The Characteristics of Mannerism Art


Europe was in turmoil during the 16th century as the sweeping changes of the Reformation blanketed the continent. The Mannerism art period took place in the 16th century, following the Late Renaissance. Popular Mannerist artists include Raphael, Michelangelo and Machietti. Mannerism fed off the unrest of European culture to create a method of painting that reflected the anxiety of the time.

Style and Form

  • Mannerism Art is defined by narrative style that turns away from the harmony and unity of High Renaissance Art. Artists shied away from classical style of proportions. They re-imagined how to paint people with exaggerated limb dimensions and peculiar positions. Muscular models were painted aberrantly, bulging with unnatural muscular development. Mannerism denied harmony and balance. Renaissance paintings depended on rigid approaches on perception but Mannerism used diagonal and askew perspectives.

Subject Matter

  • Mannerism diverged from the subject matter painted in the Late Renaissance. Mannerist artists sought to shed aside the classical subject matter of beauty, proportion and symmetry and looked instead at the fearful and tense subjects of society.


  • Interpretations of Mannerism art were difficult. The paintings message could rarely be seen by looking at the painting. History and background context had to be known. Symbolism had to be deduced. Mannerism works were indirect, rather than forward in their representation of their meaning to the audience. According to Michael S. Seiferth from Palo Alto College, Mannerist art represents tension and angst, opposed to the peacefulness of Renaissance art.


  • The Protestant Reformation was a period of change and conflict that swept across the Catholic Church. People began to doubt the all-knowing nature of the Church. Science, with the works of Copernicus and Galileo at the forefront, began to debunk the idea that Earth was the center of the universe. Mannerist art fed off the concept of the dismantling of the old world view.

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