The name mannerism comes from the Italian maniera, which translates to 'style'
Mannerism is an artistic style that surfaced after the Sack of Rome on May 6 1527, when Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor descended upon Rome raping, plundering and massacring. Many great artworks were destroyed or carted off. This senseless slaughter unhinged Renaissance confidence, humanism and way of thinking to the core. The style originated in Rome and later widened to all of Europe. Mannerists paintings are characterized by elongated limbs, thin aquiline noses, overly stylized figures, undersized heads, electrifying, vibrant colors and elaborately mannered, theatrical compositions. According to Renaissance scholar John C. Van Dyke "They produced large, crowded compositions, with a hasty facility of the brush and striking effects of light. Seeking the grand they overshot the temperate. Their elegance was affected, their sentiment forced, their brilliancy superficial glitter. When they thought to be ideal they lost themselves in incomprehensible allegories; when they thought to be real they grew prosaic in detail. These men are known in art history as the Mannerists, and the men whose works they imitated were chiefly Raphael, Michael Angelo, and Correggio. "
The Mannerists in Italy worked on generous commission for a restricted audience of Vatican powerbrokers and royalty. The subjects they were allowed to portray was controlled and restricted to biblical themes, portraiture and occasionally mythology. El Greco said to hell with the money went off to Spain to pursue his own amazing vision.
Masters of The Mannerist Style
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References - HISTORY OF PAINTING by John C. Van Dyke