Mannerism (1520-1590)

Mannerism, artistic style that predominated in Italy from the end of the High Renaissance in the 1520s to the beginnings of the Baroque style around 1590.

 Italian Manierismo – from maniera, “manner,”- The Mannerist style originated in Florence and Rome and spread to northern Italy and, ultimately, to much of central and northern Europe. The term was first used around the end of the 18th century by the Italian archaeologist Luigi Lanzi to define 16th-century artists who were the followers of major Renaissance masters.

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Mannerist Painting – Characteristics

There are two detectable strains of Mannerist painting: Early Mannerism (c.1520-35) is known for its “anti-classical“, or “anti-Renaissance” style, which then developed into High Mannerism (c.1535-1580), a more intricate, inward-looking and intellectual style, designed to appeal to more sophisticated patrons.

As a whole, Mannerist painting tends to be more artificial and less naturalistic than Renaissance painting. This exaggerated idiom is typically associated with attributes such as emotionalism, elongated human figures, strained poses, unusual effects of scale, lighting or perspective, vivid often garish colours.

Giuseppe Archimboldo 'Vertumnus - Rudolf II', c1590. Rudolph II (1552-1612), Holy Roman Emperor from 1576, as Vertumnu
Giuseppe Archimboldo
‘Vertumnus (1590)- Rudolf II’, c1590. Rudolph II (1552-1612), Holy Roman Emperor from 1576, as Vertumnu

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Among the finest Mannerist Artists were:
  • Michelangelo (1475-1564) noted for his Sistine Chapel frescoes such as The Last Judgement (1536-41);
The Last Judgment, Michelangelo, which took four years to complete the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, inside the Vatican.
The Last Judgment, Michelangelo, the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, inside the Vatican.

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  • Correggio (1489-1534) known for his sentimental narrative paintings and the first to portray light radiating from the child Christ;
  • Andrea del Sarto‘s two pupils Jacopo da Pontormo (1494-1556) and Rosso Fiorentino (1494-1540);
  • Parmigianino (1503-40) the influential master draftsman and portraitist from Parma;
  • Agnolo Bronzino (1503-72);
  • Giorgio Vasari (1511-74) a second rank painter but fine writer of works like Lives of the Artists (1550), as well as an architect who designed the Uffizi art gallery in Florence;
  • Tintoretto (1518-94) one of the great drawing experts and a prolific composer of large religious paintings executed in the grand manner verging on the Baroque;
Miracle of the Slave, oil on canvas, 1548 Gallerie dell' Accademia, Venice. These works were well received and greatly enhanced the artist's fame.
Miracle of the Slave,
oil on canvas, 1548 Gallerie dell’ Accademia, Venice.

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  • Federico Barocci (1526-1612) the pious religious painter active in Urbino and central Italy;
  • Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-93) known for his bizarre fruit and vegetable portraits;
  • Paolo Veronese (1528-88) the Venetian colourist;
  • Domenikos Theotocopoulos, known as El Greco (1541-1614) the Venice-trained Greek artist who worked in Spain, known for his highly individualistic style of art reflecting his vision of Christianity and worldly meaning;
  • Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), also from Bologna, noted for his historical fresco paintings in the Farnese Gallery;
  • Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610), whose exquisite landscapes and nocturnal scenes – poised between tenebrism and chiaroscuro – influenced the likes of Claude Lorrain, Rubens and Rembrandt.

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As in painting, early Italian Mannerist sculpture was very largely an attempt to find an original style that would top the achievement of the High Renaissance. It was more expressive than its Renaissance predecessor, its works are characterized by the exaggeration or alteration of proportions, posture, and expression.

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. Outside of natural stone sculptures, Cellini's bronze Perseus with the head of Medusa is a Mannerist masterpiece, designed with eight angles of view .
Benvenuto Cellini, Perseus with the head of Medusa, 1545–1554.


“Figura Serpentinata” (Latin – 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.

With the loosening of the norms of the High Renaissance and the development of the “Serpentita” 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.

Movements were not without motivation, nor even simply done with a will, but were shown in a pure form. Also, their actions arose not out of power, but powerlessness, perhaps best evidenced by Giambologna‘s Rape of the Sabine Women.

Giambologna, Rape of the Sabine Women, 1583, Florence, Italy, 13' 6" high, marble. In this piece, Giambologna demonstrates the use of the figura serpentinata.
Giambologna, Rape of the Sabine Women, 1583, Florence, Italy, 13′ 6″ high, marble.

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