The Getty Lusts After a Parmigianino That’s PG-13, If Not ‘R’

THE DAILY PIC: The Getty hopes to buy a sacred picture by Parmigianino that is strangely erotic .

Parmigianino, Virgin and Child With Saint Mary Magdalene and the Infant Saint John the Baptist. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

THE DAILY PIC (#1628): The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles recently announced that it’s planning to buy this painting by the great Mannerist painter Parmigianino—or, as some have argued, by his follower Girolamo Mazzola Bedoli—so long as the British export laws end up letting to happen.

Critics often talk about “sexy” Renaissance paintings, but there aren’t  many that are more full of sex than this so-called Virgin with Child, St. John the Baptist, and Mary Magdalene. That embrace between the toddler Saint John and the infant Jesus is really something else, and then there’s the naked little figure of the Magdalene in the clouds being “assumed” into heaven, but apparently straight from the bath. (Although it also looks an awful lot like the goddess Venus, from antiquity, brought on board by the artist to bless this happy Christian assembly.)

I’m sure there’s a fine Neoplatonic key to the picture that can help defuse its erotic charge. But I wonder how many hotblooded Renaissance viewers would have known it?

The Getty must be right when it says the picture was intended for “private devotion.” Very private.

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