The Style of Mannerist Artworks (c.1520- 1590 CE)

During the mid 16th century, a new style of art emerged which was greatly influenced by the works of late Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and Rapael. This style began during the 1520s and lasted till the end of the 16th century in Italy. 

Though Mannerism is a name given to the style followers of late Renaissance art, there are certain differences between the working styles during these two periods. While Renaissance art was more involved with naturalistic depiction, Mannerist paintings tend to be more artificial with more stylized features and exaggerated details. The compositions were more complex, having figures with small heads, elongated bodies and unusual perspectives unlike the harmonious compositions and linear perspective used by their Renaissance predecessors. These sensuous distortions of human figures having extended limbs, graceful curves were rendered with elegance that created a fluidity in the entire painting. 

One of the best examples of this style is the oil painting named “Madonna with the long neck” by the great Italian painter, Parmigianino. As the name suggests the painter deliberately wanted to make her neck long and slender to make her look as graceful as a swan. The head of Madonna appears to be small as compared to her neck and she is seated on a high pedestal surrounded with angels. An intentional play of proportion has also been observed as Madonna sits with a large baby Jesus on her lap. The arrangement of the figures also conveys the unorthodox approach of the artist which proves that there is no one way to achieve perfect harmony. 

Breaking away from Renaissance classicism, artists like Jacopo Da Pontormo evolved an expressive, agitated style in their religious compositions. His painting- “Madonna and child with saints” also called as Pucci Altarpiece is an example where we observe the grotesque pictorial arrangements, application of vivid garish colors, pushing exaggeration and contrast to great limits. The technical bravura in this painting is marked by experimentation in form and juxtaposition of intense and unnatural colors. 

Mannerism in sculpture was the dominant artistic trend of the 16th century after the discovery of the Hellenistic period sculpture of “Laocoon and his sons” in Rome (1506). Giambologna, an Italian sculptor, who worked in the Mannerism and late Renaissance art style was following the grand footsteps laid down by Michelangelo a century earlier. In his famous work named “Hercules and the centaur Nessus”, he has remarkably depicted the dynamism of the epic ending of the fight. The works of Michelangelo influenced the Mannerist sculptors to generate a refined style and bring    dramatic realism.

The bronze sculpture “Perseus with the head of Medusa” is the most celebrated sculpture of Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571 CE). The pedestal of the Perseus, ornate with reliefs and figures is a Mannerist reinterpretation of an antique altar where bronze narratives are integrated in the marble base. Benvenuto was also a remarkable goldsmith and the salt cellar is the only remaining example of Mannerist goldsmithery famous for the exquisite amount of details and slender proportions of the intertwining figures.

The character of mannerism continues to be debated and often judged, in relation to the High Renaissance that preceded it. However the illogical compression of space, artificial exaggeration of proportions and features manifested into a style of modern temperament, has been appreciated by artists and critics till date.

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