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Mannerism Collage

Mannerism - History and Concepts

Started: 1520
Ended: 1620
Mannerism Timeline

Beginnings of Mannerism

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.

At the same time, young artists felt that the style of Raphael and Leonardo was so perfected that no further development or expression of individuality was possible.

Also, scientific discovery, including the discovery of the New World, and Copernicus establishing that the sun, not the earth as had been commonly believed, was the center of the solar system, challenged the Humanist belief that man was the center of the universe.

This caused a sense of alienation and disconnection that was conveyed in Mannerist treatments, as even figures reacting with intense emotion seemed isolated from one another. Rather than creating harmonious compositions depicting realistic space, artists began to explore the possibility of situating the image within an intellectual space. As a result, the treatment of space and the figure became less rational, compressing a number of figures into one flattened plane, creating bizarre or complex architectural settings, the frame and the picture blurring into one decorative effect.

Laocoön and His Sons (40-30 B.C.E.)

<i>Laocoön and His Sons</i> (40-30 B.C.E.) was an early model for Mannerist treatments.

An important precursor to Mannerism was the influence of the Classical Roman statue Laocoön and His Sons (40-30 B.C.E.), found in Rome in 1506 during extensive reconstructions. The statue dramatically depicted the moment when the gods sent giant serpents to kill the prophet and his two sons for trying to warn their fellow Trojans against bringing the Greek wooden horse into the city. The statue offered a new look at classical art, embodying the Hellenistic style with its emphasis on dramatic movement and intense emotion, rather than an idealized harmony previously associated with the Greeks and Romans. It's thought that the figurative serpentinata, or "serpentine figure," that became a noted element of Mannerism was drawn from the struggling forms of this masterpiece.

Michelangelo's <i>The Libyan Sibyl</i> (1508-1512) in the Sistine Chapel ceiling shows an early example of the extended limbs and serpentine figure that also influenced the development of Mannerism.

Laocoön and His Sons attracted the attention of the leading Renaissance artists and patrons. Pope Julius II, the most powerful patron of the era and a noted collector of classical works, sent Michelangelo to oversee the statue's recovery. Its influence on the artist can be seen in both his sculptures such as Dying Slave (1513-1516) as well as his painting of various figures in the Sistine Chapel ceiling (1508-1512), as he turned toward a Mannerist treatment. The Laocoön also influenced other High Renaissance artists, as Raphael used Laocoön's face in his Parnassus fresco (1509-1511) and Titian echoed the struggling figures in his Averoldi Polyptych (1520-1522).

Rosso Fiorentino and Jacopo da Pontormo

Andrea del Sarto's <i>The Holy Family with the Young Saint John the Baptist</i> (1528) shows the variety of poses and figurative juxtapositions that influenced the development of Mannerism.

Two Florentine artists, Giovanni Battista di Jacopo, known as Rosso Fiorentino or Il Rosso, and Jacopo da Pontormo pioneered Mannerism. Both were trained in the workshop of Andrea del Sarto, who employed High Renaissance principles while adopting an increasingly vivid color palette and a wide variety of figurative poses. His adaptations influenced both Pontormo and Rosso's development of an artistic style that rejected the classical treatment of space and the human figure.

In addition, both Michelangelo and Albrecht Dürer influenced Pontormo. Pontormo found Dürer's emphasis on intense emotion while employing a crowded field of figures sympathetic to his own artistic aims.

Pontormo's <i>Joseph in Egypt</i> (1515-1518) shows the artist developing his Mannerist idiom, as he juxtaposes several narratives in an unrealistic setting, as seen particularly in the curving staircase that seems to ascend into the air.

Pontormo also made a trip to Rome to study Michelangelo's works, which informed his own style's emphasis on dynamic movement. By 1515, he had begun to develop his Mannerist style as seen in his Joseph in Egypt (1515-1518) with its creation of an intricate but non-naturalistic space, where crowds clothed in swirling colorful robes mill about, their figures in exaggerated poses and proportions. Pontormo, also a noted teacher, became a lifelong mentor to Bronzino, the leading Mannerist of the next generation.

Rosso Fiorentino's <i>Deposition</i> (1521) emphasized the frenetic movement and intense feeling as Christ was taken down from the cross.

Rosso's first noted work, Deposition (1521), also showed a radical departure from Renaissance proportion and harmony in favor of a Mannerist treatment of both pictorial space and the human figure. He was further influenced by Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling (1508-1512) upon moving to Rome, where the frescos and the figures painted on the surrounding pediments combined to create a singular effect. Rosso went on to lead the First School of Fontainebleau, which influenced the development of Northern Mannerism.

High Mannerism

Bronzino's <i>Portrait of a Young Man</i> (c. 1530s) is thought to depict an aristocratic young man who was part of Bronzino's literary circle.

High Mannerism has often been described as a courtly style, its works produced primarily for the powerful rulers of the era and reflecting their aristocratic lifestyles and attitudes. The works of Giambologna exemplified High Mannerism in sculpture, while the works of Agnolo di Cosimo di Mariano, known simply as Bronzino, exemplified the style in painting. Bronzino's refined execution, intellectual sophistication, and his figurative treatment that emphasized elongated limbs and a sense of cold detachment personified the Medici court. In 1539 Bronzino was commissioned by Cosimo I de' Medici to design the lavish decorations for the Duke's marriage to Eleanora di Toledo. Subsequently he became Cosimo I's official court painter, a position he held for the rest of his life. He became a leading portraitist of the aristocracy as seen in his Portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi (c. 1545), but was most famous, perhaps, for his icy, complex treatment of allegorical erotic subjects as in Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time (c. 1545).

Giambologna's <i>Mercury</i> (1588) became the artist's most popular and reproduced work.

Though born in Flanders, Giambologna studied in Rome where he also considered Michelangelo a great influence. In 1563 he was appointed to the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno, which Cosimo I had just founded in Florence, and became an official artist of the Medici court. He was even forbidden to leave Florence, as the Medici feared he might be lured away by another courtly patron. Working in marble, Giambologna created noted works like Samson Defeating a Philistine (1562) that were meant to impart a political message emphasizing the power of the Medici. He became equally renowned for his bronzes, most of them reproducing his larger works, which were in demand throughout Europe.

Mannerism: Concepts, Styles, and Trends

Although Mannerism was noted for a distinctly courtly style, it was also widely adapted by artists in different geographical locations to the traditional subjects and motifs of a particular area. Identified by the general term Northern Mannerism, it included the noted centers of the School of Fontainebleau in France, Elizabethan and Jacobean court painting in England, the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II in Prague, and the Netherlandish cities of Antwerp and Utrecht.

France: School of Fontainebleau (1530-1630)

Rosso Fiorentino's <i>Elephant</i> (c. 1536) at the Château de Fontainebleau exemplifies his stucco relief with its strap work blending the frame with the inset painting's nude cherubim and gold dragon.

In 1530 the King of France, Francis I, an avid art patron with an enthusiasm for the Italian Renaissance, invited Rosso Fiorentino to the French court. Seizing the opportunity after losing everything in the 1527 Sack of Rome, Rosso moved to Fontainebleau where he resided for the rest of his life. He became the leader of the First School of Fontainebleau in 1530 and developed a distinctive court style. French Mannerism was known for its interiors where paintings, furniture, decorative, and architectural elements created a highly stylized unity. Rosso pioneered the use of large stucco reliefs to be used as frames for inset paintings. They oftentimes bore images of nude nymphs or clumps of fruit and influenced the use of ornamentation throughout Europe. At the same time, his paintings were widely copied and influential to other French artists.

This painting of <i>Diana the Huntress</i> (1550-1560) by the School of Fontainebleau exemplified the French Mannerist erotic ideal.

In painting, the patronage of Francis I led to an emphasis on mythological and allegorical subjects with an erotic theme. Rosso led the development alongside Italian Mannerists Francesco Primaticcio and Niccolò dell'Abbate, who were invited to the court in the 1540s. Dell'Abbate was particularly known for his mythological paintings, like the Rape of Proserpine (1552-1570), which combined the nude and landscape genres that had been popularized by The Venetian School. Primaticcio created tapestry designs on similar topics, as well as extensive theatrical and ceremonial productions for the court, though much of that work has been lost. Certain motifs, like depictions of the Roman goddess Diana, personified the French king's love for ideal feminine beauty and became so standardized that they were widely produced by the School's numerous anonymous artists.

Benvenuto Cellini's <i>Salt Cellar</i> (1543) has been called a “masterpiece of Mannerist sculpture” but also exemplified the lavish decorative style of the French court.

Francis I also commissioned a number of noted works, of which the most famous is Benvenuto Cellini's Salt Cellar (1543). Originally the work was commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, who declined the project but presented the model to Francis I. The King was so impressed that he ordered the work to be made in gold. This groundbreaking artistic treatment of an otherwise common household item depicted a goddess representing the earth and a god representing the sea with their legs entwined. It exemplified the wealth, power, and hedonistic lifestyle of the court.

Antonio Fantuzzi's <i>The Dispute Between Neptune and Athena</i> (1540-1545) is an etching of Rosso Fiorentino's original composition.

As the School was also known for its printmaking, most of its artworks and designs were disseminated in prints that reached a wide audience throughout Europe. As a result, French artists like Jean Cousin the Elder and sculptors like Germain Pilon adopted the Mannerist style, and the Second School of Fontainebleau, which followed after the deaths of Rosso and Primaticcio, and was headed by the French Toussaint Dubreuil and the Flemish Ambroise Dubois.

Elizabethan and Jacobean Court Painting (1558-1625)

Nicholas Hilliard's <i>Portrait of a Young Man, Probably Robert Devereux (1566-1601), Second Earl of Essex</i> (1588) was probably painted for Queen Elizabeth I during the time she was infatuated with the Earl of Essex.

French Mannerism also influenced British court painting during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I, and her successor James I, primarily by its emphasis on elegant and stylized portraiture. Some portraitists specialized in miniature portraits, a genre of intimate mementos, like Nicholas Hilliard as seen in his Portrait of a Young Man, Probably Robert Devereux (1566-1601), Second Earl of Essex (1588), depicting a particular favorite of the Queen. Other artists like Robert Peake the Elder and Marcus Gheeaerts the Younger were known for full scale portraits, as seen in the Flemish Gheeraerts the Younger's Queen Elizabeth I, the Ditchley Portrait (c. 1592).

Prague and Rudolf II (1576-1612)

Giuseppe Arcimboldo's <i>Vertumnus, Roman God of the Seasons</i> (1590-1591) was a portrait of Rudolf II as the Roman god.

The patronage of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II has been described by art historian Martin Bull, as "an explosion of mythological imagery...that had not been seen since Fontainebleau." Rudolf was particularly interested in nude mythological scenes and depictions of Hercules, with whom he identified. The court style that developed in Prague both propagandized for the Emperor and, by depicting mythological subject matter, avoided the controversy surrounding religious imagery. A number of noted artists worked on commissions for the court, including Giambologna in Florence and Paolo Veronese in Venice. Rudolf patronized other leading artists of the day including Hans von Aachen, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Roelandt Savery, Adrian de Vries, and Aegidius Sadeler. Rudolf's collection and influence became so noted that the term "Rudolfine Mannerism" was developed to describe the style he favored.

Bartholomeus Spranger's <i>Hercules, Deianira and Nessus</i> (1580-85) depicts Hercules holding his wife Deinaira after fighting and killing Nessus, the centaur who had tried to rape her.

In Prague, the court painter Bartholomeus Spranger led Mannerism. His training reflected the truly international flavor of court Mannerism, as he was born and first trained in Antwerp, but subsequently widely influenced by both the Northern European and the Italian Renaissance, and particularly by the Roman Mannerists. His large paintings were often mythological scenes, combining a bawdy treatment of the nude with an artistic facility that emphasized lavish decorative effects. Prints of his work were disseminated throughout Europe and had a noted impact on the development of Mannerism in the Netherlands.

Mannerism in The Netherlands (1580s-1620)

Hendrick Goltzius's <i>Icarus</i> (1588) is from a series <i>The Four Disgracers</i> and represents the exaggerated emotionalism lent by Mannerists to their subjects.

Mannerism in the Netherlands was informed by the Northern European tradition of print making, of which Hendrick Goltz became a leading force. He innovated new etching techniques including the "dot and lozenge" method. The method was innovative for its process in which an artist would place dots within a grid of spaces in a lozenge (or container meant to hold a familiar shape like a body muscle or being in the midst of animation), meant to contain an image, and purposely leave dots out of other areas within the grid making finer tonal gradations visibly possible. Another technique of Goltz was the "swelling line" where the artist would create lines of varying width with his burin, an engraving tool, to manipulate the viewer's final perception of depth. He created hundreds of prints, some of the most notable illustrating mythological and allegorical subjects, like his Icarus (1588), and also a number of prints after the drawings or paintings of Bartholomeus Spranger. Spranger also influenced Goltzius van Mander, Cornelis van Haarlem, and the group of artists known as the Haarlem Mannerists.

Joachim Wtewael's <i>Perseus and Andromeda</i> (1616) depicts Andromeda on the left, as Perseus descends on Pegasus above the sea monster on the right.

Other artists in the Netherlands were primarily influenced by the Italian Mannerists, as seen in the works of Joachim Wtewael, after his sojourn in Italy in the 1580s. He combined mythological subjects with a traditional Northern European emphasis on landscape and symbolic detail. His approach became the leading trend among the artists centered in Utrecht, particularly as seen in the works of Abraham Bloemaert.

Roelandt Savery, <i>Forest with deer</i>, (1608-10)

In addition, artists of the Netherlands also adapted the Mannerist style to traditional Northern European subjects when Mattijs, Paul Bril, Hans Rottenhammer, and Adam Elsheimer became noted for their landscape panoramas. Other artists like Albrecht Altdorfer, and Gillis van Coninxloo painted what they called "pure landscapes," usually depicting a dense forest in close-up fashion. This approach influenced subsequent artists like Altdorfer's student Roelandt Savery, whose Forest with deer (1608-1610) is almost modern in its expressionistic effect.


Michelangelo's vestibule for the Laurentian Library (1523-1528) employed varied architecture figures to create a sense of visual momentum.

The two most famous Mannerist architects were Michelangelo and Giulio Romano. Michelangelo's most noted design was the Laurentian Library (1523-1568), which he began in 1523 after receiving a commission from Pope Clement VII, a member of the Medici family. The library's vestibule centered upon the staircase that radically combined elliptical shapes for the three bottom steps, quadrangular shapes for the outer step, and convex shapes for the central steps to create a dynamic vertical movement into the upper reading room. The Mannerist effect was further emphasized by wave-like decorative motifs below pairs of ascending columns. Additionally Michelangelo's development of "the colossal order," or "giant order," using pilasters that extended for two or more stories was also influential, as seen in his design for the Palazzo dei Conservatori (mid-16th century).

Giulio Romano's Sala dei Giganti (1532-34) combined fresco painting with architecture. The floor is sloped slightly downward to create an overwhelmingly off-kilter effect of catastrophe.

Giulio Romano's Palazzo del Te (1524-1534) was a tour de force of Mannerist architecture and made him famous. Envisioning a kind of pleasure palace, Federico Gonzaga commissioned the design for his familial estate where he raised horses. A square block with a central court, the Palazzo del Te employed false doors and windows, dramatic juxtapositions, as seen in the four different facades in the interior courtyard, and the artist's frescoes. One room was devoted to erotic mythological scenes, another to life-sized depictions of Gonzaga's horses, and the third, the famous Sala dei Giganti, showed giants trying to conquer Mount Olympus in a scene painted from floor to ceiling with a trompe l'oeil effect. As art historians Marvin Trachtenberg and Isabelle Hyman wrote Giulio's "strange, chimerical imagination was most dramatically unleashed in his illusionistic fresco paintings...but the architecture, too, is filled with complicated and unexpected effects."

Later Developments - After Mannerism

Mannerism began to decline around 1600 as the noted artist Caravaggio, dubbed "the father of the Baroque," pioneered a revolutionary approach that combined chiaroscuro and tenebrism, both techniques emphasizing the play of dark and light, with a new realism in dramatic scenes. By 1620, the Baroque period dominated, though the movement's emphasis on dramatic action and intensely emotional scenes can be seen as evolving from Mannerist treatments. In the decorative arts, the Mannerist influence was to continue into the mid-1600s, particularly in the courts of Europe.

The Mannerists influenced the subsequent generation of artists, as Giambologna's students Adriaen de Vries, Pietro Puget, and Pietro Francavilla continued to promote his style in Northern Europe. More importantly, Giambologna's works had a noted influence on Bernini and Alessandro Algari, the leading sculptors of the Baroque era. Cellini's work influenced Antonio Canova, Feodosy Fyodorovich Shchedrin, and, in the 20th century, Salvador Dalí. But, in general, Mannerism fell out of favor, as did many of its leading artists, in the following centuries and was generally seen as a period of decline and decadence following the High Renaissance.

Generally forgotten (except in Spain), the Spanish Renaissance and Mannerist artist El Greco was rediscovered in the 1800s by French artists such as Eugène Delacroix and Édouard Manet. Paul Cézanne went further and painted his own version of El Greco's Lady in a Fur Wrap (1882). His work later became a primary influence upon Pablo Picasso and the development of Cubism, as well as influencing the development of Expressionism in the works of Beckmann, Macke, Kokoschka, Hofer, Steinhardt, and Korteweg. He also influenced Soutine and Chagall, as well as the Surrealists Masson and Domínguez. Noted Spanish artists Ignacio Zuloaga, Santiago Rusiñol, and Joaquín Sorolla drew upon his work, as did the Mexican artists Rivera and Orozco. In the United States, Thomas Hart Benton, Jackson Pollock, and Roberto Matta referenced his work.

Bronzino's work was 'rediscovered' as well, by the Neoclassical Jacques-Louis David, and then by the 20th century artists such as Picasso, Matisse, de Chirico, and Frida Kahlo. Noted writers Marcel Proust, William Somerset Maugham, and Iris Murdoch referenced his work. His work has appealed to a variety of contemporary artists from Yasuko Aoike's manga From Eroica with Love (1976-2010) to Lina Wertmüller's film Seven Beauties (1975) and to photographer Christian Tagliavini's portrait series 1503 (2010).

Mannerist architecture influenced Baroque architecture and, subsequently, the Neo-Palladian movement and Beaux-Arts architecture. The style also influenced the noted 20th century architect Robert Venturi who revived the term, writing, "Mannerism for architecture of our time that...breaks the conventional order to accommodate complexity and contradiction." The importance and continued evaluation of Mannerism through a contemporary lens continues as seen in Peter Greenaway's 2009 multimedia vision of Paolo Veronese's work, and in 2010 major exhibition of Jacopo Bassano's oeuvre.

Key Artists

  • Parmigianino was an eccentric, but technically adept virtuoso painter who led the exaggerated Mannerist style.
  • El Greco was a master artist who employed highly expressive techniques and elongated figures that both confounded his contemporaries and influenced later movements such as Expressionism and Cubism.
  • Arcimboldo's extraordinary, and sometimes monstrous, human portraits are an iconic addition to Italian Mannerism.
  • Titian was the leading painter of the Venetian school in 16th century Italy. His wide range of subject matter and deep interest in color has heavily influenced further developments in Western art.
  • Bronzino is a giant amongst Mannerists; an elegant and serene Master of portraiture whose painting embodied the genteel beliefs of the Medici.
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Do Not Miss

  • The High Renaissance, the epitome of Italian art before the modern era was the exemplified in the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael - among others.
  • Baroque art and architecture emerged in late sixteenth-century Europe after the Renaissance, and lasted into the eighteenth century. In contrast to the clarity and order of earlier art, it stressed theatrical atmosphere, dynamic flourishes, and myriad colors and textures.
  • North of the European Alps an artistic, literary, and philosophical movement grew that was influenced by the spread of the Italian Renaissance's art and ideas.
  • Emphasizing drama and depth, the Renaissance techniques of Chiaroscuro, Tenebrism, and Sfumato allowed artists like Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, and Rembrandt to illuminate visual narratives out from the shadows.

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Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kimberly Nichols

"Mannerism Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kimberly Nichols
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First published on 23 Jul 2018. Updated and modified regularly
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