In both architecture and painting Renaissance space is clearly defined on all sides. In Mannerist compositions space is unevenly filled. The picture plane is no longer constrained by the rules of perspective, and its logical boundaries are blurred or ignored. Sometimes there is only a neutral background, providing no comprehensive environment. We may refer to “Madonna with the Long Neck” by Parmigianino and we will see that the space there is almost falling away. In other compositions background seems to stretch into infinity, interspersed with auxiliary scenes apparently not related to the main theme. A similar feature occurred in architecture: the idea of centralized plan, that contained space rationally and systematically, was abandoned in favor of tan elongated axes that prolonged space indefinitely, culminating in the concept of the long gallery building( such as the Uffizi in Florence, designed by Giorgio Vasari)
In many instances the space in two-dimensional compositions is compressed, forcing figures and other elements to inhabit a shallow area uncomfortably close to the foreground limits. Other common Mannerist tactics are asymmetrical composition, off-center diagonals, and figures that are cut off. The consistent result is a composition that is deliberately confusing, fabricating tension in the viewer’s perception.
Mannerist artists also manipulated light for dramatic impact. No longer were the elements of a pictorial composition illuminated from a single light source. Now light was imposed arbitrarily, sometimes emanating from a source within the composition, such as a halo; sometimes coming from diverse directions, lighting elements at odd angels and casting impossible shadows . Light signified divinity and could be used to transform a common place setting into a heavenly realm.
It is necessary to refer to some of the greatest pieces of art of the period of Mannerism to enlighten all of the distinctive features of this intricate style.
Michelangelo lived long enough to try himself on the field of Mannerism. He was always flexible; moreover he had a tendency to dramatic and emotive in his art, as well as a sort of carelessness toward the human element in his human figures. His incomparable paintings of the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel were painted between 1508 and 1512 while Michelangelo was in his late 30s and are done in the High Renaissance style. But “The Last Judgment”, executed between 1537-1541 shows the elements of Mannerism. The huge number of nude bodies is the first and probably the most striking thing which makes us think of Mannerist style; this work couldn’t escape the mutilation of having many of the nude figures clothed after his death anyhow. The mighty composition is centered around the figure of Christ, captured in the moment preceding that when the verdict of the Last Judgment uttered . All the figures are arranged in a circular motion that begins in the left of the fresco, where the dead are shown rising from their graves, and runs round the upper part of the wall, finishing in the bottom right, where the damned in Hell are tormented by hideous demons. Christ starts a wide slow rotary movement in which all the figures are involved. Instead of the lithe beauty of Adam we see bodies heavy, lumpish and ugly. Most poses are foreshortened and so – difficult and unnatural. There is neither logical space, nor true perspective, nor typical proportions. In the Last Judgment Christ appears as a stern judge come to judge Blessed and Damned alike. Bellow Christ we see the Apostle St. Bartholomew who was flayed alive; as a suitable attribute he holds a human skin upon which appears the distorted self-portrait of Michelangelo himself. Next to Christ is the Virgin, who terns her head in a gesture of resignation: she can no longer intervene in the decision, but only await the result of the Judgment. We may also point out “loud” colors characteristic of Mannerist style in which the work is done: orange, green, yellow, and blue are scattered throughout, animating and unifying the complex scene.
All the elements above mentioned make us conclude that “The Last Judgment” is totally work of the Early stage of Mannerist style of painting. Michelangelo’s art had a huge impact on the art of his followers.
The elements of Mannerism we may also trace in El Greco’s “Baptism” – the figures’ elongated and tortured anatomy, the irrational perspective and light of his breathless and crowded composition, and obscure and troubling iconography. El Greco attempted to express the religious tension with exaggerated Mannerism.
Jacopo da Pontormo’s “Joseph in Egypt” stood in what would have been considered contradicting colors and disunified time and space in Renaissance. Neither the clothing, nor the building accurately represented the Bible story of Joseph. Although it was wrong it clearly represented the views of the society.
Rosso Fiorentino paintings had too much action; the movements on them seemed out of control. Besides he introduced a new form of portraiture, which concealed the character of his subjects.
Mannerist portraits by Agnolo Bronzino are distinguished by chilly elegance, perfunctory realism, and meticulous attention to detail. His somewhat icy portraits put an uncommunicative abyss between sitter and viewer, concentrating on rendering of the precise pattern and sheen of rich textiles.
The works of the First school of Fontainebleau (from 1531) in France are characterized by the frequent use of stucco and frescoes, and sophisticated use of mythological iconography. We may observe the influence of the Italian Mannerism of Michelangelo, Raphael and especially Parmigianino.
The art of Mannerism caused argues and misunderstandings between critics of different age periods. Some considered this style superficial and shallow, others, on the contrary, were searching for deeper and more intricate sense than even that of Renaissance. The diversity of preconditions to it’s erasing were the main reason of ambiguous and sophisticated results of this style of painting. The only thing is known for sure – the magnificent artists and sculptures of that period as well as their great works make us forget all the contradictions and just enjoy beautiful masterpieces, imagining the possibility of finding some new, unfound yet sense in them.
1. DeWald, Ernest T, Italian Painting 1200-1600. New York: Hacker art Books, Inc., 1961.
2. Edmund Eglinski, The Art of the Italian Renaissance. Dubuque Iowa: WM. C. Brown Company Publishers, 1968.
3. Fleming, William, Arts and Ideas, Seventh Edition. New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1986, Part 1, Chapter 13.
4. Shearman, John, Mannerism, Penguin Books, 1967.
5. Smyth, Craig Hugh, Mannerism and Maniera. Vienna: IRSA, 1992.