasceno to the Assumption of Mary, rather than by the apocryphal texts collected in the Golden Legend of Jacobus de Varagine. The author was inspired by theological principles that can be summarized in the assertion that Mary is inseparable from the Son: in this context, like the resurrection of Jesus, which took place on the third day, the Assumption of Mary is also placed on the third day after the burial, on a Sunday, a primordial Christian feast which every eight days commemorates the Easter of the Resurrection.

All the apostles attended the event, summoned from the countries where they were busy preaching the Gospel, and brought to Jerusalem by angels. In the fresco of the dome the Apostles stand on the faux cornice at the corners of the white marble octagonal base, grouped two by two.

This positioning arose from Correggio’s intent to disguise the architecture and render the pictorial field in the round.

Looking further up, the viewer can admire a vortex populated by angels who are accompanying the Assumption of Mary among the swelling clouds.

La cupola del Duomo by CorreggioFabbriceria della Cattedrale

The figure of the Virgin with open arms, covered in a pink robe and a blue mantle, is located on the western side of the dome, towards the apse, visible to anyone who stops at the foot of the great staircase.

Among the sea of faces that surround Mary, the busts of her ancestors emerge: on the left Adam, whose judgement has been cancelled,

and on the right Eve, portrayed in the act of holding an apple with a green shoot in her hand, a sign not of condemnation, but of salvation.

After Adam, Abraham and his son Isaac are depicted with the sacrificial lamb,

then with thick blond hair, David with the severed head of Goliath, and finally the patriarch Jacob with his great beard.

To the left of Mary are some female figures: these are two women to be identified as Martha and Mary, therefore these are the three women who first found the tomb empty the morning after Saturday,

and finally, Judith with the severed head of Holofernes.

La cupola del Duomo by CorreggioFabbriceria della Cattedrale

Almost in the dead centre of the dome full of light which fades from yellow to pure white, the colour used to represent the paradise towards which Mary is rising, is a whole figure: this is almost certainly the angel who accompanies the ascent of the Virgin, rather than the Christ descending to meet his Mother in an innovative pose considered totally scandalous by Correggio’s contemporaries.

At the base of the dome, the four shell-painted pendentives depict the patron saints particularly venerated in the city: the young Saint Hilary with the crosier

Saint John the Baptist with the lamb

The elderly Saint Bernard degli Uberti with the crosier

Saint Joseph with the date frond.

Credits: All media
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