Mannerism is the usual English term for an approach to all the
arts, particularly painting but not exclusive to it, a reaction
to the High Renaissance, emerging after the Sack of Rome in 1527
shook Renaissance confidence, humanism and rationality to their
foundations, and even Religion had split apart.
Like "modernism", the term is one of the few style designations
whose label was self-applied; it comes from the Italian maniera,
or "style," in the sense of an artist's characteristic
"touch" or recognizable "manner."
Giorgio Vasari, frontispiece to Lives of the Artists, 1568"Mannerism"
was initially a contentious stylistic label among art historians
when it resurfaced before World War I, first used by German art
historians like Heinrich Wölfflin to categorize the seemingly
uncategorizable art of the Italian 16th century, the style that
introduced the Renaissance to France in the Fontainebleau schools
and to Antwerp in quite another "manner", styles that
were neither Renaissance nor Baroque. Mannerism is not easily pigeonholed;
it scarcely affected the popular arts, and no definitions survived
much examination, in the views of English art historians, partly
perhaps because they already had sufficient local categories: "Elizabethan
drama," "Jacobean architecture and furniture."
The framing of the engraved frontispiece to Mannerist artist Giorgio
Vasari's Lives of the Artists (illustration, right) would be called
"Jacobean" in an English-speaking context. In it, Michelangelo's
Medici tombs inspire the anti-architectural "architectural"
features at the top, the papery pierced frame, the satyr nudes at
the base. In the vignette of Florence at the base, papery or vellum-like
material is cut and stretched and scolled into a cartouche (cartoccia).
The design is self-conscious, overcharged with rich, artificially
"natural" detail in physically improbable juxtapositions
of jarring scale changes, overwhelming as a mere frame: Mannerist.
Vasari's own opinions about the "art" of creating art
come through in his praise of fellow artists in the great book that
lay behind this frontispiece: he believed that excellence in painting
demanded refinement, richness of invention (invenzione), expressed
through virtuoso technique (maniera), and wit and study that appeared
in the finished work, all criteria that emphasized the artist's
intellect and the patron's sensibility. The artist was now no longer
just a craftsman member of a local Gild of St Luke. Now he took
his place at court with scholars, poets, and humanists, in a climate
that fostered an appreciation for elegance and complexity. The coat-of-arms
of Vasari's Medici patrons appear at the top of his portrait, quite
as if they were the artist's own.
Mannerism is usually set in opposition to High Renaissance conventions.
It was not that artists despaired of achieving the immediacy and
balance of Raphael; it was that such balance was no longer relevant
or appropriate. Mannerism developed among the pupils of two masters
of the integrated classical moment, with Raphael's assistant Giulio
Romano and among the students of Andrea del Sarto, whose studio
produced the quintessentially Mannerist painters Pontormo and Rosso
Fiorentino, and with whom Vasari apprenticed.
Baptism, by El GrecoAfter the realistic depiction of the human
form and the mastery of perspective achieved in high Renaissance
Classicism, some artists started to deliberately distort proportions
in disjointed, irrational space for emotional and artistic effect.
There are aspects of Mannerism in El Greco (illustration, left).
In spite of the uniquely individual quality that sets him apart
from simple style designations, you can detect Mannerism in El Greco's
jarring "acid" color sense, his figures' elongated and
tortured anatomy, the irrational perspective and light of his breathless
and crowded composition, and obscure and troubling iconography.
In Italy mannerist centers were Rome, Florence and Mantua. Venetian
painting, in its separate "school" pursued a separate
course, epitomized in the long career of Titian.
Two works, one practical one metaphysical, by Gian Paolo Lomazzo,
helped define the Mannerist artist's self-conscious relation to
his art. His Trattato dell'arte della pittura, scoltura et architettura
(Milan, 1584) is in part a guide to contemporary concepts of decorum,
which the Renaissance inherited in part from Antiquity but Mannerism
elaborated upon, which controlled a consonance between the functions
of interiors and the kinds of painted and sculpted decors that would
be suitable, in Lomazzo's systematic codification of esthetics,
which typifies the more formalized and academic approaches typical
of the later 16th century. Iconography, often convoluted and abstruse,
is a more prominent element in the Mannersist styles
lomazzo's less practical and more metaphysical Idea del tempio
della pittura ("The ideal temple of painting", Milan,
1590) offers a description along the lines of the "four temperaments"
theory of the human nature and personality, containing the explanations
of the role of individuality in judgment and artistic invention.
Some mannerist examples
Jacopo da Pontormo's Joseph in Egypt stood in what would have been
considered contradicting colors and disunified time and space in
the Renaissance. Neither the clothing, nor the buildings—
not even the colors— accurately represented the Bible story
of Joseph. It was wrong, but it stood out as an accurate representation
of society's feelings.
Susanna and the elders, Alessandro Allori (1535 - 1607): waxy
eroticism and consciously brilliant still life detail, in a crowded
contorted compositionRosso Fiorentino, who had been a fellow-pupil
of Pontormo in the studio of Andrea del Sarto, brought the Florentine
maniera to Fontainebleau in 1530, where he became one of the founders
of the French 16th century Mannerism called the "School of
Fontainebleau". The examples of a rich and hectic decorative
style at Fontainebleau transfered the Italian style, through the
medium of engravings, to Antwerp and thence throughout Northern
Europe, from London to Poland, and brought Mannerist design into
luxury goods like silver and carved furniture. A sense of tense
controlled emotion expressed in elaborate symbolism and allegory,
and elongated proportions of female beauty are characteristics of
Agnolo Bronzino's somewhat icy portraits put an uncommunicative
abyss between sitter and viewer, concentrating on rendering of the
precise pattern and sheen of rich textiles.
Giorgione's Tempest was just that, with no clue left as to what
it meant or why it was even there. Art began to gain its own value.
Jacopo Tintoretto's Last Supper epitomized Mannerism by taking
Jesus and the table out of the middle of the room. He showed all
that was happening and even gave Judas Iscariot a halo. In sickly,
disorienting colors he painted a scene of confusion that somehow
separated the angels from the real world. He had removed the world
from God's reach.
El Greco attempted to express the religious tension with exaggerated
Mannerism. This exaggeration would serve to cross over the Mannerist
line and be applied to Classicism.
Benvenuto Cellini created a salt cellar of gold and ebony in 1540
featuring Neptune and Amphitrite (earth and water) in elongated
form and uncomfortable positions. It is considered a masterpiece
of Mannerist sculpture.
List of Mannerist Painters:
Michelangelo (Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel; Rondanini Pieta)
Hans von Aachen
The porphyry portal of the "church house" at Colditz Castle,
Saxony, designed by Andreas Walther II (1584), is a clear example
of the exuberance of "Antwerp Mannerism".An example of
mannerist architecture is the Villa Farnese at Caprarola in the
rugged country side outside of Rome. The proliferation of engravers
during the 16th century spread Mannerist styles more quickly than
any previous styles. A center of Mannerist design was Antwerp during
its 16th century boom. "Antwerp Mannerism" was the form
in which Renaissance styles were widely introduced in England, Germany,
and northern and eastern Europe in general. Dense with ornament
of "Roman" detailing, the display doorway at Colditz Castle
(illustration, right) exemplifies this northern style, characteristically
applied as an isolated "set piece" against unpretentious