Parmigianino: The Conversion of Saul. From the Collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. An Exhibition part of the Masterpieces of World Museums at the Hermitage series
On 16 June 2008 in the Apollo Hall an opening took place for the exhibition Parmigianino: Conversion of Saul (from the Museum of Arts and History in Vienna, Austria) which is part of the Masterpieces of World Museums at the Hermitage series.
The Museum of Arts and History in Vienna owns six paintings by Francesco Mazzola (1503-1540), who is known by his pseudonym, Parmigianino. One of these paintings, Conversion of Saul, exhibited in the Hermitage gives an idea of Parmigianino’s art, the most eminent mannerist painter that infused a fresh spirit into painting and drawing during the Renaissance. Parmigianino painted Conversion of Saul circa 1528. The painting was commissioned by Gian Andrea Albio, a physicist and physician.
Legend has it that Saul, an ardent persecutor of Christians, set foot in Damascus wishing to exterminate the Savior’s supporters. When he was on the way there “a great light came down from heaven” and a voice was heard that questioned him: “O Saul, why dost thou persecute me?” Blinded by the light, he was deprived of his sight until he was baptized and became a loyal follower of Christ under the name of Apostle Paul.
Until the mid 20th century Conversion of Saul was attributed to Parmigianino’s follower, Niccolo del Abate. Sources of the 16th century mentioned this painting, and this helped art historians to recognize its true author. A list that was made in 1609 preserved the precise description of this painting that runs as follows: “Saint Paul that has fallen on his back looks up into the sky with his left arm raised while the right arm is stretched upon the ground; a leaping giraffe or a horse is seen at the background of the landscape; a gilded frame, painted by Parmigianino”.
No European painting, that deal with the mystical theme of Saul’s spiritual
regeneration, is as unusual, refined and extravagant as Parmigianino’s