The Conversion of Saint Paul by Parmigianino (Interpretation and Analysis)
Of all the artistic movements and styles, Mannerism has produced some of the strangest and most interesting paintings in Western art. Mannerist artists rejected Renaissance realism in favor of a more artificial and creative style. Parmigianino, one of the most famous Mannerist painters, is perhaps best known for The Madonna with the Long Neck, a painting of the Virgin Mary with a bizarrely long neck. However, today we’re taking a look at another Parmigianino painting with a religious subject: The Conversion of Saint Paul.
The subject of the piece is the conversion of Saint Paul. Saint Paul, known as Saul at this point in his life, was involved in persecuting early Christians until he experienced a miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus. Parmigianino captures the moment that Paul begins to follow Christ, which is described in The Acts of the Apostles:
And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord…And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
- Acts 9:1–6
In Parmigianino’s The Conversion of Saint Paul, we see Paul on the ground, having fallen from his horse, which rears up in the background. His eyes are fixed on the sky, where we see a burst of light emerging from the clouds. The light symbolizes revelation and the voice of God, while Paul’s rapt expression reveals that he is in a moment of profound spiritual ecstasy. Significantly, Paul’s sword lies abandoned on the ground, indicating that Paul has rejected his former power and given up his life of persecuting the Christians.
Paul’s horse-which, in typical Mannerist fashion, has odd, un-horselike proportions-seems to share the moment of spiritual excitement. Unlike other artistic interpretations of The Conversion of Saint Paul, the horse’s rearing pose and startled expression show that the animal shares the ecstatic moment.
The energy and emotion behind the painting is what makes it particularly interesting. The horse’s excitement along with Paul’s bent leg and outstretched arm create a sense of dynamism and motion in the piece. There is drama and tension in the painting; you can feel Paul’s exultation and shock just by looking at the piece, inviting the viewer to share his emotions.
The Conversion of Saint Paul is one of my favorite subjects in religious art, and Parmigianino’s The Conversion of Saint Paul is certainly a memorable and unique interpretation of the subject. Without a doubt, It is a stunning and intriguing piece of art.
Originally published at https://artisthesolution.blogspot.com on March 17, 2022.