Antea bears no small resemblance to the girl seen staring directly at us in Madonna of the Long Neck; perched behind the Virgin’s right shoulder, her unnerving gaze, expansive eyes and oval head are one and the same. Just as intriguing is a drawing of a young man, done in pen and brown ink. Other than a shift of the eyes and a more rounded nose, it is Antea.
Ms. Neilson discusses the role of androgyny in 16th-century art, aesthetics and manners. Grazia (grace) and leggiadria (elegance), she notes, applied primarily to male courtesans, but were equally applicable to women. For example, the art theorist Lodovico Dolce, Parmigianino’s contemporary, wrote, “The woman should have something of the man in her, and in the man something of the beautiful woman.”
Parmigianino’s “gender trespassing” is a contemporary aside that Ms. Neilson skillfully employs to argue that Antea is an ideal—that is to say, a beautiful abstraction. She goes on to wonder how we could desire a calculated invention. It’s a no-brainer, really. Antea is a riddle, sure, and a deceit, but it is, above all, magic. That is, after all, why we fall in love.
“Parmigianino’s Antea: A Beautiful Artifice” is at the Frick Collection, 1 East 70th Street, until April 27.