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Francesco Salviati, Charity, oil on wood, 1554-1558. Uffizi, Florence.

Mannerism identifies several major trends in European painting, sculpture, and architecture that developed in Italy around 1520.[1] The period lasted until about 1580 in Italian art, but continued into the seventeenth century throughout Europe. Historians in other fields, following the art historical terminology, also apply the label to some early modern forms of literature and music of the sixteenth and seventeen centuries. Mannerism originated in the 1510s and 1520s in Florence and Rome. Stylistically, it is a variety of individual approaches that developed out of and reacted to or exaggerated the harmonious ideals and restrained naturalism associated with High Renaissance art and architecture. After about 1530, Mannerism represents a stylish and refined artistic language—embodying elements of sprezzatura (effortless grace or nonchalance) popularized by Baldassare Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier (1528)—and becomes increasingly a Europe-wide style.[2] General characteristics are artificiality, as opposed to Baroque naturalism, and a demonstration of intellectual, technical, and artistic virtuosity.


The word derives from the Italian "maniera," meaning "style" or "manner". In the second edition of his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (1568), Giorgio Vasari uses "maniera" to discuss an artist's manner of working, to describe a personal or group style, and to affirm a positive judgment of artistic quality.[3] Vasari was also a Mannerist artist, and he described the period in which worked as "la maniera moderna", or the "modern style".[4] For seventeenth-century writers such as Gian Pietro Bellori, "la maniera" (the style) was a derogatory term for the decline of art after Raphael, especially in the 1530s and 1540s.[5] From the late nineteenth-century on, art historians commonly use the term to describe art that follows Renaissance classicism and precedes the Baroque. Historians differ in opinion, however, as to whether Mannerism is a style, a movement, or a period, and while the term remains controversial it is commonly used to identify European art and culture of the sixteenth century.[6]

Early Mannerism[edit]

Mannerism developed between 1510 and 1520 in either Florence,[7] Rome, or both cities.[8] The earliest experimental phase of Mannerism, known for its "anti-classical" forms, lasted until about 1540 or 1550.[8] The works of Jacopo Pontormo, Rosso Fiorentino, and Parmigianino exemplify this style. Their art directly responds to the ideal and harmonious qualities of the High Renaissance and is singled out for qualities such as elongation, asymmetry, flatness, and irrational or illogical elements.[7]

Jacopo_Pontormo, Entombment, Capponi Chapel, Santa Felicità, Florence, 1528.
  • Pontormo's Entombment (illustrated, left) demonstrates many of the elements identifiable with "anti-classical" Mannerism.
  • The other major Florentine Mannerist along with Pontormo was Rosso Fiorentino. His Moses Defending the Daughters of Jethro highlights the types of complex, contorted poses that were popular with Mannerist artists.

This period has been described as both a natural extension of the art of Andrea del Sarto, Michelangelo, and Raphael, as well as a decline of those same artists' classicizing achievements.

High Maniera[edit]

The second period of Mannerism is commonly differentiated from the earlier, anti-classical phase.[9]

Spread of Mannerism[edit]

Many early Mannerist artists were in Rome in the 1520s, and after the Sack of Rome in 1527, the style was distributed through Italy and Europe.[10] The result was the first international artistic style since the Gothic.[11]


In Venice, Mannerism is found in the works of Tintoretto and Veronese, with some of Titian's later works showing some influence.[12] Tintoretto's Last Supper in San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, for example, contains exaggerated poses and figures demonstrate the manneristic figura serpentinata.[12]

El Greco[edit]

El Greco's works were influentially described as a mannerist by Max Dvořák for their expressive content and spirituality.[13] Born in Crete, El Greco traveled through Italy, especially the Venetian Republic, to Spain. Give specific examples.

Master of the School of Fontainebleau, Diana as a Hunter, canvas, 1550-1560. Louvre, Paris.

School of Fontainebleau[edit]

Rudolf II's Prague[edit]

Netherlandish Mannerism[edit]


In Spain, a leading Mannerist sculptor was Alonso Berruguete (c. 1488 - 1561).[14] He had been in Rome and Florence in the early sixteenth century, where he came under the influence of Michelangelo's new sculptural forms and developed a distorted and irrational artistic language of his own.[15] Giambologna's statue of Mercury displays the Mannerist tendency of an artist striving to solve a difficult artistic problem.[16] In this case it is the creation of a statue that, through dynamic body positions and artistic skill, makes flight appear possible despite the material of sculpture.[16]


Literature and Music[edit]

English "metaphysical" poets[edit]

Main article: Metaphysical poets

In English literature, Mannerism is sometimes identified with the qualities of the "Metaphysical" poets, of whom the most famous is John Donne. The witty sally of a Baroque writer, John Dryden, against the verse of Donne in the previous generation, affords a concise contrast between Baroque and Mannerist aims in the arts:

"He affects the metaphysics, not only in his satires, but in his amorous verses, where nature only should reign; and perplexes the minds of the fair sex with nice[17] speculations of philosophy when he should engage their hearts and entertain them with the softnesses of love" (italics added).


Sixteenth-Century Voices[edit]

Giorgio Vasari[edit]

Giorgio Vasari's opinions about the "art" of creating art come through in his praise of fellow artists in the book that lay behind this frontispiece: he believed that excellence in painting demanded refinement, richness of invention (invenzione), expressed through virtuoso technique (maniera), and wit and study that appeared in the finished work, all criteria that emphasized the artist's intellect and the patron's sensibility. The artist was now no longer just a craftsman member of a local Guild of St Luke. Now he took his place at court with scholars, poets, and humanists, in a climate that fostered an appreciation for elegance and complexity. The coat-of-arms of Vasari's Medici patrons appear at the top of his portrait, quite as if they were the artist's own.

Gian Paolo Lomazzo[edit]

Another literary source from the period is Gian Paolo Lomazzo, who produced two works—one practical and one metaphysical—that helped define the Mannerist artist's self-conscious relation to his art. His Trattato dell'arte della pittura, scoltura et architettura (Milan, 1584) is in part a guide to contemporary concepts of decorum, which the Renaissance inherited in part from Antiquity but Mannerism elaborated upon. Lomazzo's systematic codification of esthetics, which typifies the more formalized and academic approaches typical of the later 16th century, controlled a consonance between the functions of interiors and the kinds of painted and sculpted decors that would be suitable. Iconography, often convoluted and abstruse, is a more prominent element in the Mannerist styles. His less practical and more metaphysical Idea del tempio della pittura ("The ideal temple of painting", Milan, 1590) offers a description along the lines of the "four temperaments" theory of the human nature and personality, containing the explanations of the role of individuality in judgment and artistic invention.


As a stylistic label, "Mannerism" is not easily pigeonholed. It was first popularized by art historians in the early twentieth-century to categorize the seemingly uncategorizable art of the Italian sixteenth century—art that was no longer perceived to exhibit the harmonious and rational approaches associated with the High Renaissance. Heinrich Wölfflin was probably the first art historian to refer to "Mannerism" as a distinct historical style.[18] He describes the "phenomenon" of Mannerism in his 1899 book Classic Art (Die klassische Kunst) in the chapter, "The Decline", marking the end of the Renaissance "classic" ideals in the works of Bronzino, Giorgio Vasari, Bartolomeo Ammanati, and Pellegrino Tibaldi.[19] Since then, despite many individual interpretations about what exactly the term means and its characteristics, Mannerism has remained a popular way to discuss art of the sixteenth century. Two early studies that helped formulate later concepts of Mannerism were Walter Friedlaender's Mannerism and Anti-Mannerism in Italian Art and a 1920 lecture by Max Dvořák on El Greco.[20]


  1. ^ See Freedberg (1971): 483.
  2. ^ Shearman (1961), esp. p. 38.
  3. ^ Cheney (1997): 17.
  4. ^ Briganti (1961): 6.
  5. ^ Smyth (1962): 1-2.
  6. ^ Cheney, "Preface", xxv-xxxii.
  7. ^ a b Friedlaender
  8. ^ a b Freedberg (1993), 175-177.
  9. ^ Posner, "Forward," xvii.
  10. ^ Briganti (1961): 32-33
  11. ^ Briganti (1961): 13.
  12. ^ a b Adams (2001): 374.
  13. ^ Zerner, 227–228.
  14. ^ Smart(1972): 206-207.
  15. ^ Briganti (1961): 20-21.
  16. ^ a b Wurtenberger (1963):44-46.
  17. ^ 'Nice' in the sense of 'finely reasoned.'
  18. ^ Campbell, 252.
  19. ^ Heinrich Wölfflin, Classic Art, Peter and Linda Murray (trans.), London: Phaedon (1994): pp. 202-204.
  20. ^ Cheney, "Preface", xxvii.


  • Cheney, Liana De Girolami (ed.) (1997). Readings in Italian Mannerism. New York: Peter Lang. ISBN 0-8204-2483-8. 

Further Reading[edit]

  • Sypher, Wylie (1955). Four Stages of Renaissance Style: Transformations in Art and Literature 1400—1700. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. 

External Links[edit]