Renaissance is all about geometry, harmony, perspective, balance, symmetry, perfecting anatomical structures, and a movement from copying sculptures to copying real bodies. In a way Mannerism can be said to be a reaction to Renaissance, as most of the styles coming after Renaissance are said to be.
Last Judgement, Sistine Chapel
In this image we can see figures which are twisting and turning. We can see Michelangelo’s perfection of the human body. Vasari uses the word ‘maniera’ to discuss Michelangelo’s work. It can be seen as a transition between the characteristics of the Renaissance discussed above, and the characteristics of Mannerism to be discussed below. Mannerism can also be identified from a number of stylistic and subject matters which were different from those of the Renaissance and could be said to be typically Manneristic.
This is the first painting of the National Gallery. Here we see Jesus resureccting Lazarus. The figures of Jesus and Lazarus are based on drawings by Michelangelo which he had given to del Piombo. Thus again we see the heavy muscular bodies similar to those we see in the Last Judgement.
So where do we see Mannerism coming out? We find ourselves talking of mannerist aspects to a painting, indicating a transition, as was noted the Michelangelo’s Last Judgement.
Here the bodies are not twisted or muscular, as typical of mannerists. However, the things on the top shelf are showing you complex readings of time and place (incidentally not showing the same thing when analysed, though objects in other paintings by Holbein did agree, indicating that there may have been a reason for this). On the middle shelf there is a collection of objects also linked to travel, though not immediately evident to be so, such as a Lutheran hymnal (why would it be in a French bishop’s house, which is where this painting is situated, if not because it is linked to travel?). Thus we observe a complexity to the painting to understand what is going on; it indicates that the observer should be a more learned/cultured person to understand the deeper meaning of what is being shown.
Also, on the bottom, there is a skull, which to be seen properly needs to be viewed from the side.
This shows a touch of mannerist complexity. The anamorphic technique (stretching) is very difficult. No one England could have done that. Through Holbein’s humanist experience coming from his travels from Germany through Switzerland, he is trying to make his mark in England; he wanted to become a Royal artist, which he becomes to Henry VII (in fact shape of the ambassadors, as a portly block body, is very similar to that familiar for Henry VIII). This shows another mannerist characteristics: difficulta’, and and also spazzatura (showing off).
The references to Maths etc. in The Ambassadors may also have been as the French Ambassador was in England at the time of Henry VIII’s split from, the Catholic church. Ambassador is thus unsure if to go with the English or with the Pope. Putting this in context (this painting was painted in 1533), there is a revolt of peasants in the early 1520s. Also, there is the German sack of Rome in 1527. These events shocked the Catholic church, such that mannerism may have arose as a result of this revolt: things are out of balance, hence the twisting.
Mannerism ‘proper’ starts when bodies start taking positions beyond normal. St. Jerome in this painting is part naked hermit/part cardinal, dreaming of his vision where John the Baptist is asking the viewer to contemplate the Virgin and Child. St John is very much twisted, with an elongated finger pointing towards the Virgin and Child.
Jesus looks playful, even coy. He is kicking forward. This may be either an iconographic representation of Jesus stepping away from his mother, however is also seems like a dance.
Another characteristic of mannerism is very clingy drapery. In this case Mary’s dress is very much shaping Mary’s body. This makes it nearly more erotic than if she was naked! Another manneristic tradition is the small jead, sloping shoulders and pear-shaped body of Mary.
Best way to see this painting is by seeing it from below. John is also leaning forward, telling us not to forget the Virgin and Child, which is something moved away from by Protestants (This painting was painted in 1526; The Protestant split started around 1517).
Madonna with the Long Neck, Parmigianino
In this painting, located at the Uffizzi in Florence, the typical female figure identified in the previous painting is also found.
Also, in manneristic paintings, you often see that space does not always make sense. In this painting, for example. you have the right hand side where the space is almost falling away.
Mystic Marriage of St Catherine’s, Parmigianino
Often, manneritsic paintings are not new subjects, but reworkings of old traditions. In this case, the Virgin is giving you her back, with St. Joseph being seen in the bottom left-hand corner. This is not the traditional way of representing these figures.
We are starting to see that while the Renaissance seems to have provided artists with the idea, the Mannerists are taking it further, such as the twisting and elongation, known as figura serpentinata.
The Manneristics style may be defined by historic events taking place at the time, mainly the finding of America, the discovery of heliocentric planetary systems, as well as the development of Protestantism.
Pontormo collaborated with others on the decoration of a bed chamber. Here we can see aspects of manneristic style, and also continuous narrative: we can see Joseph presenting Jacob to the pharoah, then hearing petitions, then walking up the stairs etc. Renaissance minds could easily deal with this; it saved space if anything!The painting also shows flights of fantasy, such as the sculptures in the back which would collapse under their own weight.
This panting, having been drawn for the bed chamber of a banker, depicts aspects of wealth, fmaily values etc. which were important to the banker. There are also vibrant colours. Also, there is the copying of a gabled building from van Leiden (from the North), so maybe he is trying to show his wealth of knowledge.
Vasari commented about this picture, saying that it is small but also graceful. Also, there is a boy on the stairs not dressed in bright clothes, which Vasari says is Pontormo’s adopted son, Bronzino.
Go to Part 2