Mannerism is a European art style that follows Renaissance and precedes Baroque, originating in Italy around 1520 and spreading over Europe. Mannerism lasted until the end of the 16th Century, when Mannerism gradually turned into the Baroque style.
How did Mannerism originate and what is it all about? The artists from the Renaissance, like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, excelled in painting and sculpting ideal beauty, balanced proportions and ultimate elegance. Their art had reached the top of what could be achieved; Renaissance was considered the peak of perfection. That gave the next generation of artists a feeling that they had not much to add anymore, and therefor they started to search for additional artistry on top of the Renaissance skills and values. This next generation started to add wisdom and intelligence to their art. And that resulted in a “manner” of over-sophisticated elegance. Mannerism is more about artificial and intellectual beauty than the perfect natural beauty from the Renaissance times.
The word “Mannerism” comes from the Italian word “maniera”, meaning “manner”. The Mannerist painters were painting in the “manner” of Renaissance painters like Michelangelo, but topped it up with their own intellectual and sophisticated inventions. One could say that they overdid it a bit. The mannerist artists tried to exceed Renaissance art, but that resulted in an overcomplicated way of depicting nature. And ultimately that was followed by the even more complex manner of depicting beauty during the Baroque.
Look at Bronzino’s “An Allegory with Venus and Cupid” (1545). It’s an almost bizarre composition and an exaggerated anatomy of figures. It reminds us of Michelangelo, but with an over-the-top approach of beauty. And the meaning behind this painting is so over-intellectual, that one hardly understands what it is about. It’s passion and play, time and despair, love and seduction; with every figure having it’s own symbolic meaning and art historians nowadays in doubt of the actual meaning. Or look at the Virgin Mary with Child (1540) by Parmigianino. In his efforts to create more elegance, Parmigianino gave his figures those long stretched bodies. And ironically, the painting is now just known as “The Madonna with the Long Neck”. Both Bronzino and Parmigianino want to express that there is more to achieve than the old-fashioned way of traditional Renaissance painting. They show the viewer their new “manner” of dealing with art and beauty. Mannerist painters proudly created Modern Art in the 16th Century.