Is Kylie Jenner The Most Influential Mannerist of Her Generation?
The lip kit mogul’s latest Instagram bears a striking resemblance to the work of Parmigianino.
Screengrab via Instagram.
The love of a mother for her child is one of the most ancient and pervasive themes in art history, one that reached its natural apotheosis on Sunday when reality TV star and “youngest self-made U.S. billionaire” Kylie Jenner posted an Instagram of herself swaddling her baby daughter Stormi.
It’s a striking portrait of a besotted new mother: the matching crisp white kicks (Iro Paris Curverunners for mother, Air Force Ones for baby), the passionate scarlet of Kylie's watch cap juxtaposed against Stormi’s innocent baby-pink one, the comingling of their gray sweats reminding you that, until very recently, the two separate entities shared one body.
Kylie and Stormi’s maternal bond has inspired art before (Kylie’s birth video for Stormi, entitled “To Our Daughter,” was the top-trending YouTube video of 2018), but this intimate tarmac portrait brings to mind another, somewhat older work of art—specifically, Parmigianino’s c. 1535-1540 oil painting “Madonna with the Long Neck.”
Currently housed in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, Parmigianino’s defining Italian Mannerist portrait depicts the blue-robed Virgin Mary clutching an eerily elongated Christ child, surrounded by a clutch of adoring angels. The Madonna herself is also larger than life, looming over the angels (it is believed by some historians that the model Parmigianino used for the Madonna was actually afflicted with a genetic disorder known as Marfan syndrome, which affects the body’s connective tissues and creates exaggerated physical proportions.)
In “Madonna with the Long Neck," Parmigianino employs the Mannerist artistic convention of “figura serpentinata,” which translates literally as “serpentine figure" and, per the National Gallery, describes “a human figure which spirals around a central axis, so that the lower limbs face in one direction and the torso almost in the opposite direction, in a graceful if sometimes contorted pose.” Just as the Madonna’s physical form spirals around the Christ child, Kylie's contorted physicality seems to emanate from the locus of Stormi's small body, bringing an undeniably Mannerist spirit to a typically Kardashian-esque backdrop of private plane and black car.
While the Christ child’s face is peaceful as he lies limp in his mother’s arms, Stormi’s face is wrinkled in apparent protest as Kylie covers her progeny with kisses, necessitating the caption, “she loves my kisses i promise 💗❤️.” The enduring, sometimes taxing physical and psychic bond between a mother and her child is readily apparent in both images, calling to mind the recent spate of books about childbirth and complex maternal love that inspired Sarah Blackwood’s Los Angeles Review of Books essay, “Is Motherhood a Genre?” If it is, the Madonna and Kylie are two of its necessary heroines, a pair of wildly disparate figures brought to the same twisted, sprawling corporeal place by love for their children.
We reached out to Tabloid Art History, the indisputable O.G. of pop culture/art historical comparisons, to see if they might weigh in on the Mannerist tensions of Kylie's images, and will update if we hear back.