1. The XIX century and the myth of Correggio
At the centre of the didactic disposition created in the Rocchetta for the Academy under Maria Luigia, were three rooms transformed by Bettoli and Toschi to house the great altar paintings by Correggio which had been returned from Paris after the Napoleonic requisitions and to render them an instrument of emulation for the students. Here they are found in a situation of intimacy, in small enclosed spaces exhibited at less than a yard from the floor where a eye to eye ‘dialogue’ was possible with many copying the painting. This new organisation represented not only an up-dating of taste but a true cultural revolution where the religious ecstasy of the Renaissance gave way to bourgeois contemplation, public yet intimate, within a space no longer liturgical but secular.
All of this contributed to the birth of the modern myth of Correggio, a national deity from the genius of Parma and in this room were thus placed two masterpieces from the chapel of the Del Bono family in St. John the Evangelist Church. Here can be seen a hypothetical original re-creation of the chapel with the addition of what was probably the High Altar frame, modified in the first decades of the XIX century and deprived of its original painting. Removed from the chapel walls the two Correggio paintings were set in elaborate frames decorated with branch fronds whose motives can also be seen on the ceiling in a bourgeois twist on renaissance spirituality which is enough to justify still today placing them within the collection from XIX century Parma.
2. The Correggio altar paintings
As can be seen in the work by Johann Anton Pock on the left, after the return to Parma, the two altar paintinges by Correggio were placed in the Academy for the benefit of the students. In a space which preceded the organisation of the Rocchetta and the Halls, the Duchess is distributing prizes to the winners under the guardian deity and founder of the Emilian Reinassance. The first of the two works, the «Madonna di San Gerolamo», which would later be placed in the beautiful octagonal room of the Rocchetta where it can still be found today, was painted for the Church of Sant’Antonio but was bought in 1765 by Filippo di Borbone who transferred it to the Academy. On its return from Paris after the Napoleonic requisitions, it was displayed in the Rocchetta and a handle was placed on the frame so that it could be moved in order to capture the light so necessary to copy the painting.
The «Madonna della Scodella» originally in the Church of Santo Sepolcro, has been located here since the return from Paris and at the beginning of the XX century it was replaced in original frame. These two masterpieces represent the sum of the magical realism so typical of the Parma Renaissance school, and between the two can be found some watercolours by Paolo Toschi who was responsible for the re-organisation of these rooms. They reproduce the frescoes by Correggio from the Cathedral and the Church of San Giovanni Evangelista and in 1862 they were sent to the Great Exhibition in London to represent the artistic greatness of the Parma nation.