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Work Two canephores (basket carriers) holding hands, on either side of boxes

Department of Prints and Drawings: 16th century

Deux canéphores se donnant la main, de part et d'autre de caissons

RMN-Grand Palais - Photo T. Le Mage

Prints and Drawings
16th century

Mancini Federica

Many drawings attest to the work of Parmigianino on the frescoes in the church of Santa Maria della Steccata in Parma. This drawing corresponds to an intermediary phase in their execution. The provenance of the drawing increases the importance of the work: originally part of the collection of Lord Arundel, the drawing was engraved by Van der Bocht, subsequently entering the collections of Jabach and Louis XIV. It was exhibited in the Louvre throughout the 19th century.

The "sacred basket" bearers

Two standing women hold hands. The one on the right is drawn in profile, while the one on the left is shown from the front, hip to one side. The movement of the drapery lends a highly refined appearance to the women's bodies, elegantly depicted under their garments. The vases on their heads round off the composition, imparting a highly studied balance to the scene. In the center, two squares mimicking frames bear lightly penned bas-reliefs.

Differences with the frescoes

There are a number of differences between this drawing and the final work. Parmigianino chose to replace the squares with gilded "rosoni" (rosaces) and added lamps to underscore the religious reference to the Wise Virgins. The two figures were also inverted. This idea was inspired by the bas-relief of the Borghese Dancers and by the Fire in the Borgo by Raphael in the Palazzo del Vaticano. Thanks to a number of drawings on this theme, we are able to trace the stages in the work of Parmigianino, who developed his figures from the nude and lightly veiled them, focusing on the line of the contours. This work reflects the artist's study of light effects, which enabled him to bring out the imposing beauty of the two women and to detach himself markedly from the religious theme.

The consquences of late delivery

Parmigianino was commissioned to decorate the church of Santa Maria della Steccata in 1531, but he respected neither the first nor the second contract, drawn up in 1535, which specified that he had to complete the frescoes in two years. Having yet again failed to meet the deadline, the artist was emprisoned in 1539. His death the following year put an end to the work, and explains why the Coronation of the Virgin that had been planned for the apse was not executed. The Louvre drawing should be associated with the decoration of the vault, which remains one of the most successful projects of the mannerist period.


Bacou R., Dessins du Louvre, École italienne, Flammarion, 1968, notice 52.
Loisel C., in Parmigianino e il manierismo europeo, Galleria Nazionale di Parma, 2003, notice 2.3.109.

Technical description

  • MAZZUOLA Francesco

    Two canephores (basket carriers) holding hands, on either side of boxes

  • INV 6466

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

Practical information

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