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  • gerard van weyenbergh

Mannerism, a basic description

Reaction to the hegemony of classic perfection, Mannerism is an aesthetic current of the end of the Renaissance, which considers a new representation of the canon inherited from Antiquity. Its main representatives, for the Italian context, are Pontormo, Parmigianino, Bronzino, Arcimboldo. These artists drew their first source of inspiration from the art of Raphael and Michelangelo. Favoring artificiality, rejecting the laws of the Albertan perspective, they magnify the arabesque, movement, gestures at the expense of classical thought. Mannerism somehow announces the Baroque style.

Its history, its key ideas

Appeared in the 1520s, mannerism - which signifies manner or style - departs from classical and mathematical representation to erect artificiality as the founding principle of a new aesthetic. A deeply subjective art, it seeks expression more than harmony. This change of state of mind is linked both to the disappearance of the greatest painter of the previous generation, Raphael, but also to the evolution of time. The religious order cracked, and the era announced a schism between Catholics and Protestants. The papal authority lost its influence and left the door open to a greater diversity of expression of religious images, the dominant iconography of the Renaissance. Mannerism ended in Italy in the 1580s.

Mannerism is characterized by a certain exaggeration of forms and proportions, which gives the characters an unreal aspect. The artists favor the serpentine line (in S), but also a real theatricalization of the staging, by means of a highly contrasted lighting and the eloquence of the gestures. Their works border on strangeness.

Florence was the capital of Italian mannerism. Of all the artists to adopt this way, Bronzino, pupil of Pontormo, is the best known and one of the most original. He was a painter official of the court of Cosimo I st Medici. Bronzino's art is characterized by its palette favoring light colors and sometimes acid tones. Painter of religious and allegorical subjects, he also distinguished himself in the art of aristocratic portraiture.

The painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo also embodies the Mannerist spirit, with his fantastic allegories inspired by nature. The author of the Four Seasons is at the origin of real visual rebuses. Nature, under its brush, is no longer still life but alive!

Mannerism was sometimes perceived as an art of decadence, of distorted imitation of the great artists of the Renaissance. It is true that the art of Raphael, Michelangelo (notably the decorations of the Sistine chapel, 1512), and Leonardo da Vinci, considered as the expression of an aesthetic outcome, exerted a great influence on these painters. However, the mannerists were not mere followers. They led a real quest for originality, nourished by their great literary culture, aimed at an elitist public.

The taste for mannerism has spread throughout the rest of Europe, in particular in Flanders (notably in Antwerp). Also found traces of that influence in France, through the so-called School of Fontainebleau, thanks to the presence at the court of Francis I, Rosso Fiorentino and Primaticcio.


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