Mannerism describes the style of European history, transitional between High Renaissance and Baroque art. It occupies the time laps between 1530s and 1590s. The term derives from Italian word “maniera”. Initially it defined a quality of ideal human behavior in the 16th cent.: courtesy and sagacity. As we’ll see, this tendency towards complication is fully displayed in the Mannerist art, literature and architecture, as their guiding line was artificialness and sophistication. Because of its complexity, Mannerism was apprehended mainly by elite, not vast masses.
It originated in Rome around 1520, in a couple of years transferred to Florence and later spread over the country and outside Apennine peninsula. Very often the northern variants of Renaissance demonstrate combination of High Renaissance and Mannerism.
16th century was the time, when Europe was ridden with crisis almost in all its fields – political, social and religious. First of all, it’s the breakout of Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counterreformation that divided Church. A series of scientific discoveries (for instance, the heliocentricity of the planetary system by Copernicus or macro- and microscopes by Galileo) had an explosive-like effect on people’s minds. Fusty ideas of the Universal structure were demolished now and the place of the human in this world had to be reconsidered.
Mannerism in architecture is really tricky to define. But, as well, as in other arts, it’s characterized by conscious defiance of established rules and classical traditions. In architecture mannerist tendencies showed up at the beginning not so notably, as in sculpture and painting. The general renaissance structure of a building seemed to be left untouched, but its elements were recombined in the way that witnessed an emerging of a new philosophy. The tendency towards picturesqueness became evident in Raphael’s architectural projects.
The most significant change in religious structures was replacing of centric planning with longitudinal one. In this sense, an accessory lengthwise building to St. Peter’s Cathedral, designed by Carlo Maderna at the beginning of the 17th cent. is a typical one. This alterations are also true for public buildings, like Uffizi gallery – the creation of Giorgio Vasari.
Gradually in Italian architecture of the late 16th cent. the decorative, ornamental features prevailed over tectonic. They totally corresponded to the mannerist enthusiasm with illusionism, exaggeration, affectation, neglect of tangibility and extreme detailing.
Trimming becomes far more distinguishing peculiarity of Mannerism, then the construction. Cornices with relief figures and balustrades, garlands with fruits and leaves, sculpted portraits of patrons and angels veil the division on the floors. This kind of approach is opposed to the austere “gravita” of Renaissance. A new type of architectural order was introduced – banded columns. It was later adapted in France as the “French order”.
Columns and chimneys were helically shaped. The wall is perceived more like a background for a decoration, molded, carved in relief or done in sgraffito technique (making image by scratching through several plaster layers of different colors). Mentioned methods are estrange both for lofty Renaissance and dynamic Baroque styles. Sometimes mannerists ran to the extremes, making or too overloaded with details or too plain facades. The first case can be illustrated with the Casina of pope Pius IV, commissioned to Pierro Ligorio.
Mannerism is also became apparent in random mixing of architectural orders, Romanesque and gothic borrowings. In the best samples, this alligation doesn’t fall into mess, but recreate the effect of naturalism. The surface of the wall the play of the lights and shadows. Baroque will later pick up this idea. As well as the idea of blending the architecture with the landscape. This led to a formation of “rural” style of countryside villas with caves, grottos and walls, overgrown with moss.
From High Renaissance Mannerism inherits accentuation on the aesthetical problems of form-modeling. Prevailing of means of expression in painting generated overrefined style that praised keen and fertile imagination and virtuosity over semantic content. It’s hard to imagine anything close to the phantasmagoric portraits, rendered by Giuseppe Archimboldo, in preceding periods.
From historical perspective, their cold formalism can be seen as the landmark, that marked expanding of the artistic mentality: now masters accept their inner vision (how unrealistic it might be) higher than two main reference points of the previous epoch – nature and antiquity. At the same time, Mannerism isn’t a rebel again classical traditions – retreat from the latter is rather connected with the pursuit for liberation of artistic subjectivity.
In visual language of painting, it is reflected in such recurring traits as the desire to capture the movement and distortions of the figures. The first concept is described by Giorgio Vasari as “figura serpantinata” (serpentine figure). S-curve was known in antiquity and Renaissance, but its mannerist application adds ultimate fluidity to the depicted torsos. Works by Correggio provide the finest example of this mannerist predilection. Sometimes it develops even further, as human body is often given abnormal proportions, elongated faces and necks, etc. Painters like Parmigianino, resort to distortion of proportions in order to reach almost grotesque expressionism.
This style has specific relations with religion. Despite the fact, sacred theme maintains leading positions, painting in general isn’t in tune to sever morality of Protestantism, as well as Catholicism that uphold firmness of its dogmas. The shift in the mass consciousness towards irrationalism by the middle of the 16th cent. conditions the raise of the Mannerism popularity. Just at that time, the style arrives to Venice. Though it happens a couple of decades later then in Florence and Rome, here Mannerism organically interlaces with local school, famous for its vivid and highly-energetic color palette. Its eminent representative is Jacopo Tintoretto. His canvases and frescoes astonish with their dynamic and heroic mood. Tintoretto was a student of Titian, as well as another outstanding master, who spent part of his life in Venice – El Greco. One of instruments he uses to make overwhelmingly dramatic and vibrant compositions was a local Venetian invention – alla prima technique, when wet paint is applied over previous layers of wet paint. That forces an artist to work with a full brush, shaping forms with bold brushstrokes and generalizing details.
Two important categories in painting mannerists like transforming is light and space. As in architecture with its inclination for depth, on canvases scenes with the infinite perspective were common. At the same time, space is sometimes compressed and figures are cramming the foreground. Cut-off compositions are not infrequent likewise.
Generally, sculptors of the late 16th cent. are not so obsessed with manifestation of “manniera”, as painters or architects. Here new style brings not so obvious changes. Not least, such comparative conservatism is connected with slow acceptance of Mannerism among wealthy circles: sculptors are more dependent on their patrons, who finance materials, needed for carving or casting the piece.
But if talking about cases, when new features nevertheless manifest themselves in this kind of art, they occur to be similar to those in painting. The same exaggeration of forms and dynamism. The brightest personality of his epoch, Benvenuto Cellini intends showing the figure from various angles, positioning it in the way that a viewer has to move around it. Sculptors work in different sizes: from small statuettes of precious metals to large exterior statues, fountains. Not rarely, as in architecture, they liked compounding scales. The typical sample of mannerist visual thinking is the Florentine fountain of Neptune (or Biancone – “White giant”) by Bartolomeo Ammannati. While working over this monument, Ammannati is assisted by Giambologna, who will later become one of the prominent artists of his time.
The Italian master are often invited abroad and help shaping Mannerism in other countries. In France, they inspire such artists, as Jean Goujon, famous for his exquisite classical, smoothly carved reliefs.
The attitude towards Mannerism is disputable. Some specialists even doubt if it can be considered a self-sufficient style. Anyway, it’s a child of its own time, passed under the sign of re-examination of basic concepts of reality. Mannerism was an important stage, that prepared a ground for Baroque Art.
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