Mannerism: The anti-High Renaissance
The height of Italian Renaissance art had reached its summit in the late 15th century with the advent of the three masters of the High Renaissance: Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael. Their works of art exhibited the pinnacle of man’s aesthetic ability in creating realistic depiction of the world through anatomically detailed human bodies, harmonious perspectival space, and emphasis on uniformity derived from nature. However this astounding progress in artistic achievement was abruptly interrupted with the advent of Mannerism in the early 16th century. Perspectival space and the beauty of proportion were in neglect, replaced by alien concerns for unnatural bodily distortions and exemplification of one’s virtuosity in the rendering of art. No single factor can be attributed for this sudden emergence of Mannerism which replaced the Italian Renaissance. Rather it was the result of synergetic influence derived from religious instability and individual artists’ tendency to deviate from the norms of their predecessors, which led to the end of the Renaissance and spurred the new artistic movement of Mannerism. The religious turmoil caused by Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation was one of the factors that served to indirectly stimulate Mannerism in the late Renaissance. In 1517, Martin Luther initiated the Protestant Reformation against the Catholic Church with his Ninety-Five Theses serving as the catalyst. In the eyes of the Protestants, the Catholic Church and the Papacy had been overwhelmed with corruption, manipulating the sanctity of Christianity to fulfill their own gains and material prominence. The main example of such misguided religious act was the sales of indulgence, where Christian followers were absolved of their sins by the Catholic Church through payment. This system transformed the spiritual act of penitence into a measure of lucrative business for the Catholic Church. In addition, the fact that clerical offices within the Catholic Church could be bought and sold was conclusive evidence of corruption and compelled dissent against the Papacy. Although the religious commotion stirred by the Protestant reformation did not impose direct influence on the course of Italian art, it had implicit influence on the Renaissance ideal of harmony. The dispute and disunity against the supposedly central authority of the church shattered the Renaissance Italy’s faith in the value of harmony and this phenomenon was inadvertently incorporated into the art works following the High Renaissance. (Figure 1). Raphael. Madonna of the Meadows.1505.
It must have been clearly evident to the contemporary artists following Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael, that these three great masters of the High Renaissance reached the zenith of artistic ability in portraying natural, realistic, and harmonious composition in their art works. Raphael’s Madonna of the Meadows (Panel, 44½ x 34¼”) (Fig. 1), created in 1505, which portrayed the image of Virgin Mary looking over the playful infant St. John the Baptist and Christ child, entails some of the accomplishments of the High Renaissance art. Despite the usage of bright color scheme of red, blue and green to present a lively ambience, the colors create a sense of uniformity within the image. Also it is easy to recognize the “Leonardesque pyramid” formed by the Virgin Mary, emulating Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, which functions to provide a harmonious composition to the picture as well as the narrative of motherly protection over the two child figures. The lighting of the shadows are rendered realistically, all lying in the same direction suggesting the existence of a single source of light, and the perspectival background generates the continuity of space. Most importantly, the Virgin Mary, St. John, and Christ child are all illustrated with anatomical details of a woman and child, supplementing the realistic depiction of the image. To the contemporary artists,...
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