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  Mannerism, in fine art, derives from the Italian word maniera, as used by Vasari, meaning style or stylishness. ‘Manner’, in art, has two main meanings: (1) any style (for all artists must have at least one) without comment as to its nature; (2) ‘mannerisms’, such as exaggeration of certain characteristics, or affectation, for instance superstructural additions and ornamentations rather than essential elements.

The most specific use of the term Mannerism (with a capital M) is to describe and define European art of the post-High Renaissance period in the 16th century (c.1525-1600). The late work of Michelangelo, for example the Laurentian library in Florence, is held to be Mannerist, as is the work of Vasari at the Uffizzi, also in Florence, and of Giulio in Mantua, particularly his Palazzo de Te (1526). The effectiveness of these works is in their deliberate clashes with and contraventions of classical rules: the familiar motif used in the unfamiliar way.

In painting and sculpture, a Mannerist work will be concerned with style, with the superficialities of appearance rather than profundity of meaning. It will be antinaturalistic (elongated figures, strange colours), intricate in composition, in love with exotic posture and perspective, and frequently with a heightened, mystical and insistent emotional temperature. Stylishness will be taken to extremes and the subjects will often be fantastic and bizarre. Sir John Summerson aptly categorized the style as ‘the art of the tour de force of problems undertaken for their novelty and curiosity’. Its complication and cleverness made it suitable to be a court art across Europe, but it shrivelled before the exuberant naturalism of the later part of the 16th century, as seen in the works of the Bolognese School and Caravaggio, and the straightforwardness of the Baroque. PD MG JM

Further reading Walter Friedlaender, Mannerism and Anti-mannerism in Italian Painting; , J. Summerson, The Classical Language of Architecture.



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