Mannerism in the Mid to Late Italian Renaissance
Mannerism was a periodic style of art that portrayed idealistic and harmonious themes which showed not only the extraordinary natural detail of the human subjects in most works, but also moved away from conventional realism and towards incredible themes inspired by artists like Michelangelo. It is estimated that this particular style developed in the earliest decades of the 1500’s in both Florence and Rome. Some of the works from a few very recognizable artists from this time period had prime examples for the mannerism topic: for example, Andrea Del Sarto’s Madonna of the Harpies.
This particular painting has a unique, graphic look to it and still retains the recurrent religious depiction of the Madonna and child. The way that the subjects are posed leads the Madonna and baby to a powerful position within the painting, in a compositional context. In addition, the angels are much more clearly in the middle-background, adding depth with contrast in both colour and light. This visual effect was relatively unseen before mannerism and the emergence of realism in art during the Renaissance. This piece is also a good example of mannerism because of the precise anatomical specifications on the people in the painting.
In the early sixteenth century there was a large market for new, innovative, and original art and was largely influenced by wealthy patrons in Italy. This gave inspiration to a multitude of young artists, and many that apprenticed under notable mannerism artists like Del Sarto produced works that further strayed from the perspective regularity that encompassed the early Renaissance. Painters like Jacopo da Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino (both of whom apprenticed under Del Sarto), were considered to be the leading authors in mannerism. Their works captured all the traditional aspects of mannerism, including the distortion of size, space, perspective, as well as contorting human figures to stress anatomical prowess (returning to the idealistic concepts that were prominent throughout the Renaissance but especially belaboured in mannerism). Other artists like Michelangelo used techniques such as foreshortening to emphasize power and tension in his works. Foreshortening can be defined as a technique used in perspective to create the illusion of a subject receding or fading strongly into a background. Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam piece from the Sistine Chapel is a good example of this technique, and this method is seen frequently in mannerism.
Towards the end of manneristic style, artists seemed to develop a more elegant and refined approach while expanding upon several ideas found within mannerism, and mannerism developed into the Baroque era. The Manneristic style didn’t last in Italy quite as long as it did in Northern Europe, France, Germany, and The Netherlands; it stretched only to the end of the sixteenth century. However, the Northern European regions continued producing mannerism pieces well into the seventeenth century. The most significant aspects of mannerism in the Renaissance were arguably the concepts of added depth, incorporation of both detailed humans and more dynamic environments to instil power, tension, gracefulness, and emotion.