AskDefine | Define mannerist

Extensive Definition

Mannerism is a period of European painting, sculpture, architecture and decorative arts lasting from the later years of the Italian High Renaissance around 1520 until the arrival of the Baroque around 1600. Stylistically, it identifies a variety of individual approaches influenced by, and reacting to, the harmonious ideals associated with Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and early Michelangelo. In contrast, Mannerism is notable for its intellectual sophistication as well as its artificial (as opposed to naturalistic) qualities. The definition of Mannerism, and the phases within it, continue to be the subject of debate among art historians.
The term is also applied to some Late Gothic painters working in northern Europe from about 1500 to 1530, especially the Antwerp Mannerists and some currents of seventeenth-century literature, especially poetry.


The word derives from the Italian maniera, or "style," which corresponds to an artist's characteristic "touch" or recognizable "manner". Artificiality, as opposed to Renaissance and Baroque naturalism, provides one of the common features of mannerist art. The lasting influence of the Italian Renaissance, as transformed by succeeding generations of artists, is another. The root of the term arose when Giorgio Vasari used the term ‘maniera greca’ to refer to the Byzantine style art, and he simply referred to maniera of Michelangelo.
As a stylistic label, "Mannerism" is not easily pigeonholed. It was first popularized by German art historians in the early twentieth-century to categorize the seemingly uncategorizable art of the Italian sixteenth century—art that was no longer perceived to exhibit the harmonious and rational approaches associated with the High Renaissance.
The term is applied differently to a variety of different artists and styles. John Shearman, who championed the "stylish style" definition of Mannerism, defines it as characterized by an "exquisite and eye-catching display of artistic virtuosity, often eliding or occluding any further purpose" and places "the relevant artistic production in relation to the specific cultural milieu, that of the ultra-refined, hothouse court culture emerging in various sites in the early sixteenth century, marked by confident attitudes on the part of patrons and artists alike."


The early Mannerists—especially Jacopo da Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino in Florence, Raphael's student in Rome Giulio Romano and Parmigianino in Parma—are notable for elongated forms, exaggerated, out-of-balance poses, manipulated irrational space, and unnatural lighting. These artists matured under the influence of the High Renaissance, and their style has been characterized as a reaction or exaggerated extension of it. Therefore, this style is often identified as "anti-classical" mannerism.


Subsequent mannerists stressed intellectual conceits and artistic ability, features that led early critics to accuse them of working in an unnatural and affected "manner" (maniera). These artists held their elder contemporary Michelangelo as their prime example. Giorgio Vasari, as artist and architect, exemplifies this strain of Mannerism lasting from about 1530 to 1580. Based largely at courts and in intellectual circles around Europe, it is often called the "stylish" style or the Maniera.


After 1580 in Italy, a new generation of artists, including the Carracci, Caravaggio and Cigoli, reemphasized naturalism. Walter Friedlaender identified this period as "anti-mannerism", just as the early mannerists were "anti-classical" in their reaction to the High Renaissance. Outside of Italy, however, mannerism continued into the seventeenth century. In France it is known as the Henry II style and it had a particular impact on architecture. Important centers include the court of Rudolf II in Prague, as well as Haarlem and Antwerp.
Mannerism as a stylistic category is less frequently applied to English visual and decorative arts, where local categories such as "Elizabethan" and "Jacobean" are more common. Eighteenth-century Artisan Mannerism is one exception.
Historically regarded, Mannerism is a useful designation for sixteenth-century art that emphasizes artificiality over naturalism whilst reflecting the growing self-consciousness of the artist.


Mannerism arose in the early 1500s alongside a number of other social, scientific, religious and political movements such as the Copernican model, the Sack of Rome, and the Protestant Reformation's increasing challenge to the power of the Catholic church. Because of this, the style's elongated forms and distorted forms have been often been interpreted as a reaction to the idealized compositions prevalent in High Renaissance art. speculations of philosophy when he should engage their hearts and entertain them with the softnesses of love" (italics added).
The word Mannerism has also been used to describe the style of highly florid and contrapuntally complex polyphonic music made in France in the late 14th century. This period is now usually referred to as the ars subtilior.



  • Friedländer, Walter. Mannerism and Anti-Mannerism in Italian Painting, (originally in German, first edition in English, 1957, Columbia) 1965, Schocken, New York, LOC 578295
  • John Shearman, 1967. Mannerism A classic summation.

Further reading

  • Freedburg, Sidney J.. Painting in Italy, 1500-1600, 3rd edn. 1993, Yale, ISBN 0300055870
  • Smyth, Craig Hugh. Mannerism and Maniera, 1992, IRSA, Vienna, ISBN 3900731330
  • Franzsepp Würtenberger, 1963. Mannerism: The European Style of the Sixteenth Century (Originally published in German, 1962).
  • Giuliano Briganti, 1962. Italian Mannerism (Originally published in Italian, 1961).
  • Wylie Sypher, Four Stages of Renaissance Style: Transformations in Art and Literature, 1400-1700, 1955. A classic analysis of Renaissance, Mannerism, Baroque, and Late Baroque.
  • Helen Gardner, Metaphysical Poets, Selected and Edited. Introduction.
  • Liana de Girolami Cheney, ed, Readings in Italian Mannerism, with foreword by Craig Hugh Smyth (New York: Peter Lang, 1997,2004)
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