Parmigianino. Self-Portrait. 1524
H. W. and Anthony Janson write,
The first phase of Mannerism was replaced by one less overtly anticlassical, less laden with subjective emotion, but equally far removed [as early Mannerism] from the confident, stable world of the High Renaissance. The Self-Portrait by Parmigianino (Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzuoli, 1503-1540) suggests no psychological turmoil. The artist's appearance is bland and well groomed. The features, painted with Raphael's smooth perfection, are veiled by a delicate Leonardesque sfumato. The distortions, too, are objective, not arbitrary, for the picture records what Parmigianino saw as he gazed at his reflection in a convex mirror. Why was he so fascinated by this view "through the looking glass"? Earlier painters who used the mirror as an aid to observation had "filtered out" the distortions, except when the mirror image was contrasted with a direct view of the same scene [as with Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait (1434)]. But Parmigianino substitutes his painting for the mirror itself, even employing a specially prepared convex panel. Perhaps he wanted to demonstrate that there is no single "correct" reality, that distortion is as natural as the normal appearance of things. The painting bespeaks an interest in magic as well: the convex mirror was valued in the Renaissance for its visionary effects, which seemed to reveal the future, as well as hidden aspects of the past and present.