Despite lasting only a relatively short time, the Mannerist style of art and design has been hugely influential. The style itself was both influenced by, and a reaction to, the Renaissance and would last from around 1520 – 1580. Defined by its sophisticated and exaggerated natural qualities, Mannerism departed from the rigidity and realism of the Renaissance and instead focused on the beauty of disarray, often combining artistic elements that would not traditionally have gone together in the styles that came before.
Mannerism as a distinct style is difficult to pin down. It focused largely on abstraction and incongruity rather than cementing an all encompassing stylistic choice. It acted as a style theory, rather than a list of style requirements. Where the later years of the Renaissance, known as the High Renaissance, put a great deal of focus on symmetry and proportion to create a mathematically perfect approximation of beauty based on classical ideals, Mannerism instead opted to ignore proportion and instead focus on intentionally unbalanced composition. Because of this there is little uniformity as to what Mannerism represents across design styles.
In art such as painting and sculpture, elongation came to typify the Mannerist style. The most notable names linked to the growth of the movement were Michelangelo and Tintoretto. They made their paintings and sculptures an intellectual space, showing what was invisible to the eye and outlining the artificial nature of the art form itself. Michelangelo’s David is a prime example of the Mannerist style.
It takes the traditional Classicism of the Renaissance in the form of the male nude, but turns it on its head, choosing to portray a young man in motion clearly showing the tense emotion on his face and creating a curvature in his pose and exaggerated proportions; especially his hands and head. This curvature served to spiral the viewers gaze upward and was used often in Mannerist art and sculpture.
It can also be seen in use in Tintoretto’s ‘Apollo crowning a Poet and giving him a Spouse‘
Mannerist architecture and interior design elements differed greatly from the flamboyant and very artistic nature of painting and sculpture of the day. The basic design veered more toward simplicity, but with slight anachronisms, like asymmetrical layouts and combinations of angular and curved design elements and irregular mixtures of themes. An interesting example of this absorbing mix of design styles is this Mannerist fireplace from our collection
This antique mantle piece exemplifies the late stages of Mannerist design, leaning toward the early Baroque. The jambs of the fire surround express a mixture of rounded and angular shapes giving them a slightly asymmetrical feel and toying with the idea of space and proportion. The extra design elements of this marble chimneypiece mix naturalistic classical design elements with curved forms with an anachronistically angular cartouche. This particular fire surround uses bolection moulding, which is typical of the Baroque style, showing the true transitory nature of Mannerism.
Baroque style came to the fore as a reaction to the Renaissance and Mannerism. Where Mannerism had built on what came before in the High Renaissance, Baroque style instead chose to combat it. It came about during an age of enlightenment, with religious revival, the discovery of new lands and scientific breakthroughs. Baroque was therefore a counter to Mannerism, focusing instead on natural human emotion, with a greater emphasis on domesticity and more natural, lighter composition. Bolection was so popular during this period for mantle design as it was both elegant, simple, natural and yet equally conveyed a sense of grandeur. Baroque architecture and design often used repeating design styles with relatively simple architectural elements enhanced by colourfully opulent furnishings.