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Explaining Mannerism Art Through 9 Seminal Paintings

  • Michelangelo - Dividing water from Heaven
June 29, 2019
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

The Renaissance appeared after the Middle Ages and it introduced an entirely new worldview largely inspired by the Antique. To be more precise, this socio-political phenomenon brought further development of both social and natural sciences, technology, art and architecture, and various other civilization betterment. The Late Renaissance period around 1520 is better known as Mannerism, which was indeed a specific shift of the previously formed tendencies mostly in aesthetic terms. The term was used to describe the 16th-century artists who were successors of major Renaissance masters such as Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci, and was proposed by the Italian archaeologist Luigi Lanzi at the end of the 18th century.

From Renaissance to Mannerism

Unlike High Renaissance’s fascination with proportion and balance, Mannerism plunged into exaggeration so the works of art created in this style were often asymmetrical and very artificial. Similar to painting and sculpture, Mannerism in music and literature was expressed in an elaborated and rather sophisticated manner. Color and light were fiercely dramatic and over-expressed, the pictorial space became flattened and the human figure was practically distorted.

The definite continuum of Mannerism is still under debate by the scholars; however, the term definitely frames the art production from the end of the High Renaissance in the 1520s until the beginnings of the Baroque around 1590. Mannerism was practiced mostly in Florence and Rome and spread to northern Italy and in a later phase throughout the central and northern Europe.

Bellow are some of the finest examples of Mannerism in painting in sculpture.

 artists work century portrait high artist figures history paintings artists work century portrait high artist figures history paintings mannerism style work artist mannerism style work artist mannerism style work artist Editors’ Tip: Renaissance & Mannerism

From the 15th to the 16th centuries, Western European culture flourished thanks in part to the astonishing achievements of such Renaissance artists as da Vinci, Donatello, Raphael, Botticelli, and Michelangelo, and Mannerist painters including El Greco, Pontormo, and Tintoretto. In Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance, artists pursued ancient classical ideals of harmony and naturalism, and in architecture, forms of perfection and grandeur. Mannerists, in the early 16th century, valued exaggeration, elongated figures, unnatural lighting, and vivid (even lurid) colors, to create more tension and emotion in their work. This stunning volume follows these two key movements in art history, providing authoritative background from a top scholar, rich cultural context, and a wealth of exquisite reproductions of period paintings, sculptures, churches, and palazzos.

Featured image: Michelangelo – Dividing water from Heaven, Sistine Chapel ceiling, 1509. Image via creative commons

  • Mannerism - Jacopo da Pontormo - Entombment

Jacopo da Pontormo - Entombment, 1528

The first Mannerist masterpiece on our list is the Deposition from the Cross made by one of the most prolific Mannerist figures, the painter Jacopo da Pontormo. It is an altarpiece painted in oil on wood in 1528 and is located above the altar of the Capponi Chapel of the church of Santa Felicita in Florence.

The composition represents a group of sorrowed people centered around the limp body of Jesus. The figures in the lower portion of the composition seem to plead the viewer for help in dealing with the weight of his body and their grief. There is no cross, as well as a natural surrounding, so it seems as if the scene is happening in some sort of limbo.

Featured image: Jacopo da Pontormo – Entombment, 1525-1528. Oil on panel, 313 × 192 cm. Collection Santa Felicità, Florence. Image creative commons.

  • Mannerist Style - Parmigianino - Madonna with the Long Neck

Parmigianino - Madonna with the Long Neck, 1535-1540

The following Mannerism masterpiece is The Madonna with the Long Neck, also known as Madonna and Child with Angels and St. Jerome made by the Italian Mannerist painter Parmigianino. It was produced between 1535-1540 and it features Madonna and Child with angels. Initially, the composition was commissioned for the funerary chapel of Francesco Tagliaferri in Parma,but it remained incomplete due to Parmigianino’s death in 1540. In 1698, Ferdinando de’ Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany, purchased it and since 1948 the painting is on display at The Uffizi.

The Virgin Mary is represented as a seating figure on a high pedestal in lavish attire, holding baby Jesus on her lap, and the two are surrounded by six angels. An enigmatic scene appears in the lower part of the painting – it is a row of marble columns followed by the figure of St. Jerome.

Featured image: Parmigianino – Madonna with the Long Neck, from 1534 until 1540. Oil on panel, 219 cm (86.2 in) x 135 cm (53.1 in). Collection Uffizi Gallery. Image creative commons.

  • Mannerism - Bronzino - Eleanor of Toledo

Bronzino - Eleanor of Toledo, 1545

Italian painter Agnolo di Cosimo or simply Bronzino produced The Portrait of Eleanor of Toledo and Her Son around 1545. This painting is one of his finest, perceived as one of the best examples of Mannerist portraiture and is also located in The Uffizi Gallery of Florence.

As the title suggests, it represents Eleanor of Toledo, the wife of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, alongside one of her sons. The motherly pose is achieved with her gesture and the pomegranate motif on her dress; to be more precise, Eleanor embodies the Renaissance ideal of a woman. The boy could be any of her sons – Francesco (born 1541), Giovanni (born 1543) or Garzia (born 1547). The portrait reflects formality due to the lack of warmth between mother and child.

Featured image: Bronzino – Portrait of Eleanor of Toledo with her son Giovanni de’ Medici, 1544 until 1545. Oil on panel, 115 cm (45.2 in) x 96 cm (37.7 in). Collection Uffizi Gallery. Image creative commons.

  • Mannerist Style - Benvenuto Cellini - Perseus with the head of Medusa

Benvenuto Cellini - Perseus with the head of Medusa, 1545–1554

The bronze sculpture Perseus with the Head of Medusa was produced by Benvenuto Cellini in the period 1545-1554 and is located in the Loggia dei Lanzi of the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. The very sculpture is positioned on a square pedestal with bronze relief featuring the story of Perseus and Andromeda.

The artwork was based on a famous mythological story of Perseus beheading Medusa, a snake-haired creature whose look turns each living being to stone. The hero is depicted as nude, triumphant on top of the body of Medusa and holding her head in his raised hand.

The work was commissioned by the Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici to accompany the other sculptural works in the piazza such as Michelangelo’s David, Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus, and Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes.

Featured image: Benvenuto Cellini – Perseus holding the head of Medusa, 1545 – 1554. Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence. Image creative commons.

  • Mannerism - Paolo Veronese - Wedding Feast at Cana

Paolo Veronese - Wedding Feast at Cana, 1563

One of the most celebrated 16th-century works of art is The Wedding Feast at Cana by the Italian master Paolo Veronese. This composition of astounding beauty was based on the biblical story of the Marriage at Cana, during which Jesus converts water to wine.

In 1562, the Black Monks of the Order of Saint Benedict commissioned Veronese to produce a monumental painting for the wall of the monastery’s new refectory, designed by the architect Andrea Palladio, at the Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. Veronese was extremely skillful and was able to achieve the visual intensity of the pictorial elements of the painting by including sophisticated cultural codes and symbolism which make the biblical story relevant to the Renaissance viewer.

Featured image: Paolo Veronese – The Wedding at Cana, between 1562 and 1563. Oil on canvas, 660 cm (21.6 ft) x 990 cm (10.8 yd). Collection Louvre Museum. Image creative commons.

  • Mannerist Style - Giambologna - The rape of the Sabine Women

Giambologna - The Rape of the Sabine Women, 1583

Next is the magnificent sculpture made by Flemish-born Italian Giambologna, best known for his marble and bronze works in the Mannerist style. This particular composition was based on a Roman myth. Namely, there was an incident in which Roman men abducted a number of women from other cities in the region; a theme often interpreted by the artists during the Renaissance.

The gruesome event happened after the city of Rome was founded by Romulus and his male followers. In order to find wives and form families, the Romans negotiated with the Sabines, inhabitants of the surrounding area. However, the deal was not a success since the Sabiniens feared the emergence of a rival society. The Romans decided to abduct Sabine women during a festival of Neptune Equester organized by the city. At one point during the festivity, Romulus gave a signal, and the Romans grabbed the Sabine women and fought off the Sabine men.

Featured image: Giambologna – The Rape of the Sabine Women, 1583. Image creative commons

  • Mannerism - Jacopo Tintoretto - Last Supper

Jacopo Tintoretto - Last Supper, 1592-94

Between 1592 and 1594, one of the best known Renaissance masters Jacopo Tintoretto painted The Last Supper. The grandiose composition is located in the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice.

The artist produced several versions of this theme throughout his career; the paintings in the churches of San Marcuola (produced in 1547) and San Felice (produced in 1559) feature the frontal perspective of The Last Supper, an apparent canon inherited from the past such as Leonardo da Vinci’s mural painting in Milan from the 1490s. Tintoretto was known for his use of light, evident in this painting as well. Tintoretto’s Last Supper shows the artist’s appropriation of Mannerist characteristics, especially complex and radically asymmetrical composition.

Featured image: Jacopo Tintoretto – The Last Supper, 1592–1594. Oil on canvas, 365 cm × 568 cm (144 in × 224 in). Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice. Image creative commons.

  • Mannerist Style - El Greco - The Opening of the Fifth Seal

El Greco - The Vision of Saint John, or The Opening of the Fifth Seal, ca. 1609-1614

During the last years of his life, the famous Italian-born painter Doménikos Theotokópoulos, better known as El Greco (referring to his Greek origin) painted The Opening of the Fifth Seal (or The Fifth Seal of the Apocalypse or The Vision of Saint John). It is a fresco made for a side-altar of the church of Saint John the Baptist.

The theme is based on the scene from the Book of Revelation where the souls of persecuted martyrs plead God for justice upon their earthly persecutors. The composition is focused on the ecstatic figure of St. John, who is surrounded by naked souls caught up in a frenzy after they receive white robes of salvation.

Featured image: El Greco – The Opening of the Fifth Seal, 1608–1614. Oil on canvas, 224.8 cm × 199.4 cm (88.5 in × 78.5 in). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. Image creative commons.

  • Mannerism - Joachim Wtewael - Perseus and Andromeda

Joachim Wtewael - Perseus and Andromeda, 1616

The last Mannerist painting on our list is Perseus and Andromeda by Joachim Wtewael. This dramatic composition was made in 1616 and it portraits the Greek myth of Andromeda. Perseus is depicted on his winged horse Pegasus, flying in order to attack the sea monster. Andromeda is depicted as an embodiment of innocence; she stands nude on the left and is surrounded with symbols of death laying on the ground.

Namely, Andromeda was the daughter of the Ethiopian King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia, who thought that Andromeda is more beautiful than the sea nymphs, daughters of the Sea god Poseidon. The nymphs heard Cassiopeia’s statements, so they protested to their father, who raged and summoned a sea monster called Cetus to attack Ethiopia. In response, the royal couple decided to sacrifice their daughter to this creature.

Featured image: Joachim Wtewael – Perseus and Andromeda, 1611. Oil on canvas, 180 cm (70.8 in) x 150 cm (59 in). Collection Louvre Museum. Image creative commons.