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Mannerism

[man-uh-riz-uhm]
Mannerism is a period of European art which emerged from the later years of the Italian High Renaissance around 1520. It lasted until about 1580 in Italy, when a more Baroque style began to replace it, but continued into the seventeenth century throughout much of Europe. Stylistically, Mannerism encompasses a variety of approaches influenced by, and reacting to, the harmonious ideals and restrained naturalism associated with artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and early Michelangelo. Mannerism is notable for its intellectual sophistication as well as its artificial (as opposed to naturalistic) qualities.

The definition of Mannerism, and the phases within it, continue to be the subject of debate among art historians. For example, some scholars have applied the label to certain early modern forms of literature (especially poetry) and music of the sixteenth and seventeen centuries. The term is also used to refer to some Late Gothic painters working in northern Europe from about 1500 to 1530, especially the Antwerp Mannerists—a group unrelated to the Italian movement.

Nomenclature

The word mannerism derives from the Italian maniera, meaning "style" or "manner". Like the English word “style,” maniera can either be used to indicate a specific type of style (a beautiful style, an abrasive style), or maniera can be used to indicate an absolute that needs no qualification (someone ‘has style’). In the second edition of his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (1568), Giorgio Vasari used maniera in three different contexts: to discuss an artist's manner or method of working; to describe a personal or group style, such as the term maniera greca to refer to the Byzantine style or simply to the maniera of Michelangelo; and to affirm a positive judgment of artistic quality. Vasari was also a Mannerist artist, and he described the period in which he worked as "la maniera moderna", or the "modern style".

However for later writers, such as the seventeenth-century Gian Pietro Bellori, "la maniera" was a derogatory term for the decline of art after Raphael, especially in the 1530s and 1540s. From the late nineteenth-century on, art historians have commonly used the term to describe art that follows Renaissance classicism and precedes the Baroque. Yet historians differ in opinion, as to whether Mannerism is a style, a movement, or a period, and while the term remains controversial it is commonly used to identify European art and culture of the sixteenth century.

As a stylistic label, "Mannerism" is not easily pigeonholed. It was first popularized by German art historians in the early twentieth-century to categorize the seemingly uncategorizable art of the Italian sixteenth century—art that was no longer perceived to exhibit the harmonious and rational approaches associated with the High Renaissance.

Early Mannerism

Depending on the historical account, Mannerism developed between 1510 and 1520 in either Florence, Rome, or both cities. The early Mannerists in Florence—especially the students of Andrea del Sarto: Jacopo da Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino—are notable for elongated forms, precariously balanced poses, irrational settings, and theatrical lighting. Parmigianino, a student of Correggio, and Giulio Romano, Raphael’s head assistant were moving in similarly stylized aesthetic directions in Rome. These artists had matured under the influence of the High Renaissance, and their style has been characterized as a reaction or exaggerated extension of it. Therefore, this style is often identified as "anti-classical”. The earliest experimental phase of Mannerism, known for its "anti-classical" forms, lasted until about 1540 or 1550.

This period has been described as both a natural extension of the art of Andrea del Sarto, Michelangelo, and Raphael, as well as a decline of those same artists' classicizing achievements. In past analyses, it has been noted that mannerism arose in the early 1500s alongside a number of other social, scientific, religious and political movements such as the Copernican model, the Sack of Rome, and the Protestant Reformation's increasing challenge to the power of the Catholic church. Because of this, the style's elongated forms and distorted forms were once interpreted as a reaction to the idealized compositions prevalent in High Renaissance art. This explanation for the radical stylistic shift c. 1520 has fallen out of scholarly favor, though the early Mannerists are still set in stark contrast to High Renaissance conventions; the immediacy and balance achieved by Raphael's School of Athens, no longer seemed interesting to young artists. Indeed, Michelangelo himself displayed tendencies towards Mannerism, notably in his vestibule to the Laurentian Library, in the figures on his Medici tombs, and above all in his Last Judgement.

High Maniera

The second period of Mannerism is commonly differentiated from the earlier, so-called "anti-classical" phase.

Subsequent mannerists stressed intellectual conceits and artistic virtuosity, features that have led later critics to accuse them of working in an unnatural and affected "manner" (maniera). Maniera artists held their elder contemporary Michelangelo as their prime example; theirs was an art imitating art, rather than an art imitating nature. Freedberg argues that the intellectualizing aspect of maniera art comes in the artist expecting his audience to notice and understand this visual reference, the familiar figure in an unfamiliar setting surrounded by "unseen, but felt, quotation marks." The supreme artifice comes in the Maniera painter's love of deliberately mis-appropriating a quotation, for example Bronzino including the figure of a woman after the Medici Venus (similar to the one illustrated at right) in a religious picture depicting Christ's resurrection. Agnolo Bronzino and Giorgio Vasari exemplify this strain of Maniera that lasted from about 1530 to 1580. Based largely at courts and in intellectual circles around Europe, Maniera art couples exaggerated elegance with exquisite attention to surface and detail: porcelain-skinned figures recline in an even, tempered light, regarding the viewer with a cool glance, if at all. The Maniera subject rarely displays an excess of emotion, and for this reason are often interpreted as 'cold' or 'aloof,' and is often called the "stylish" style or the Maniera.

Spread of Mannerism

Mannerist centers in Italy were Rome, Florence and Mantua. Venetian painting, in its separate "school," pursued a separate course, represented in the long career of Titian. Because a number of the earliest Mannerist artists who had been working in Rome during the 1520s, fled the city after the Sack of Rome in 1527. As they spread out across the continent in search of employment, their style was distributed throughout Italy and Europe. The result was the first international artistic style since the Gothic. The style waned in Italy after 1580, as a new generation of artists, including the Carracci, Caravaggio and Cigoli, reemphasized naturalism. Walter Friedlaender identified this period as "anti-mannerism", just as the early mannerists were "anti-classical" in their reaction to the High Renaissance.

Outside of Italy, however, mannerism continued into the seventeenth century. In France, where Rosso traveled to work for the court at Fontainebleau, it is known as the Henry II style and it had a particular impact on architecture. Other important continental centers include the court of Rudolf II in Prague, as well as Haarlem and Antwerp. Mannerism as a stylistic category is less frequently applied to English visual and decorative arts, where local categories such as "Elizabethan" and "Jacobean" are more common. Eighteenth-century Artisan Mannerism is one exception.

Early Theorists

Giorgio Vasari

Giorgio Vasari's 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 Guild 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.

The framing of the engraved frontispiece to Mannerist artist Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists (illustration, left) 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 scrolled 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.

Gian Paolo Lomazzo

Another literary source from the period is Gian Paolo Lomazzo, who produced two works—one practical and one metaphysical—that 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. Lomazzo's systematic codification of aesthetics, which typifies the more formalized and academic approaches typical of the later 16th century, controlled a consonance between the functions of interiors and the kinds of painted and sculpted decors that would be suitable. Iconography, often convoluted and abstruse, is a more prominent element in the Mannerist styles. His 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

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.

Rosso Fiorentino & the School of Fontainebleau

Rosso Fiorentino, who had been a fellow-pupil of Pontormo in the studio of Andrea del Sarto, brought Florentine mannerism 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 transferred 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 his style.

Agnolo Bronzino

Mannerist portraits by Agnolo Bronzino are distinguished by a still elegance and meticulous attention to detail. As a result, Bronzino's sitters (at left) have been said to put an uncommunicative abyss between subject and viewer, concentrating on rendering of the precise pattern and sheen of rich textiles.

Alessandro Allori

Alessandro Allori's (1535 - 1607) Susanna and the Elders (at right) uses artificial, waxy eroticism and consciously brilliant still life detail, in a crowded contorted composition. The viewer is brought so close to the subjects as to almost feel claustrophobic—like a third elder leering at the scene of a young, seemingly paralyzed Susanna being groped and assaulted by the two lecherous predators.

Jacopo Tintoretto

Jacopo Tintoretto's Last Supper (at left) epitomizes Mannerism by taking Jesus and the table out of the middle of the room. He showed all that was happening. 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

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. After 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 (at right), such as the jarring "acid" color sense, elongated and tortured anatomy, irrational perspective and light of his crowded composition, and obscure and troubling iconography.

Benvenuto Cellini

Benvenuto Cellini created the Cellini Salt Cellar of gold and enamel in 1540 featuring Poseidon and Amphitrite (earth and water) in elongated form and uncomfortable positions. It is considered a masterpiece of Mannerist sculpture.

Mannerist architecture

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. Through Antwerp, Renaissance and Mannerist 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, left) exemplifies this northern style, characteristically applied as an isolated "set piece" against unpretentious vernacular walling.

Mannerism in literature and music

In English literature, Mannerism is commonly identified with the qualities of the "Metaphysical" poets of whom the most famous is John Donne. The witty sally of a Baroque writer, John Dryden, against the verse of Donne in the previous generation, affords a concise contrast between Baroque and Mannerist aims in the arts:

"He affects the metaphysics, not only in his satires, but in his amorous verses, where nature only should reign; and perplexes the minds of the fair sex with nice speculations of philosophy when he should engage their hearts and entertain them with the softnesses of love" (italics added).

The word Mannerism has also been used to describe the style of highly florid and contrapuntally complex polyphonic music made in France in the late 14th century. This period is now usually referred to as the ars subtilior.

Notes

References

  • Briganti, Giuliano. 1962. Italian Mannerism, translated from the Italian by Margaret Kunzle. London: Thames and Hudson; Princeton: Van Nostrand; Leipzig: VEB Edition. (Originally published in Italian, as 1961).
  • Cheney, Liana de Girolami (ed.). 2004. Readings in Italian Mannerism, second printing, with a foreword by Craig Hugh Smyth. New York: Peter Lang. ISBN 0820470635. (Previous edition, without the forward by Smyth, New York: Peter Lang, 1997. ISBN 0820424838).
  • Freedberg, Sidney J. 1971. Painting in Italy, 1500–1600, first edition. The Pelican History of Art. Harmondsworth and Baltimore: Penguin Books. ISBN 0140560351
  • Freedberg, Sidney J. 1993. Painting in Italy, 1500–1600, 3rd edition, New Haven and London: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300055862 (cloth) ISBN 0300055870 (pbk)
  • Friedländer, Walter. 1965. Mannerism and Anti-Mannerism in Italian Painting. New York: Schocken. LOC 578295. (Originally in German, as ; first edition in English, New York: Columbia University Press, 1958.)
  • Shearman, John K. G. 1967. Mannerism. Style and Civilization. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Reprinted, London and New York: Penguin, 1990. ISBN 0140137599
  • Smyth, Craig Hugh. 1992. Mannerism and Maniera, with an introduction by Elizabeth Cropper. Vienna: IRSA. ISBN 3900731330
  • Summerson, John. 1983. Architecture in Britain 1530–1830, 7th revised and enlarged (3rd integrated) edition. The Pelican History of Art. Harmondsworth and New York: Penguin. ISBN 0140560033 (cased) ISBN 014056103X (pbk) [Reprinted with corrections, 1986; 8th edition, Harmondsworth and New York: Penguin, 1991.]

Further reading

  • Franzsepp Würtenberger, 1963. Mannerism: The European Style of the Sixteenth Century (Originally published in German, 1962).
  • Wylie Sypher, Four Stages of Renaissance Style: Transformations in Art and Literature, 1400-1700, 1955. A classic analysis of Renaissance, Mannerism, Baroque, and Late Baroque.
  • Helen Gardner, Metaphysical Poets, Selected and Edited. Introduction.

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