The Poetry of Parmigianino’s “Schiava Turca”

Jun 2, 2014

Painting portrait of woman wearing blue and yellow finery and detailed woven hat.

Parmigianino, Schiava Turca, ca. 1531–1534. Oil on panel. Galleria Nazionale di Parma. Photograph © Ministry of National Heritage, Culture, and Tourism

Legion of Honor \ July 26–October 5, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO (June 2, 2014)—The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are pleased to host the presentation of The Poetry of Parmigianino’s “Schiava Turca,” featuring a masterpiece rarely seen outside its home institution, the Galleria Nazionale di Parma. This portrait of a young woman, known as Schiava Turca (Turkish Slave, ca. 1531–1534), crosses the Atlantic for the first time for exhibition at The Frick Collection in New York, and will have its exclusive West Coast presentation at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.

Born in Parma, Italy, and known as Parmigianino after his native city, Francesco Mazzola (1503–1540) lived only 37 years, yet his eloquent, innovative art inspired his contemporaries to name him a “Raphael reborn” and praise him as one of the greatest painters of his time. His active years were spent entirely in Northern Italy, but his fame and reputation spread across Europe through the wide dissemination of his works.

An opposition to the naturalistic style established by earlier Renaissance painters characterizes Parmigianino’s work, particularly his emphasis on elegantly attenuated forms. During his brief lifetime, the artist was especially esteemed for his portraits, such as Schiava Turca, an exquisite depiction of an unknown young noblewoman. Today the painting is an icon in the city of Parma and admired as an expression of ideal female beauty that exemplifies a tradition established by Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (Musée du Louvre).

“We are so grateful to the Frances K. and Charles D. Field Foundation for their generous support in bringing this Italian masterpiece to the Legion of Honor,” said Colin B. Bailey, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “Schiava Turca will be a highlight in our sixteenth century gallery alongside Late Renaissance and Mannerist works from our permanent collection.”

Schiava Turca was painted either at the end of the artist’s three-year stay in Bologna or upon his return at this time to his native Parma. Its misleading title was coined in 1704 by a cataloguer at the Uffizi Gallery. The sitter’s elegant headdress was mistaken for a turban and the subject was erroneously identified as a Turkish slave. In fact, the round balzo was a style invented by Isabella d’Este and worn by fashionable Northern Italian women. The balzo seen here is sewn with gilt thread and decorated with a medallion of Pegasus, a symbol of poetic inspiration. Scholars have suggested that the insignia may be a heraldic reference to a family in Casalmaggiore, near Parma, or perhaps, as the most recent scholarship by Aimee Ng, research associate at The Frick Collection, suggests, a reference to the sitter’s identity as a poet—possibly Veronica Gambara (1485‒1550). Among many other names put forth, it has been suggested that the picture possibly portrays the noblewoman Giulia Gonzaga at the time of her marriage to Vespasiano Colonna, but no definitive identification has been made. The meaning of the portrait and the sitter’s identity remain open to interpretation.

Schiava Turca will be exhibited in Gallery 5 at the Legion of Honor alongside a special reinstallation of Mannerist and Late Renaissance highlights from the museums’ permanent collection, including Madonna and Child with Two Angels (ca. 1525) by Pontormo and Agnolo Bronzino’s Portrait of an Elderly Lady (ca. 1540), as well as portraits by Titian and Tintoretto. Following ongoing studies in the Fine Arts Museums’ paintings conservation studio, the Bronzino portrait will return to view for the first time in over a decade. A small selection of works on paper by and after Parmigianino from the museums’ Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts will complement the installation.

Related Programming
Special programming related to this exhibition will include two lectures, one on July 26 by Aimee Ng, research associate at The Frick Collection and lecturer in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University, and another on September 13 by Mary Vaccaro, PhD, Art History professor and area coordinator, University of Texas, Arlington. Also on July 26, the Legion of Honor will also host an opera performance by tenor Claudio Santome, who specializes in bel canto repertoire ranging from from Mozart, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi to Puccini.

Exhibition Organization
The Poetry of Parmigianino’s “Schiava Turca” is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and The Frick Collection in collaboration with the Foundation for Italian Art & Culture (FIAC). The presentation at the Legion of Honor is made possible by a lead sponsorship from the Frances K. and Charles D. Field Foundation, in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Charles D. Field, for which the Fine Arts Museums are most grateful.

Exhibition Catalogue
An illustrated exhibition catalogue with a foreword by the noted Parmigianino authority David Ekserdjian and an essay authored by guest curator Dr. Aimee Ng will be published and available at the Legion of Honor.

Visiting \ Legion of Honor
Lincoln Park, 34th Avenue and Clement Street, San Francisco, CA 94121. Hours: Tuesdays–Sundays, 9:30 am–5:15 pm, last ticket 4:30 pm. Closed Mondays. Click here for more information on The Poetry of Parmigianino’s “Schiava Turca”.

About the Galleria Nazionale di Parma
The Galleria Nazionale di Parma is located in the Palazzo della Pilotta in the historic city center of Parma, Italy, and holds a large collection of works from the Italian Renaissance, including paintings by Parmigianino, Correggio, Leonardo da Vinci, and Tintoretto. The holdings derive from the collection established by the Farnese family during the Renaissance, which was subsequently divided in 1734 by by Charles III of Spain, who transferred some works to Naples. The collection that remained in Parma was briefly moved to Paris during the French occupation (1796–1814) by Napoleon I. In 1816, Marie Louise of Austria, duchess of Parma and Napoleon’s second wife, restored the works to their current location in the former residence of the Farnese.

About the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, comprising the de Young in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, are the largest public arts institution in San Francisco.

The de Young originated from the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition and was established as the Memorial Museum. Thirty years later, it was renamed in honor of Michael H. de Young, a longtime champion of the museum. The present copper-clad landmark building, designed by Herzog and de Meuron, opened in October 2005. It showcases the institution’s significant collections of American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the seventeenth to the twenty-first centuries; art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; costume and textile arts; and international contemporary art.

The Legion of Honor was inspired by the French pavilion, a replica of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris, at San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. The museum opened in 1924 in the Beaux Arts–style building designed by George Applegarth on a bluff overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Its holdings span four thousand years and include European painting, sculpture, and decorative arts; ancient art from the Mediterranean basin; and the largest collection of works on paper in the American West.

Images from all exhibitions and museums available upon request.

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