Issues of Mannerism
The movement in painting that is now referred to as Mannerism began in Italy around 1520, influenced artists throughout Europe, and lasted until the end of the 16th century. The word Mannerism originates from the Italian word maniera which translates into the English word style. The basis of Mannerism then is style; it’s a period of art where the focus was on grace and beauty. While preceding trends of Renaissance art looked to nature to find their style, working to perfect it, Mannerists manipulated nature creating a gross perfection of human form, idealizing forms to the point of abstraction.
Definitions of Mannerist art as well as the reasons for its appearance as a movement are still contested today. For a definition of mannerism to have validity, it must offer a valid origination of the movement. Much is revealed when the reasons behind a certain artistic expression are clear. Until the 19th century, Mannerist art was considered by most to be perverse and capricious. It was considered simply an excessive use of a specific manner of which contained qualities that were strange and unjustified. It was thought that extravagance, a need for increased productivity, and a lack of artistic knowledge led to the Mannerist style.
In the early part of the 20th century, these generalizations were considered unfair, and many new theories about the origins of Mannerism surfaced. Some theories suggest that artists were displaying a conscious deviance, painting against the rules of classical art, and rebelling against the High Renaissance and the ideal of naturalness. The spiritual unrest of the age is often considered the root of this deviant artistic behavior.
John Shearman points out in Mannerism that the wars of the early 16th century created a period of economic and social disturbance creating the growth of Mannerist style. He says "most works of art are insulated in the mind of the artist even from his personal crises, joys and tragedies" (40). More reasonable, he says, are explanations of Mannerism in terms of sociological and religious influences. There was a new development in patronage during this period where works were commissioned for no other reason than to have a work made by a certain artist. Many times the subject, and/or the medium were to be decided upon by the artist.
Rosso Fiorentino’s Descent From the Cross has a profoundly disquieting, visionary style that indicates a deep inner anxiety. There is a cold, icy feel to the painting. Spidery forms spread across a dark sky, and the figures are agitated yet rigid. Even the drapery appears hard, the folds look brittle and ready to crack. The light that bathes the figures and the colors of clothing are brilliant but unreal which reinforces the bad dream feel. Beginning with Mannerism, art begins to become more about the artist than the subject or the person who commissioned it. The pain and distress of Fiorentino is apparent in...