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Mannerism Collage

Started: 1520

Ended: 1620

"You must study the Masters but guard the original style that beats within your soul and put to sword those who would try to steal it."

El Greco Signature

Summary of Mannerism

Mannerism launched a highly imaginative period in art following the climax of perfection that naturalistic painting had reached in Renaissance Italy. Artists in 16th century Florence and Rome started to veer from classical influences and move toward a more intellectual and expressive approach. This ushered in a veer from authentic portrayals of figures and subjects, a rejection of harmony, and the development of a dramatic new style unconfined by the pictorial plane, reality, or literal correctness. Radical asymmetry, artifice, and the decorative also informed this movement. New discoveries in science had led society away from Humanist ideals and paintings no longer posited man as the center of the universe, but rather as isolated, peripheral participants in the great mysteries of life.

Some scholars further divide Mannerism into two periods. Early Mannerism, which expressed an anti-traditional approach and lasted until 1535, was followed by High Mannerism where a more intricate and artificial style appealed to more sophisticated patrons, becoming a kind of court style. Later, the use of the term Mannerism to denote a particular period of art history was pioneered by Luigi Lanzi, a 17th century art historian and archeologist. The period would become a forebear to the Baroque period.

Key Ideas

A key element of Mannerism was the use of figurative serpentinata, or "serpentine figure" in depicting human bodies. With extended limbs, elongated forms, and a fluid S-shaped grace, these figures presented an otherworldliness that departed from classical renditions.
Many Mannerist works presented individuals or scenes in non-naturalistic settings, oftentimes without any contextual basis, inviting the viewer into a more philosophical experience rather than a literal reading of the work.
Mannerism's reach was wide, with many important schools that cropped up to experiment within this new form. Yet, while each school drew upon its own indigenous attachments and cultural lore, the styles of presentation remained largely the same.
Subjects and themes of Mannerism furthered the Venetian School's genres and expounded upon them. Mythological and allegorical subjects with an erotic theme, architecture, landscapes, and pastorals were common motifs albeit evolved via the new morphed aesthetics.
Mannerism Image


The development of Mannerism began in Florence and Rome around 1520, reflecting a "perfect storm" of circumstances affecting the art world at the time. Printmaking had allowed for the spread of popular imagery by artists such as Michelangelo and Albrecht Dürer to infiltrate the collective consciousness in Italy (and the Northern countries), positing artists as divine creators rather than just employees of wealthy patrons and churches. In 1517, Martin Luther's Wittenberg Theses (1517), which denounced church practices and called for reform, launched the Protestant Reformation. Because of this, the serene and classical idealizations of beauty characteristic of the High Renaissance no longer seemed tenable.

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