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The Winter (1563) by Giuseppe Arcimboldo
The Winter (1563) by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

"His assertion of a non-religious impetus to the Renaissance touched off a debate with later art historians, such as Henry Thode who asserted the important role Christianity played. The debate raged among the scholarly community, with some, such as Aby M. Warburg, siding with Burckhardt. Burckhardt generally viewed the periods following the Renaissance, such as Mannerism and the Baroque as "raw and deviant" (Der Cicerone); he objected to Bernini's St. Teresa on moral grounds. The preeminence of his view of the Renaissance as the principal era of art history lasted in Germany until the 1930s when the Nazis pushed medieval art as core-German."--Dictionary of Art Historians [1]

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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

Mannerist artists and examples of their works

Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Giuseppe Arcimboldo is most readily known for his artworks that incorporate still life and portraiture. Arcimboldo's artworks have also applied to Mannerism in terms of humor that it conveys to viewers, because it does not hold the same degree of seriousness as Renaissance works. Stylistically, Arcimboldo's paintings are known for their attention to nature and concept of a "monstrous appearance."

One of Arcimboldo's paintings which contains various Mannerist characteristics is, Vertumnus. Painted against a black background is a portrait of Rudolf II, whose body is composed of various vegetables, flowers, and fruits. The joke of the painting communicates the humor of power which is that Emperor Rudolf II is hiding a dark inner self behind his public image. On the other hand, the serious tone of the painting foreshadows the good fortune that would be prevalent during his reign.

Vertumnus contains various Mannerist elements in terms of its composition and message. One element is the flat, black background which Arcimboldo utilizes to emphasize the status and identity of the Emperor, as well as highlighting the fantasy of his reign. In the portrait of Rudolf II, Arcimboldo also strays away from the naturalistic representation of the Renaissance, and explores the construction of composition by rendering him from a jumble of fruits, vegetables, plants and flowers. Another element of Mannerism which the painting portrays is the dual narrative of a joke and serious message; humor wasn't normally utilized in Renaissance artworks.

Jacopo da Pontormo

Jacopo da Pontormo's work is one of the most important contributions to Mannerism. He often drew his subject matter from religious narratives; heavily influenced by the works of Michelangelo, he frequently alludes to or uses sculptural forms as models for his compositions. A well-known element of his work is the rendering of gazes by various figures which often pierce out at the viewer in various directions. Dedicated to his work, Pontormo often expressed anxiety about its quality and was known to work slowly and methodically. His legacy is highly regarded, as he influenced artists such as Agnolo Bronzino and the aesthetic ideals of late Mannerism.

Pontomoro's Joseph in Egypt, painted in 1517, portrays a running narrative of four Biblical scenes in which Joseph reconnects with his family. On the left side of the composition, Pontomoro depicts a scene of Joseph introducing his family to the Pharaoh of Egypt. On the right, Joseph is riding on a rolling bench, as cherubs fill the composition around him in addition to other figures and large rocks on a path in the distance. Above these scenes, is a spiral staircase which Joseph guides one his sons to their mother at the top. The final scene, on the right, is the final stage of Jacob's death as his sons watch nearby.

Pontormo's Joseph in Egypt features many Mannerist elements. One element is utilization of incongruous colors such as various shades of pinks and blues which make up a majority of the canvas. An additional element of Mannerism is the incoherent handling of time about the story of Joseph through various scenes and use of space. Through the inclusion of the four different narratives, Ponotormo creates a cluttered composition and overall sense of busyness.

Rosso Fiorentino and the School of Fontainebleau

Rosso Fiorentino, who had been a fellow pupil of Pontormo in the studio of Andrea del Sarto, in 1530 brought Florentine Mannerism to Fontainebleau, where he became one of the founders of French 16th-century Mannerism, popularly known as the School of Fontainebleau.

The examples of a rich and hectic decorative style at Fontainebleau further disseminated the Italian style through the medium of engravings to Antwerp, and from there throughout Northern Europe, from London to Poland. Mannerist design was extended to luxury goods like silver and carved furniture. A sense of tense, controlled emotion expressed in elaborate symbolism and allegory, and an ideal of female beauty characterized by elongated proportions are features of this style.

Agnolo Bronzino

Agnolo Bronzino was a pupil of Pontormo, whose style was very influential and often confusing in terms of figuring out the attribution of many artworks. During his career, Bronzino also collaborated with Vasari as a set designer for the production "Comedy of Magicians", where he painted many portraits. Bronzino's work was sought after, and he enjoyed great success when he became a court painter for the Medici family in 1539. A unique Mannerist characteristic of Bronzino's work was the rendering of milky complexions.

In the painting, Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time, Bronzino portrays an erotic scene that leaves the viewer with more questions than answers. In the foreground, Cupid and Venus are nearly engaged in a kiss, but pause as if caught in the act. Above the pair are mythological figures, Father Time on the right, who pulls a curtain to reveal the pair and the representation of the goddess of the night on the left. The composition also involves a grouping of masks, a hybrid creature composed of features of a girl and a serpent, and a man depicted in agonizing pain. Many theories are available for the painting, such as it conveying the dangers of syphilis, or that the painting functioned as a court game.

Mannerist portraits by Bronzino are distinguished by a serene elegance and meticulous attention to detail. As a result, Bronzino's sitters have been said to project an aloofness and marked emotional distance from the viewer. There is also a virtuosic concentration on capturing the precise pattern and sheen of rich textiles. Specifically, within the Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time, Bronzino utilizes the tactics of Mannerist movement, attention to detail, color, and sculptural forms. Evidence of Mannerist movement is apparent in the awkward movements of Cupid and Venus, as they contort their bodies to partly embrace. Particularly, Bronzino paints the complexion with the many forms as a perfect porcelain white with a smooth effacement of their muscles which provides a reference to the smoothness of sculpture.

Alessandro Allori

Alessandro Allori's (1535–1607) Susanna and the Elders (below) is distinguished by latent eroticism and consciously brilliant still life detail, in a crowded, contorted composition.

Jacopo Tintoretto

Jacopo Tintoretto has been known for his vastly different contributions to Venetian painting after the legacy of Titian. His work, which differed greatly from his predecessors, had been criticized by Vasari for its, "fantastical, extravagant, bizarre style." Within his work, Tintoretto adopted Mannerist elements that have distanced him from the classical notion of Venetian painting, as he often created artworks which contained elements of fantasy and retained naturalism. Other unique elements of Tintoretto's work include his attention to color through the regular utilization of rough brushstrokes and experimentation with pigment to create illusion.

An artwork that is associated with Mannerist characteristics is the Last Supper; it was commissioned by Michele Alabardi for the San Giorgio Maggiore in 1591. In Tintoretto's Last Supper, the scene is portrayed from the angle of group of people along the right side of the composition. On the left side of the painting, Christ and the Apostles occupy one side of the table and single out Judas. Within the dark space, there are few sources of light; one source is emitted by Christ's halo and hanging torch above the table.

In its distinct composition, the Last Supper portrays Mannerist characteristics. One characteristic that Tintoretto utilizes is a black background. Though the painting gives some indication of an interior space through the use of perspective, the edges of the composition are mostly shrouded in shadow which provides drama for the central scene of the Last Supper. Additionally, Tintoretto utilizes the spotlight effects with light, especially with the halo of Christ and the hanging torch above the table. A third Mannerist characteristic that Tintoretto employs are the atmospheric effects of figures shaped in smoke and float about the composition.

El Greco

El Greco attempted to express religious emotion with exaggerated traits. After the realistic depiction of the human form and the mastery of perspective achieved in High Renaissance, some artists started to deliberately distort proportions in disjointed, irrational space for emotional and artistic effect. El Greco still is a deeply original artist. He has been characterized by modern scholars as an artist so individual that he belongs to no conventional school. Key aspects of Mannerism in El Greco include the jarring "acid" palette, elongated and tortured anatomy, irrational perspective and light, and obscure and troubling iconography. El Greco's style was a culmination of unique developments based on his Greek heritage and travels to Spain and Italy.

El Greco's work reflects a multitude of styles including Byzantine elements as well as the influence of Caravaggio and Parmigianino in addition to Venetian coloring. An important element is his attention to color as he regarded it to be one of the most important aspects of his painting. Over the course of his career, El Greco's work remained in high demand as he completed important commissions in locations such as the Colegio de la Encarnación de Madrid.

El Greco's unique painting style and connection to Mannerist characteristics is especially prevalent in the work Laocoön. Painted in 1610, it depicts the mythological tale of Laocoön, who warned the Trojans about the danger of the wooden horse which was presented by the Greeks as peace offering to the goddess Minerva. As a result, Minerva retaliated in revenge by summoning serpents to kill Laocoön and his two sons. Instead of being set against the backdrop of Troy, El Greco situated the scene near Toledo, Spain in order to "universalize the story by drawing out its relevance for the contemporary world."

El Greco's unique style in Laocoön exemplifies many Mannerist characteristics. Prevalent is the elongation of many of the human forms throughout the composition in conjunction with their serpentine movement, which provides a sense of elegance. An additional element of Mannerist style is the atmospheric effects in which El Greco creates a hazy sky and blurring of landscape in the background.

Benvenuto Cellini

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

Lavinia Fontana

Lavinia Fontana (1552–1614) was a Mannerist portraitist often acknowledged to be the first female career artist in Western Europe. She was appointed to be the Portraitist in Ordinary at the Vatican. Her style is characterized as being influenced by the Carracci family of painters by the colors of the Venetian School. She is known for her portraits of noblewomen, and for her depiction of nude figures, which was unusual for a woman of her time.

Taddeo Zuccaro (or Zuccari)

Taddeo Zuccaro was born in Sant'Angelo in Vado, near Urbino, the son of Ottaviano Zuccari, an almost unknown painter. His brother Federico, born around 1540, was also a painter and architect.

Federico Zuccaro (or Zuccari)

Federico Zuccaro’s documented career as a painter began in 1550, when he moved to Rome to work under Taddeo, his elder brother. He went on to complete decorations for Pius IV, and help complete the fresco decorations at the Villa Farnese at Caprarola. Between 1563 and 1565, he was active in Venice with the Grimani family of Santa Maria Formosa. During his Venetian period, he traveled alongside Palladio in Friuli.

Joachim Wtewael

Joachim Wtewael (1566–1638) continued to paint in a Northern Mannerist style until the end of his life, ignoring the arrival of the Baroque art, and making him perhaps the last significant Mannerist artist still to be working. His subjects included large scenes with still life in the manner of Pieter Aertsen, and mythological scenes, many small cabinet paintings beautifully executed on copper, and most featuring nudity.



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"[2] (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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