The Mannerist Movement: When Art Had Nowhere Else To Go But Down

The mannerist movement started at the end of the Renaissance era during the 16th century until the early 17th century, filling in the space of time between the Renaissance and Baroque period.

Artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo made it hard for artists following them to create works even better than theirs, which created the art movement known as mannerism. The High Renaissance era emphasizes on proportion, ideal beauty, and realism, being the complete opposition of a mannerist piece. A mannerist artwork is spotted by the elongation of the neck and torso in portraits and figurative paintings. The whole idea of this movement was that depicting “real life” in paintings was no longer important. In contrast, artists were interested in creating beautiful compositions and expressing emotion in the works of art.

Another common element to look for in a mannerist piece is iconography: the use of visual allegories and complex meanings to appeal to a wealthier audience versus making art for everyone. The rich were attracted to mannerist works as they could express their intelligence to visitors of their homes. The painting below was commissioned by Cosimo I and was gifted to Francis I of France, giving Cosimo the opportunity to explain to Francis what the painting means. No one knows for sure how Cosimo described this painting to Francis but there is multiple concepts such as foolish pride, consequences, time reveals all things, and oblivion. This painting was later credited the peak of mannerism as it is so hard to figure out what exactly the artist means.

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Allegory of Venus and Cupid, Agnolo Bronzino, c. 1540-46

Even successful Renaissance artists found themselves creating mannerist art, such as Michelangelo. The work of Michelangelo became so perfect that he started to show off, allowing things to get weird and started obsessing over beauty. In the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo painted the Last Judgement, this piece is known as his mannerist beginning.

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Last Judgement, Michelangelo, 1534-41, Sistine Chapel, Rome

Looking at the piece, the muscular bodies of the figures are very exaggerated and unrealistic. Christ, in the center, has a very elongated torso as well as disproportionate arms and legs. Prior to this piece, Michelangelo was known for his hyper-realistic paintings and sculptures and it became impossible for him to get any better so the only way to go was down. Since he is credited the best of the High Renaissance, artists following him had to do the same, creating works of art that are no longer realistic.

Although the mannerist art movement was short-lived, there were still many interesting and beautiful artworks that came from it. This movement is one of the more intriguing and brought a more unique approach to the end of the Renaissance era, allowing viewers of the work to see the artists’ hand.