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Correggio (Antonio Allegri) (1494?-1534)  
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Mythological Paintings

The explicit eroticism of Correggio's mythological paintings is unequaled in European art of his era. With the exception of the frescos in the Camara di San Paolo, all of Correggio's mythological paintings date from the 1520s. However, drawings reveal that he had been interested in mythological themes from the earliest stages of his career.

The arrangement of the figures in Venus, Cupid, and a Satyr (1524-25, Louvre, Paris) recalls Michelangelo's depiction of the Temptation and Fall of Adam and Eve in the Sistine Chapel. However, Correggio has emphasized the sensuality of the subject through his sinuous line, atmospheric color, and voluptuous modeling.

Commissioned by Federigo II Gonzaga, the series of four pictures celebrating the loves of Jupiter (Ganymede, Io, Danaë, and Leda) constitutes Corregio's best known and most dazzling ensemble of mythological subjects. The Rape of Ganymede (about 1525-30, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) was the first large-scale Renaissance oil painting of the subject. Correggio shows Jupiter, in the guise of an eagle, lifting the shepherd boy high above the lush blue-green landscape, while a dog jumps excitedly up toward his young master.

With his face encircled by soft curls, Ganymede gazes out seductively at the viewer, even as he embraces the eagle. The dark feathers of the eagle help to set off the glowing pink flesh tones of the youth, who is shown at a three-quarter angle with much of his backside visible. Wind blows the pink draperies away from Ganymede's smooth, radiant buttocks, so that these are fully exposed to the viewer. Jupiter's understandable attraction to the beautiful youth is revealed by the way that the eagle tenderly licks at the boy's wrist.

The early acknowledgment of Correggio's Ganymede as a quintessential representation of homoerotic desire is indicated by the numerous references to the painting in the proceedings, conducted by the Spanish Inquisition against the wealthy connoisseur Antonio Pérez (1534-1611) on charges of sodomy. During the lengthy trial (which lasted from 1579 until 1590, when Pérez escaped to France), his ownership of Correggio's Ganymede was repeatedly cited as proof of his inclination to commit homosexual acts.

Correggio's Final Years

Little is known with certainty about the final years of Correggio's life. Apparently discouraged by the cancellation of his contract by the Cathedral, he closed his studio in Parma and moved back to his native town in 1530.

Subsequently, Corregio received no major public commissions, and it is generally assumed that his artistic output must have declined in quantity, if not in quality. However, the precise extent of his production during this period cannot be determined because many of his works are undocumented and, therefore, cannot be securely dated.

According to Vasari, the heat of the sun and unhealthy water provoked a sudden attack of pleurisy and a "raging fever," which killed Corregio. Whether or not this story is true, it seems likely that poor health contributed to the young artist's premature death on March 5, 1534.

Posthumous Reputation

Correggio's transgressions of sexual and gender norms may help to explain why his art was largely overlooked during the most conservative phase of the Catholic Counter Reformation (lasting from about 1540 until 1590). However, his paintings were rediscovered around 1600 by Caravaggio and other pioneers of the Baroque, who borrowed many aspects of his highly expressive style.

Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Correggio was considered one of the most important European painters of all time. This high valuation of his work continued until the Victorian era, when his paintings came to be widely disdained as frivolous and immoral, although technically skilled. Nevertheless, during the late nineteenth century, Symonds and other prominent figures of the emerging gay subculture celebrated the splendors of his work.

Since the early twentieth century, Correggio has been largely ignored by the general public, although gay viewers have remained enthusiastic about his pictures. With his sensual and innovative manner of painting, Correggio deserves recognition both as a major Renaissance artist and as a queer icon.

Richard G. Mann

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arts >> Overview:  European Art: Baroque

From about 1590 through the first decades of the eighteenth century, Baroque artists challenged the decorum of Renaissance art; but the period was also a time of intolerance and persecution.

arts >> Overview:  European Art: Renaissance

The various cultural patterns, especially the conditions of artistic production and the types of subjects and themes represented, provide a great deal of evidence about Renaissance sexuality and art.

social sciences >> Overview:  Inquisition

In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the Inquisitions of Aragon and Portugal prosecuted almost 1500 trials for sodomy of various kinds.

arts >> Overview:  Patronage I: The Western World from Ancient Greece until 1900

Patronage--the sponsorship of artists and the commissioning of artistic projects from them--is of central importance to cultural history.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: Ganymede

Since antiquity Ganymede, the beautiful Phrygian youth abducted by Jupiter, has served as an artistic expression for homosexuality.

arts >> Caravaggio

The most original painter of early seventeenth-century Europe, Caravaggio imbues his art with homoeroticism.

arts >> Dürer, Albrecht

One of the greatest graphic artists in history, Dürer elevated printmaking to the level of painting through his unprecedented use of line and value; his works frequently express sexual themes and homoeroticism.

arts >> Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri)

One of the leading Italian painters of the seventeenth century, Guercino fused spirituality and homoerotic desire in his paintings of religious subjects.

arts >> Leonardo da Vinci

One of the greatest painters in the history of art and an outstanding empirical scientist, Leonardo was haunted by his illegitimacy and rumors of homosexuality.

arts >> Michelangelo Buonarroti

The most famous artist who ever lived, Michelangelo left an enormous legacy in sculpture, painting, drawing, architecture, and poetry; while the artist's sexual behavior cannot be documented, the homoerotic character of his drawings, letters, and poetry is unmistakable.

literature >> Symonds, John Addington

John Addington Symonds was the most daring innovator in the history of nineteenth-century British homosexual writing and consciousness.

literature >> Wilde, Oscar

Oscar Wilde is important both as an accomplished writer and as a symbolic figure who exemplified a way of being homosexual at a pivotal moment in the emergence of gay consciousness.


Delaforce, Angela. "The Collection of Antonio Pérez, Secretary of State to Philip II." The Burlington Magazine 124.957 (December 1982): 742-753.

Ekserdjian, David. Correggio. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.

Gould, Cecil. The Paintings of Correggio. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976.

Leslie, Charles W. "Six Days in Another Town." Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation Newsletter no. 12 (June 30, 2005):

Renkin, Calire Frances. "The Art of Arousal in Some Religious Paintings of Correggio." Ph.D. dissertation, Rutgers University, 1998.

Saslow, James M. Ganymede in the Renaissance: Homosexuality in Art and Society. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986.

Smyth, Frances P., and John P. O'Neill. The Age of Correggio and the Carracci: Emilian Painting of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Washington, D. C.: National Gallery of Art, 1986.

Sohm, Philip. "Gendered Style in Italian Art Criticism from Michelangelo to Malvasia." Renaissance Quarterly 48.4 (Winter 1995): 759-808.

Symonds, John Addington. Sketches and Studies in Italy and Greece. London: Smith, Edler, 1874.

Vasari, Giorgio. Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects. Gaston du C. de Vere, trans.; with an Introduction and notes by David Ekserjian. 2 vols. New York: Knopf, 1996.


    Citation Information
    Author: Mann, Richard G.  
    Entry Title: Correggio (Antonio Allegri)  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2005  
    Date Last Updated October 29, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2005, glbtq, inc.  


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