Northern Mannerism  

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Mannerism in the Low Countries, Mannerism, French Mannerism, German Mannerism

Northern Mannerism is the term in art history for the versions of Mannerism practiced in the visual arts north of the Alps in the 16th and early 17th century. Styles largely derived from Italian Mannerism were found in the Netherlands and elsewhere from around the mid-century, especially Mannerist ornament in architecture; this article concentrates on those times and places where Northern Mannerism generated its most original and distinctive work.

The three main centres of the style were in Fontainebleau, France, especially in the period 1530-50, Prague under Rudolf II from 1576, and in the Netherlands from the 1580s—the first two phases very much led by royal patronage. In the last fifteen years of the century the style, by then becoming outdated in Italy, was widespread across northern Europe, spread in large part through prints. In painting it tended to recede rapidly in the new century, under the new influence of Caravaggio and the early Baroque, but in architecture and the decorative arts, its influence was more sustained.



French Mannerism

France received a direct injection of Italian style in the form of the first School of Fontainebleau, where from 1530 several Florentine artists of quality were hired to decorate the palace of Fontainebleau, with some French assistants being taken on. The most notable imports were: Rosso Fiorentino (Giovanni Battista di Jacopo de' Rossi) (1494–1540), Francesco Primaticcio (c.1505-1570), Niccolò dell'Abbate (c.1509-1571), all of whom remained in France until their deaths. This conjunction succeeded in generating a native French style with strong Mannerist elements that was then able to develop largely on its own. Jean Cousin the Elder, for example, produced paintings, such as Eva Prima Pandora and Charity, that, with their sinuous, elongated nudes, drew palpably upon the artistic principles of the Fontainebleau school. Cousin's son Jean the Younger, most of whose works have not survived, and Antoine Caron both followed in this tradition, producing an agitated version of the mannerist aesthetic in the context of the French Wars of Religion. The iconography of figurative works was mostly mythological, with a strong emphasis on Diana, goddess of the hunting that was the original function of Fontainebleau, and namesake of Diane de Poitiers, mistress and muse of Henry II, and keen huntress herself. She was always depicted with a slim, long-legged and athletic figure.[1]

Other parts of Northern Europe did not have the advantage of such intense contact with Italian artists, but the Mannerist style made its presence felt through prints and books, the purchases of Italian works by rulers and others, travels to Italy, and individual Italian artists working in the North.

Much of the most important work at Fontainebleau was in the form of stucco reliefs, often executed by French artists to drawings by the Italians (and then reproduced in prints), and the Fontainebleau style affected French sculpture more strongly than French painting. The huge stucco frames which dominate their inset paintings with bold high-relief strapwork, swags of fruit, and generous staffage of naked nymph-like figures, were very influential on the vocabulary of Mannerist ornament all over Europe, spread by ornament books and prints by Androuet du Cerceau and others—Rosso seems to have been the originator of the style. The mysterious and sophisticated Saint-Porchaire ware, of which only about sixty pieces survive, brought a similar aesthetic into pottery.

Apart from the Palace of Fontainebleau itself, other important buildings decorated in the style were the Château d'Anet (1547-52) for Diane de Poitiers, and parts of the Palais du Louvre. Catherine de' Medici's patronage of the arts promoted the Mannerist style, except in portraiture, and her court festivities were the only regular northern ones to rival the intermedios and entries of the Medici court in Florence; all of which relied heavily on the visual arts. After an interlude when work on Fontainebleau was abandoned at the height of the French Wars of Religion, a "Second School of Fontainebleau" was formed from local artists in the 1590s.

Prague under Rudolf II

Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor (reigned 1564-1576), who made his base in Vienna, had humanist and artistic tastes, and patronised a number of artists, mostly famously Giambologna and Giuseppe Arcimboldo, whose fantasy portraits made up of objects were slightly more serious in the world of late-Renaissance philosophy than they seem now. At the end of his reign he devised a project for a new palace and just before he died the young Flemish painter Bartholomeus Spranger had been summoned from Rome, where he had made a successful career. Maximilian's son, Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor was to prove an even better patron than his father would have been, and Spranger never left his service. The court soon transferred to Prague, safer from the regular Turkish invasions, and during his reign of 1576-1612, Rudolf was to become an obsessive collector of old and new art, his artists mixing with the astronomers, clockmakers, botanists, and "wizards, alchemists and kabbalists" who Rudolf also gathered around him.

Works from Rudolf's Prague were highly finished and refined, with most paintings being relatively small. The elongation of figures and strikingly complex poses of the first wave of Italian Mannerism were continued, and the elegant distance of Bronzino's figures was mediated through the works of the absent Giambologna, who represented the ideal of the style.

Prints were essential to disseminate the style to Europe, Germany and the Low Countries in particular, and some printmakers, like the greatest of the period, Hendrik Goltzius, worked from drawings sent from Prague, while others, like Aegidius Sadeler who lived in Spranger's house, had been tempted to the city itself. Rudolf also commissioned work from Italy, above all from Giambologna, who the Medicis would not allow to leave Florence, and four great mythological allegories were sent by Paolo Veronese. The Emperor's influence affected art in other German courts, notably Munich, and Dresden where the goldsmith and artist Johann Kellerthaler was based.

Rudolf was relatively little interested in religion, but more in mythological painting. Goddesses were usually naked, or nearly so, and a more overt atmosphere of eroticism prevails than is found in most Renaissance mythological works, evidently reflecting Rudolf's "special interests". The dominating figure was Hercules, identified with the emperor, as he had earlier been with earlier Habsburg and Valois monarchs. But the other gods were not neglected; their conjunctions and transformations had significance in Renaissance Neo-Platonism and Hermeticism that were taken more seriously in Rudolf's Prague than any other Renaissance court. It seems, however, that the painted allegories from Prague contain neither very specific complicated meanings, nor hidden recipes for alchemy. Giambologna frequently chose, or let someone else choose, a title for his sculptures after their completion; for him it was only the forms that mattered.

Netherlands Mannerism

Mannerism in the Low Countries

Whereas the artists of both Fontainebleau and Prague were mostly provided with a home so congenial in both intellectual and physical terms that they stayed to the end of their lives, for artists of the last Netherlandish phase of the movement Mannerism was very often a phase through which they passed before moving on to a style influenced by Caravaggio.

For Hendrik Goltzius, the greatest printmaker of the day, his most Mannerist phase under the influence of Spranger only lasted for the five years between 1585, when he engraved his first print after one of the Spranger drawings brought from Prague by Karel van Mander, to his trip to Rome in 1590. The group known as the "Haarlem Mannerists", principally Goltzius, van Mander, and Cornelis van Haarlem was matched by artists in other cities.

Partly because most of his Netherlandish followers had only seen Spranger's work through prints and his mostly very free drawings, his more painterly handling was not adopted, and they retained the tighter and more realistic technique in which they had been trained. Many Dutch mannerist painters could switch styles depending on subject or commission, and continued to produce portraits and genre scenes in styles based on local traditions at the same time they were working on highly Mannerist paintings. After his return from Italy Goltzius moved to a quieter proto-Baroque classicism, and his work in that style influenced many.

Joachim Wtewael, who settled in Utrecht after returning from Italy in 1590, drew more influence from Italian Mannerists than from Prague, and also continued to produce kitchen scenes and portraits alongside his naked deities. Unlike many, notably his fellow Utrecher Abraham Bloemaert, once Wtewael's repertoire of styles was formed, he never changed it until his death in 1631.

For painters in the Low Countries there was also the alternative of traditional Northern realist styles, which had continued to develop through Pieter Bruegel the Elder (d.1567) and other artists, and in the next century were to dominate the painting of the Dutch Golden Age. Despite his visit to Italy, Brughel certainly cannot be called a Mannerist, but just as his paintings were keenly collected by Rudolf, Mannerist artists, including Gillis van Coninxloo and Bruegel's son Jan, followed him in developing the landscape as a subject.

Landscape painting was recognised as a Netherlandish speciality in Italy, where several Northern landscapists were based, such as Paul and Mattheus Brill, and the Germans Hans Rottenhammer and Adam Elsheimer, the last an important figure in the Early Baroque. Most still painted Netherlandish panoramas from a high view-point, with small figures forming a specific subject, but Gillis van Coninxloo followed the earlier Danube School and Albrecht Altdorfer in developing the pure and "close-up" forest landscape in his works from about 1600, which was taken up by his pupil Roelandt Savery and others. Bloemaert painted many landscapes reconciling these types by combining close-up tress, with figures, and a small distant view from above to one side (example below). Paul Brill's early landscapes were distinctly Mannerist in their artificiality and crowded decorative effects, but after his brother's death, he gradually evolved a more economical and realistic style, perhaps influenced by Annibale Carracci.

Still-life painting, usually mostly of flowers and insects, also emerged as a genre during the period, re-purposing the inherited tradition of late Netherlandish miniature borders; Jan Brueghel the Elder also painted these. Such subjects appealed to both aristocratic patrons and the bourgeois market, which was far larger in the Netherlands. This was especially so in the Protestant north, after the movement of populations in the Revolt, where the demand for religious works was largely absent.

Karel van Mander is now remembered mainly as a writer on art rather than an artist. Though he endorsed the Italian hierarchy of genres, with history painting at the top, he was readier than Vasari and other Italian theorists (above all Michelangelo, who was brusquely dismissive of 'lower' forms of art) to accept the value of other specialized genres of art, and to accept that many artists should specialize in these, if that is where their talent lay. Specialization of many artists in the various genres was well advanced by the end of the century, in both the Netherlands and Prague, exemplified by Bruegel's two sons, Jan and Pieter, though it was also typical of the period that they both had more than one speciality during their careers. Although landscapes, scenes of peasant life, sea-scapes and still-lifes could be bought by dealers for stock, and good portraits were always in demand, demand for history painting was not equal to the potential supply, and many artists, like Cornelius Ketel, were forced to specialize in portraiture; "artists travel along this road without delight", according to van Mander.

The Mannerist painters in the now permanently-separated southern provinces of Habsburg Flanders in fact were less influenced by Prague than those in the United Provinces. They had more easy access to Italy, where Denis Calvaert lived from the age of twenty in Bologna, though selling much of his work back to Flanders. Both Marten de Vos and Otto van Veen had travelled there; Van Veen, who had actually worked in Rudolf's Prague, was the founder of the Guild of Romanists, an Antwerp club for artists who had visited Rome. They were more conscious of recent trends in Italian art, and the emergence of Baroque style, which in the hands of Van Veen's pupil from 1594-98, Rubens, would soon sweep over Flemish art. In religious works, Flemish artists were also subject to the decrees of the Council of Trent, leading to a reaction against the more extreme virtuosities of Mannerism and to a clearer, more monumental style akin to the Italian maniera grande.

In Flanders, though not in the United Provinces, the mostly temporary displays for royal entries provided occasional opportunities for lavish public exhibitions of Mannerist style. Festival books recorded the entries into Antwerp of French princes and Habsburg archdukes.

Dissemination in prints and books

Mannerist printmaking

The importance of prints as a medium for disseminating mannerist style has already been mentioned; Northern Mannerism "was a style that lent itself admirably to printmaking, and inspired the production of a succession of masterpieces of the printmaker's art" (Griffiths and Hartley, 38). Goltzius was already the most celebrated engraver in the Netherlands when the Mannerist virus struck, and despite the disruptions of war he and other Netherlandish printmakers were connected with the well-oiled machinery of distribution across Europe that had been built up over the preceding fifty years, originally centred on Antwerp.

The same had not been true for the printmaking at Fontainebleau, and the prints made there (unusually for the period, all in etching) were technically rather rough, produced in smaller numbers, and mainly influential in France. They were made in an intense period of activity approximately from 1542 to 1548. Those made in Paris were engravings and of a higher quality; produced from about 1540 to about 1580, they had a wider distribution. Many of the Fontainebleau prints were apparently made directly from drawn designs for the decorations of the palace, and consisted largely or entirely of ornamental frames or cartouches, although such was the scale of Fontainebleau that these might contain several full-length figures. Variations on the elaborate framings, as if made of cut, pierced and rolled parchment, played out in decorative framing schemes, engraved title pages and carved and inlaid furniture into the seventeenth century.

Printed Mannerist ornament, in a somewhat broader sense of the word, was a good deal easier to produce than the risky application of an extreme Mannerist style to large figure compositions, and had been spreading across Europe well in advance of painting in the form of frames to portrait prints, book frontispieces, so like the elaborate doorways and fireplaces of Mannerist architecture, ornament books for artists and craftsmen, and emblem books. From these and works in their own medium, goldsmiths, frame and furniture makers, and workers in many other crafts developed the vocabulary of Mannerist ornament. Wendel Dietterlin's book Architectura of 1593–4, produced in the relative backwater of Strasbourg, was the most extreme application of the style to architectural ornament.

In the decorative arts

The visual wit and sophistication of Mannerism in northern hands, which made it pre-eminently a court style, found natural vehicles in goldsmith's work, set off by gems and colored enamels, in which the misshaped pearls we call "baroque" might form human and animal torsos, both as jewelry for personal adornment and in objects made for the Wunderkammer. Ewers and vases took fantastic shapes, as did standing cups with onyx or agate bowls, and elaborate saltcellars like the Saliera of Benvenuto Cellini, the apex of Mannerist goldsmithing, completed in 1543 for Francis I and later given to Rudolf's uncle, another great collector. Wenzel Jamnitzer and his son Hans, goldsmiths to a succession of Holy Roman Emperors, including Rudolf, were unexcelled in the north. In the Netherlands a uniquely anamorphic "auricular style", employing writhing and anti-architectural cartilaginous motifs was developed by the van Vianen family of silversmiths.

Though Mannerist sculptors produced life-size bronzes, the bulk of their output by unit was of editions of small bronzes, often reduced versions of the large compositions, which were intended to be appreciated by holding and turning in the hands, when the best "give an aesthetic stimulus of that involuntary kind that sometimes comes from listening to music". Small low relief panels in bronze, often gilded, were used in various settings, as on Rudolph's crown.

Female sphinxes with extravagantly elongated necks and prominent breasts support a Burgundian cabinet of walnut in the Frick Collection, New York; soon Antwerp made a specialty of richly carved and veneered cabinets inlaid with tortoiseshell, ebony, and ivory, with architectural interiors, mirrored to multiply reflections in feigned spaces. In England the Mannerist excesses of Jacobean furniture were expressed in extreme legs turned to imitate stacked covered standing cups, and a proliferation of enlaced strapwork covered plane surfaces. Following the success of Brussels tapestries woven after the Raphael cartoons, Mannerist painters like Bernard van Orley and Perino del Vaga were called upon to design cartoons in Mannerist style for the tapestry workshops of Brussels and Fontainebleau. Painterly compositions in Mannerist taste appeared in Limoges enamels too. Moresques, swags and festoons of fruit inspired by rediscovered Ancient Roman grotesque ornament, first displayed in the Raphael school Vatican Stanze, were disseminated through engravings in an ornamental vocabulary expressed in the North less in such frescoes and more in tapestry and illuminated manuscript borders.

In France, Saint-Porchaire ware of Mannerist forms and decor was produced in limited quantities for a restricted fashion-conscious clientele from the 1520s to the 1540s, while the crowded, disconcertingly lifelike compositions of snakes and toads characterize the Mannerist painted earthenware platters of Bernard Palissy. Like the Jamnitzers on occasion, Palissy made moulds from real small creatures and plants to apply to his creations.


French artists influenced by the first School of Fontainebleau:

Jean Cousin the Elder (1500-c. 1590)
Jean Goujon (c. 1510-after 1572) sculptor and architect
Juste de Juste (ca. 1505 – ca. 1559) - sculptor and etcher
Antoine Caron (1521 - 1599)

The continuing French tradition:

Germain Pilon (c. 1537 - 1590), sculptor
Androuet du Cerceau, family of architects; Jacques I introducing Mannerist ornament
Jean Cousin the Younger (ca. 1522-1595), painter
Toussaint Dubreuil (c. 1561 - 1602), second School of Fontainebleau:

Working for Rudolf:

Giambologna (1529-1608), Flemish sculptor based in Florence
Adriaen de Vries (1556-1626), Flemish sculptor, pupil of Giambologna, who went to Prague
Bartholomeus Spranger (1546-1611) - Flemish painter, Rudolf's main painter
Hans von Aachen (1552-1615) - German, mythological subjects and portraits for Rudolf
Joseph Heintz the Elder (1564-1609) - Swiss pupil of Hans von Aachen
Paul van Vianen, Dutch silversmith and artist
Aegidius Sadeler - mainly a printmaker
Wenzel Jamnitzer (1507/8-1585), and his son Hans II and grandson Christof, German goldsmiths
Joris Hoefnagel, especially for miniatures of natural history
Roelant Savery, landscapes with animals and still-lifes

In the Netherlands:

Herri met de Bles, (1510-1555/60), landscape artist, earlier than the others
Karel van Mander - now best known as a biographer of Netherlandish artists
Hendrik Goltzius (1558-1617) - the leading engraver of the period, and later a painter in a less Mannerist style.
Cornelis van Haarlem (1562-1651)
Joachim Wtewael (1566-1638)
Jan Saenredam - mainly a printmaker
Jacob de Gheyn II - mainly a printmaker
Abraham Bloemaert (1566-1651), in the early part of his career
Hans Vredeman de Vries (1527 – c. 1607), architect, ornament designer, who wrote on garden design.


Denis Calvaert - worked mostly in Italy, in a largely Italian style, as did
Paul and Mattheus Brill, mostly painting landscapes
Marten de Vos, founder of the Guild of Romanists
Otto van Veen, (1556-1629)


Hans Rottenhammer (1564–1625) landscapist from Munich, spent several years in Italy
Wendel Dietterlin (c. 1550-1599), German painter, best known for his book on architectural decoration
Jacques Bellange (c. 1575-1616), court painter of Lorraine, whose work only survives in etching.

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