1534 – 40 ), mannerism makes W r i t i n g

1534 – 40 ), mannerism makes W r i t i n g


Jacopo da Pontormo (1494–1557) represents the shift from the Renaissance to the Mannerist style. Take for example his Deposition from the Cross, an altarpiece that was painted for a chapel in the Church of Santa Felicita, Florence. The figures of Mary and Jesus appear to be a direct reference to Michelangelo’s Pieta. Although the work is called a “Deposition,” there is no cross. Scholars also refer to this work as the “Entombment” but there is no tomb. This lack of clarity on subject matter is a hallmark of Mannerist painting. In addition, the setting is irrational, almost as if it is not in this world, and the colors are far from naturalistic. This work could not have been produced by a Renaissance artist. The Mannerist movement stresses different goals and this work of art by Pontormo demonstrates this new, and different style.

Painting consists of many figures in varying poses. Two figures are carrying the body of Jesus.

Pontormo, Deposition from the Cross, 1525-1528, Church of Santa Felicita, Florence: This work of art by Pontormo demonstrates the hallmarks of the Mannerist style: unclear subject matter, irrational setting, and artificial colors.

Mannerist Painting


Mannerism is a period of European art that emerged from the later years of the Italian High Renaissance. It began around 1520 and lasted until about 1580 in Italy, when a more Baroque style began to be favored. Stylistically, Mannerist painting encompasses a variety of approaches influenced by, and reacting to, the harmonious ideals and restrained naturalism associated with artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and early Michelangelo. Mannerism is notable for its intellectual sophistication as well as its artificial (as opposed to naturalistic) qualities. There is an existing debate between scholars as to whether Mannerism was its own, independent art movement, or if it should be considered as part of the High Renaissance.


Mannerism developed in both Florence and Rome. The early Mannerist painters in Florence—especially Jacopo da Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino, both students of Andrea del Sarto—are notable for using elongated forms, precariously balanced poses, a collapsed perspective, irrational settings, and theatrical lighting. Parmigianino (a student of Correggio) and Giulio Romano (Raphael’s head assistant) were moving in similarly stylized aesthetic directions in Rome. These artists had matured under the influence of the High Renaissance, and their style has been characterized as a reaction or exaggerated extension of it.

The painting depicts the Virgin Mary seated on a high pedestal in luxurious robes.

Madonna with the Long Neck: In Parmigianino’s Madonna with the Long Neck (1534–40), Mannerism makes itself known by elongated proportions, highly stylized poses, and lack of clear perspective.

In other words, instead of studying nature directly, younger artists began studying Hellenistic sculptures and paintings of masters past. Therefore, this style is often identified as “anti-classical,” yet at the time it was considered a natural progression from the High Renaissance. The earliest experimental phase of Mannerism, known for its “anti-classical” forms, lasted until about 1540 or 1550. This period has been described as both a natural extension of the art of Andrea del Sarto, Michelangelo, and Raphael, as well as a decline of those same artists’ classicizing achievements.

In past analyses, it has been noted that Mannerism arose in the early 16th century 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 were once interpreted as a reaction to the idealized compositions prevalent in High Renaissance art.

This painting consists of several figures in varying poses. Two figures are carrying the body of Christ.

Jacopo da Pontormo, Entombment, 1528, Santa Felicita, Florence : This work by Pontormo exemplifies early Mannerist paintings—the setting is irrational, the human forms are elongated and balanced in twisted poses, and the coloring of the work is artificial, as opposed to naturalistic.

This explanation for the radical stylistic shift in 1520 has fallen out of scholarly favor, though the early Mannerists are still set in stark contrast to High Renaissance conventions; the immediacy and balance achieved by Raphael’s School of Athens no longer seemed interesting to young artists. Indeed, Michelangelo himself displayed tendencies towards Mannerism, notably in his vestibule to the Laurentian Library, in the figures on his Medici tombs, and above all the Sistine Chapel .

A depiction of the Libyan Sibyl.

The Libyan Sibyl from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling: Michelangelo himself displayed tendencies towards Mannerism, notably in the Sistine Chapel.

Mannerist Sculpture

Mannerist sculpture, like Mannerist painting, was characterized by elongated forms, spiral angles, twisting poses, and aloof subject gazes.

While sculpture of the High Renaissance is characterized by forms with perfect proportions and restrained beauty, as best characterized by Michelangelo’s David, Mannerist sculpture, like Mannerist painting, was characterized by elongated forms, spiral angels, twisted poses, and aloof subject gazes. Additionally, Mannerist sculptors worked in precious metals much more frequently than sculptors of the High Renaissance.

Figura serpentinata (Italian: serpentine figure) is a style in painting and sculpture that is typical of Mannerism. It is similar, but not identical, to contrapposto, and often features figures in spiral poses. Early examples can be seen in the work of Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo. In defining figura serpentinata, Emil Maurer writes of the painter and theorist Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo: “the recommended ideal form unites, after Lomazzo, three qualities: the pyramid , the ‘serpentinata’ movement and a certain numerical proportion, all three united to form one whole. At the same time, precedence is given to the ‘moto’, that is, to the meandering movement, which should make the pyramid, in exact proportion, into the geometrical form of a cone.”

With the loosening of the norms of the High Renaissance and the development of the “Serpentinata” style, the Mannerist style’s structures and rules began to be systematized. The Mannerist style of sculpture began to create a form in which figures showed physical power, passion, tension, and semantic perfection. Mannerist figural sculpture was marked by contorted, twisting poses, as best evidenced by Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women.

Sculpture consists of three figures: a man lifting a woman into the air while a second man crouches.

Rape of the Sabine Women, Giambologna, 1583, Florence: In this 13? 6? high marble piece, Giambologna demonstrates the use of the figura serpentinata.

As in painting, early Italian Mannerist sculpture was largely an attempt to find an original style that would expand and surpass the achievements of the High Renaissance. For contemporaries in sculpture, the High Renaissance was equated with Michelangelo, and much of the struggle to surpass his success was played out in commissions to fill other places in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, next to Michelangelo’s David.

For example, Baccio Bandinelli took over the project of Hercules and Cacus from Michelangelo, although his work was maliciously compared by Benvenuto Cellini to “a sack of melons.” Like other works of Mannerists, Bandinelli removes far more of the original block of stone than Michelangelo would have done. Outside of natural stone sculptures, Cellini’s bronze Perseus with the head of Medusa is a Mannerist masterpiece, designed with eight angles of view.

Perseus stands naked except for a sash and winged sandals, triumphant on top of the body of Medusa.

Perseus with the Head of Medusa, Benvenuto Cellini, 1545–1554:

Small bronze figures for collector’s cabinets, often mythological subjects with nudes, were characteristic of Mannerist sculpture. They were a popular Renaissance form at which Giambologna excelled in the later part of the century. He and his followers devised elegant, elongated examples of the figura serpentinata, often of two intertwined figures, that were interesting from all angles and joined the Piazza della Signora collection.

Sculpture depicts Hercules on top of the centaur Nessus, holding the centaur’s head down.