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Mannerism is a period of European painting, sculpture, architecture and decorative arts of the 16th century. It lasted from the later years of the Italian Renaissance around 1520 until the arrival of the Baroque around 1600.

Stylistically, it identifies a variety of individual approaches influenced by, and reacting to, the harmonious ideals associated with Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and early Michelangelo. Mannerism is notable for its intellectual as well as its artificial qualities, in general it was a celebration of art for art's sake opposed to naturalism. Formally, it is characterized by elongated figures, such as in Parmigianino's Madonna with the Long Neck (1534-40), as well as the figura serpentinata as in Bronzino's Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time (c. 1545).

Many of its works belong to the fantastic art category; influential artists include Giuseppe Arcimboldo, El Greco, Quentin Massys and Giulio Romano.

The three main centres of the Northern Mannerism style were in Fontainebleau, France, especially in the period 1530-50, Prague under Rudolf II from 1576, and in the Low Countries (Haarlem and Antwerp) from the 1580s—the first two phases very much led by royal patronage.



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".

As a stylistic label, "Mannerism" is not easily pigeonholed. It was used by Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt and popularized by German art historians in the early 20th century to categorize the seemingly uncategorizable art of the Italian 16th century — art that was no longer perceived to exhibit the harmonious and rational approaches associated with the High Renaissance. “High Renaissance” suggested a period of harmony, grandeur and the revival of classical antiquity and the term was redefined in 1967 by John Shearman. The label “Mannerism” was used during the 16th century to comment on social behaviour and to convey a refined virtuoso quality or to signify a certain technique.

However for later writers, such as the 17th-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 19th-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 16th century.

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. 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 brothers, 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 17th 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.

Major practitioners

Architecture and sculpture

Giorgio Vasari, Giambologna, Benvenuto Cellini, Alessandro Vittoria, Cornelis Floris II., Adriaen de Vries, Bartolomeo Ammanati, Giacomo della Porta, Ludwig Münstermann, Hendrick de Keyser, Antonio Abondio

Painting and engraving

Jacopo Tintoretto, Giorgio Vasari, Pontormo, Parmigianino, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, El Greco, Rosso Fiorentino, Simone Peterzano, Francesco Primaticcio, Federico Zuccari, Virgil Solis, Hendrick Goltzius, Cornelis van Haarlem, Maarten van Heemskerck, Giovanni Stradanus, Denis Calvaert, Joachim Wtewael, Bartholomäus Spranger, Agnolo Bronzino, Antoine Caron, Frans Floris, Orazio Grevenbroeck, Domenico Beccafumi, Lelio Orsi, Albrecht Altdorfer, Hans Bock der Ältere, Giovanni Battista Bracelli, Luca Cambiaso, Lorenz Stöer, Ehard Schön, Jacob Isaacsz van Swanenburgh, Veronese, Joseph Heintz der Ältere



A key feature of mannerist literature is purple prose or Schwulst. According to Gustav René Hocke, the anagram and acronym, epigram and oxymoron are the typical stylistic mannerisms in mannerist literature.

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.

Authors include Michelangelo, Giambattista Marino, Cervantes, Hoffmannswaldau, Francois Rabelais, Ludovico Ariosto, Luis de Góngora, Baltasar Gracián, William Shakespeare, Georg Philipp Harsdörffer, Emanuele Tesauro, Giovanni Battista Guarini, Torquato Tasso, Edmund Spenser, Sperone Speroni and Jan Andrzej Morsztyn.

An important reference book is Manierismus in der Literatur. Sprach-Alchemie und esoterische Kombinationskunst (1959) by Hocke.


The rich musical possibilities in the poetry of the late 16th and early 17th centuries provided an attractive basis for the madrigal, which quickly rose to prominence as the pre-eminent musical form in Italian musical culture, as discussed by Tim Carter:

The madrigal, particularly in its aristocratic guise, was obviously a vehicle for the ‘stylish style’ of Mannerism, with poets and musicians revelling in witty conceits and other visual, verbal and musical tricks to delight the connoisseur.

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.

Composers include: Carlo Gesualdo, Luca Marenzio andGiaches de Wert.


The Early Commedia dell'Arte (1550–1621): The Mannerist Context by Paul Castagno discusses Mannerism's infection of the contemporary professional theatre. Castagno's was the first study to define a theatrical form as Mannerist, employing the vocabulary of Mannerism and maniera to discuss the typification, exaggerated, and effetto meraviglioso of the comici dell'arte. See Part II of the above book for a full discussion of Mannerist characteristics in the commedia dell'arte.} The study is largely iconographic, presenting a pictorial evidence that many of the artists who painted or printed commedia images were in fact, coming from the workshops of the day, heavily ensconced in the maniera tradition.

The preciocity in Jacques Callot's minute engravings seem to belie a much larger scale of action. Callot's Balli di Sfessania (literally, dance of the buttocks) celebrates the commedia's blatant eroticism, with protruding phalli, spears posed with the anticipation of a comic ream, and grossly exaggerated masks that mix the bestial with human. The eroticism of the innamorate (lovers) including the bearing of breasts, or excessive veiling, was quite in vogue in the paintings and engravings from the second school at Fontainebleau, particularly those that detect a Franco-Flemish influence. Castagno demonstrates iconographic linkages between genre painting and the figures of the commedia dell'arte that demonstrate how this theatrical form was embedded within the cultural traditions of the late cinquecento.

Commedia dell'arte, disegno interno, and the discordia concors

Important corollaries exist between the disegno interno, which substituted for the disegno esterno (external design) in mannerist painting. This notion of projecting a deeply subjective view as superseding nature or established principles (perspective, for example), in essence, the emphasis away from the object to its subject, now emphasizing execution, displays of virtuosity, or unique techniques. This inner vision is at the heart of commedia performance. For example, in the moment of improvisation the actor expresses his virtuosity without heed to formal boundaries, decorum, unity, or text. Arlecchino became emblemmatic of the mannerist discordia concors (the union of opposites), at one moment he would be gentle and kind, then, on a dime, become a thief violently acting out with his batte. Arlecchino could be graceful in movement, only in the next beat, to clumsily trip over his feet. Freed from the external rules, the actor celebrated the evanescence of the moment; much the way Cellini would dazzle his patrons by draping his sculptures, unveiling them with lighting effects and a sense of the marvelous. The presentation of the object became as important as the object itself.


Burckhardt generally viewed the periods following the renaissance, such as Mannerism and the Baroque as "raw and deviant"[1] (Der Cicerone, 1855).

For Heinrich Wölfflin, the 16th-century art now described as "Mannerist" was part of the Baroque esthetic, one that Burckhardt before him as well as most French and English-speaking scholars for a generation after him dismissed as "degenerate".


1500s - aesthetics - art - Bomarzo park - fantastic art - grotesque art - style

Opposition to High Renaissance

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.

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. 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.

See also

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