Correggio's Frescoes in Parma Cathedral
Correggio's depiction of the Virgin's Assumption into heaven, painted in the cupola of the Duomo of Parma, is widely viewed as one of the most inventive and influential fresco cycles of the Renaissance. Even so, the very elements that make the work so powerful--its lively iconography and its illusionism--have long been decried by critics for their apparent illegibility and lack of decorum. In the first book-length study of these frescoes in English, Carolyn Smyth counters such negative criticism by taking into account the viewer's in situ experience of the frescoes. In so doing, she offers a new reading that explores the artist's knowing use of figural perspective, the architectural and liturgical context, and the religious significance of the theme. Aided by new photographs of the fresco, taken by Ralph Lieberman, Smyth leads the reader from the door of the cathedral to the apse, in order to examine the lay worshipper's experience from a series of partial views in the nave and the contrasting vistas of the clergy in the presbytery. As each of these separately revealed sequences of the cycle is discussed, new elements appear and are interpreted. The gestures, figural relationships, activities, and attributes visible from each viewpoint convey specific meanings that reveal, too, the most relevant aspect of the Assumption theme for the participant below. Not only the spatial communicativeness of the painting but also the affective warmth of Correggio's style are seen as means to celebrate Mary's redemptive role and its implications for the Christian audience.