Saturday, 23 March 2013


Pontormo, Joseph in Egypt, 1515-18, Oil on wood, 96 x 109 cm, National Gallery, London.

Mannerism is a style of art that was out of favour for centuries; but with the appearance of movements like German Expression and the avant-garde of the early twentieth-century, mannerism was deemed to be relevant, with its rehabilitation following. The Italian word “maniera” means style in English, though it is difficult to tie it down to a specific definition.[1] Though mannerism was a movement that spread across Europe, its origins can be found in Florence, especially in the art of Pontormo and Rosso. In his indispensable survey of sixteenth-century Italian painting, Sydney Freedberg divided Florentine mannerism into a number of component parts. Firstly he identified a radical style practiced by Pontormo and Rosso, who though thoroughly aware of the classical tradition, sought to subvert it for their own artistic ends. This is the “first maniera” or “post- classical experiment” that follows on from Michelangelo, thought by some to be the instigator of mannerism. According to Freedberg, Pontormo and Rosso “inverted the accepted sense of classical form or warped it to their new ends, and made new inventions of aesthetic devices or borrowed them from sources that were geographically or chronologically outside the sphere of reference of classicism.”[2] Later in the century, Freedberg argued for a formation of what he called the “high maniera”, the blossoming of the early phase in the work of such artists as Bronzino, Salviati, and Vasari, in the time of Cosimo di Medici who founded the Florentine Academy. The end game of Florentine mannerism is played out in a time of religious reform, and Freedberg includes “Florentine reformers” such as Santi di Tito who rejected the mannerist style of Bronzino in favour of naturalism and what Freedberg called “Late Counter-Maniera”

[1] The best introduction is John Shearman’s Mannerism, (Penguin, 1967).
[2] S.J. Freedberg, Painting in Italy 1500-1600, Pelican History of Art ( Yale, 1993), 175-6.

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