As early as the second and third decades of the 16th century the Italian Renaissance, particularly in certain paintings, showed signs of turbulence and unrest. At times painters such as Raphael, Correggio and, to a certain extent, Titian rejected its values. In fact an artistic movement, which came to be called Mannerism, was about to appear. It was an individual and personal mode of expression, pre-eminently intellectual, which no longer derived from other well-known masters or from the consolidated Renaissance pattern. This style not only gained the support of artists aware of the crisis in Renaissance values, but it also appealed to the taste, habits and cultural viewpoint of a particular social class throughout Europe. From a historical point of view it is well known that all this coincided with a moment of great moral uneasiness in Italy, a country then passing through the crisis of the Reformation without knowing how to set up opposing autonomous values.
The causes of this artistic experience were varied, but the effects similar: the rejection of the classic ideal in the portrayal of the human figure, and of poetic values in imaginary settings.
In Florence, Mannerism, first hinted at in the works of Andrea del Sarto, is found in the works of Pontormo, Rosso, Beccafumi and Bronzino. Engaged on paintings and frescoes, both religious and secular, these men disclosed an ideal of beauty dignified and expansive in its gestures and unusual in its expression. They favoured abstract spaces in rhythmic compositions, figures delineated with a more conscious, fragmented out- line, artificial lighting and a gamut of new colours, some iridescent some metallic. In Jacopo Pontormo's Descent from the Cross (Sta Felicita, Florence) the colour is pale and watery but in his Visitation, at Carmignano, there is a closely reasoned development of rhythmic, ample forms rendered sonorous by pink, green and orange.
In Florence, Angelo Bronzino (I503-72), a specialist in portrait painting, transformed Raphael's calm settings into an almost explosive intimacy, paying great attention to hands by the use of vivid yet cold tones, as in his portraits of members of the Panciatichi family (Uffizi, Florence).
About the portrait:
Agnolo Bronzino: Portrait of Lodovico Capponi - 1550-55
New York, Frick Collection
Although you wouldn’t immediately know it from his proud, aristocratic air, at about the time this portrait was painted Lodovico Capponi (b. 1533) was madly in love. A page at the Medici court in Florence, in the mid–1550s Lodovico fell in love with a girl whom Duke Cosimo de Medici had intended for one of his cousins. Refused permission to marry, the couple nevertheless remained devoted to each other for three years when, suddenly, the Duke relented with the stipulation that they marry within 24 hours. One can imagine it was a joyous, if rushed, event.
Agnolo di Cosimo di Mariano, called Bronzino, was the court painter of Duke Cosimo and the foremost portraitist in Florence. He also painted religious and allegorical subjects as well as decorations for Medici festivities (perhaps even Ludovico’s long awaited wedding) but it is his startlingly crisp portraits, such as this one, for which he is most renowned.
For Bronzino (and for the ducal court), a portrait was a mask. It was not intended to reveal the sitter’s character, but to convey the subject’s status, sophistication, and self-possession. He depicts young Ludovico almost as a symbol of the Capponi family, wearing his family’s armorial colours – black and white. With cool detachment, the young man stands before vivid green drapery that highlights his soft boyish skin and fashionable figure. In keeping with Bronzino’s Mannerist style, his body is elongated and his fingers expressive, or ‘mannered.’ Mannerism emphasised complexity and virtuosity over naturalism. The style originated in Italy in the 1520s with artists who, inspired by the late works of Michelangelo and Raphael, began to emphasise tension and instability in composition rather than the balance and clarity of earlier Renaissance painting. Bronzino, part of the second generation of Mannerists, liked to lengthen bodies, flatten pictorial space and use vibrant colour to create an air of intellectual and aristocratic elegance. The portraits he made at the Medici court express his extraordinary technical skill and refined execution.
Bronzino liked to focus on the sensations of the material world; here he makes the silks look tactile, the ruffs crisp, hair freshly cut. The surface is finished in such meticulous detail that there is almost no trace of brushstrokes. Even Ludovico’s prominent codpiece – which was a widely popular feature of men’s fashion at the time, a stylish conceit of masculine virility – adds to his courtly image. (Not all ages, shared this opinion; in the 19th century the codpiece was considered obscene and was temporarily painted over).
As part of the Medici court, Bronzino must have known of Ludovico’s love affair and he may allude to it with the cameo that the sitter holds and partially conceals with his finger. The image is hidden but the cameo’s inscription is legible: sorte (fate), a meaningful allusion to the twists of fortune and love. Was this painted during the three-year wait? Did Bronzino give this serious young man’s expression a hint of sadness because of his thwarted romance? We can only speculate.
Parma, because of Correggio, played an important part in Mannerism, and Francesco Parmigianino (1503-40) developed it even further. He was the most provocative exponent of sinuous rhythms and figures elongated almost to the point of deformity, as in the Madonna with the Long Neck (Uffizi, Florence). In this picture the traits are emphasised by the juxta position of forms and abstract volumes as if to suggest further complex, mannered comparisons. The female figures symbolising virtue on the triumphal arch of St Maria della Steccata at Parma can be regarded as excellent examples of Italian Mannerism The remarkable goldsmith, Benvenuto Cellini was also a sculptor, and his statue of Perseus in Florence virtually constitutes a Mannerist challenge with its exceptional sculp tural and dynamic qualities. Giambologna (1529-1608), also, but a little more slowly, in Corporate Mannerist ideals into his richly elegant sculptures.
Source: Art History
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