What is Mannerism? – Its Harmonious Ideals

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What is Mannerism?

What is Mannerism? This was one of the questions plaguing Italian Renaissance artists. Though many of them addressed the matter, very few were able to provide an explicit answer. In fact, only the works of Sixtus Vitelli seem to address the problem explicitly, when he talks about man’s artistic nature being “unemployable, and inconsistent.” But by treating the man’s “artistic nature” as something essentially inconsistent, the problem of what is mannerism turns out to be very difficult to solve.

Mannerism in art manifests itself in two very specific and distinct forms. The first is called the “abbreviated gesture,” which involves man making pictures with his hands, rather than his words or his gestures. In this case, the subject of the picture is entirely dependent on the way in which the artist has portrayed him.

Thus, the man who paints a portrait of a nude woman might choose to have her bare hands shown, but if she is to sit on a small chair, then the bare hands might have to remain concealed. These two kinds of mannerism appear again in Vitelli’s Theese Madonna, in whom the Madonna sits on a small stool while seated, and in Andrea del Sarto’s Madonna and Child with Little Lamb.

What is Mannerism - The Fall of Phaeton by Peter Paul Rubens
The Fall of Phaeton by Peter Paul Rubens

The other form of mannerism that we will consider here, as the subject matter of paintings, is called asceticism. In the category of ascetic paintings, the subject is the clergy, or monks, or simply the spiritually inclined. Here the Virgin Mary and Jesus are the subjects, instead of the Virgin of Italy or the Madonna.

And in paintings such as these, there is a clear allusion to the sanctity of their occupations: the Virgin Mary and Jesus were believed by the artists to be divine beings sent from God. The ascetic works of art therefore usually carries within it a sense of religious sentiment.

This brief survey of two of the more common types of what is mannerism art shows that there are in fact two basic themes running through the medium. One theme is that of portraying a subject as having an aura which suggests sacredness: this can be ascetic or monastic, and it is present in works by such artists as Botticelli, Masaccio and Michelangelo, among others. The other, and more disturbing, theme is that of human weakness and the callousness of mankind.

The first of the themes under discussion, that of what is mannerism art, can be said to be a product of Botticelli’s paintings, which often suggest the Virgin Mary and Jesus with their hands stretched out in prayer.

Masaccio and Michelangelo, on the other hand, produced paintings which include images of the Madonna and child with her veil pulled back. Another early work by Botticelli, a recreation of a Biblical story told in the New Testament, shows Jesus with a crown of thorns placed upon his head. The crucified Jesus is also shown wearing a tiara, perhaps suggestive of His connection to the church.

As one would expect from works such as these, what is mannerism art found its most representative works in Italian Renaissance pieces which feature powerful depictions of man’s weakness and vanity.

The most famous of these would be Michelangelo’s David. Although not particularly focused upon by Botticelli in any way, the crucified Jesus and Virgin Mary have a very similar look to Botticelli’s famous Sistine Madonna, which remains one of the best-known pieces of religious art in the world.

Masaccio’s infamous The Flight of the Darts, which glorifies man’s lust for women and features a man kneeling down while a multitude of angels fly above, is also worth considering. Even earlier, in the 1500s, Rubens had already produced a painting that showed a man seated upon a bench with his tongue hanging out, a sure sign of unrest and vanity.

What ismanship was a field which artists across Europe strove to cover, and though there are no written records of their discussions and debates, what is portrayed can be deduced from the actual art that was produced.

For many early works, what is noted is the subject’s unmistakable, unwavering desire to rebel against the rules of society. This can be seen in Botticelli’s The Flight of the Darts, where a man proudly exclaims that he will fall at the first shot. Whether this statement is true or not, the implications are clear, and what is seen is art.

In later centuries, what is mannerism art became associated more with the Renaissance itself, and what is found today is often linked directly to Botticelli’s famous painting, The Flight of the Darts. Other artists would follow in his footsteps, most notably Jan Van Eyck, whose works showed a similar rebellious bent on human creation, although most of his subjects were animals.

The Italian artisan Baroque Cycle saw an abundance of what is mannerism art during the span of Italy’s most prolific artistic tradition. Leonardo da Vinci is often credited as being the first sculptor to put into writing what is mannerism art and what he created can still be considered iconic. It was during the renaissance era that what is mannerism art found its way into the world of fine art, and from there it has grown into an extremely prestigious form of expression.

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