Introduction | Mannerist Art | Research | Bibliography

Introduction

After the High Renaissance, people felt that art had reached a peak of sorts. Greats such as Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and Raphael had all produced countless masterpieces. Any artist hoping to follow them could not make a mark simply with realism and beauty. Instead, they had to be somehow different. This period of artists trying to be different is called Mannerism and it filled the gap between the tail end of the Renaissance and the new Baroque period. This was not a very long period, generally thought to have lasted, or at least been at its peak, in the years 1520 to 1580. The word comes from the Italian word maniera, meaning style. Indeed, the art of this time was heavily stylized. Forms in both painting and sculpture, the realism of previous periods is not used as much. Artists are still capable of it, but choose to add different mannerisms to their works. Elongated forms (see Parmigianino's Madonna of the Long Neck [1540] below), unbelievable poses, strange settings, unnatural lighting (see El Greco's Baptism [1614] to the left) and slightly off perspective were all ways that artists tried to make their art different. Emotion was not shown as much on faces of individuals, but could be interpreted by looking at the piece as a whole.

The term is not the most straightforward of terms and has been used in different ways. It first came into regular vernacular when German art historians began to use it in the early 1900s. They used it as a descriptive word without a particular amount of stigma attached to it. However, writers closer to the actual time had a different perspective. Writers in the 17th century like Gian Pietro Bellori used the Italian word for mannerism to describe what he felt was a decline in art after the time of Raphael. Kenneth Clark seems to share this view. This is because art truely had reached a peak in realism and beauty at the end of the Renaissance and people who divided on the new art. Some thought it was a refreshing change, or at least something different to be appreciated in its own way. Others, such as Clark and Bellori, felt that it was simply inferior to the art of the past which could not be surpassed.