Accessible Art History
The Late Renaissance and Mannerism
Welcome back to the Accessible Art History blog! Today’s post is the final of my series on the Italian Renaissance. If you’ve missed the first two parts of the Early and High Renaissance periods, make sure to check them out, by clicking the links. The Late Renaissance is more commonly known as the Mannerist period and it is a fascinating time period for art. It represents an exaggeration of ideals from the High Renaissance, forming a unique art style. So, to learn more, keep on reading!
Definition and History
The beginning of Mannerism traditionally dates to 1520, the same year as Raphael’s death. The term Mannerism comes from the word maniera, which means style or manner in Italian. It was coined because the works during this period were just different and didn’t really fit in with the Renaissance. Today, it is a bit of a controversial term in the art historian community. Does it represent a movement within a period or should it be classified as its own period altogether? Regardless of its definition, Mannerism is an incredible period of art history. It ended around the start of the 17th century.
The development of Mannerism can be broken down into the “Three C’s”. The first is “Crisis”. Many young artists at this time were discouraged by the success of the three masters of the High Renaissance: Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo. They felt as if everything had already been done! So, they decided to push the envelope. The second C is “Competition”. In order to stand out from the crowd and make their mark on the art world, artists had to think outside the box. Finally, the third C is “Color”. Mannerist artists weren’t afraid to expand their palettes.The most significant expansion was in the use of more vibrant, less naturalistic colors.
Madonna with the Long Neck by Parmigianino
The first Mannerist work I”m going to cover is one of the most recognizable paintings from this period. It is called Madonna with the Long Neck and was painted by Parmigianino between 1535 and 1540. In this work, the Virgin Mary half sits and half stands on a pedestal. She holds onto an infant Jesus and is surrounded by angels. Behind Mary are some classical columns and St. Jerome. This inclusion was a specific request of the patron.
What makes this work so unique is the extreme elongation of both Mary and Jesus. If Mary were to stand up, she would tower over the scene. (Some art historians believe that he was inspired by Michelangelo in this aspect) Jesus looks almost otherworldly with his long legs and arms. It is a bit jarring to look at, but adds to the overall feel of the work. The way their limbs twist is called Figura serpentinata. It means serpent like figure and refers to the twisting itself. Mannerists loved this pose and we see it often in art of this period.
In addition to the elongation, Parmigianino also used richer shades of the colors. This adds depth to the work. This combined with the figures’ bodies and poses create a certain sensuality to the work. This puts the viewer at odds with the subject.
The Deposition from the Cross by Jacopo Pontormo
This next work is a bit of an enigma. It’s called The Deposition from the Cross by Jacopo Pontormo and was painted in 1528. Located on the altar of the Capponi Chapel of the church of Santa Felicita in Florence, we see the same elongated forms as the last work. But, there are some major differences. Firstly is the use of more bright, almost neon colors, the most prominent being blue and pink. Second is the use of extreme emotion. The overwhelming grief almost flies off the wall and onto the viewer. We can feel Mary’s pain as she sees the dead body of her son. It is quite similar to later Baroque works, but was revolutionary for the time.
The next major element is the lack of setting and perspective. There is a single cloud on the right hand side, but other than that, it is pure black. Without props, such as a cross, viewers can’t be sure which event of the Passion this is. (The name of the Deposition was chosen by art historians due to the location of the work). Pontormo chose to do this because he wanted the focus of the work to be on the figures, not on the extra things or symbols.
Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time by Bronzino
The last work of this post is called Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time. It was painted by Agnolo di Cosimo, better known to history as Bronzino around 1545. As with the other Renaissance periods, there was still an interest in showing Greek and Roman mythological scenes. There is some debate about the topic of this painting because only a few figures can be identified. Venus and her son Cupid are in the center, slightly too erotic for a mother son pairing. Folly is about to throw rose petals, while father time watches from behind. There is an old woman on the left hand side of the painting, screaming and grabbing her hair. She might be a representation of jealousy.
As with the first two paintings, there are strong Mannerist elements. The figures all have overly exaggerated, long sinewy limbs. The colors are rich and vibrant and made even more dramatic from the lack of setting or perspective. It is a unique and strange work! In fact, it even earned a passage in Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects. He wrote: “"And he painted a picture of singular beauty that was sent to King Francis in France, wherein was a nude Venus, with a Cupid who was kissing her, and Pleasure on one side with Play and other Loves, and on the other side Fraud and Jealousy and other passions of love."
The Mannerist/Late Renaissance is a fascinating period full of exploration and breaking boundaries. However, there was a great respect for the past that was incorporated into their works.
Gardner's Art through the Ages by Fred S. Kleiner