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What is Mannerism Art?

When two of the most renowned Renaissance artists in history passed away at the end of the second decade of the 16th century, it transformed the world of art.

Mannerism art is also known as the “Late Renaissance” and that’s because Mannerist artists built upon the ideals of the Renaissance period to achieve their artistic goals in painting and sculpture.

History of Mannerism art

The High Renaissance is a period in history that lasted between 1495 and 1520 in which multiple brilliant artists produced artworks.

Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael are some of the most famous artists in history and they all reached their maturity during this fascinating period in art history.

The death of both da Vinci and Raphael in 1519 and 1520 respectively left a big void. After all, who was going to surpass their brilliance, right?

In a sense, this means that Mannerism art was born out of the mastery of Renaissance artists in an attempt to find a new approach to surpass their perfection in technique and style.

Mannerism emerged in Rome or Florence, or both cities at the same time, in the late 1510s and early 1520s. This initial period is known as “Early Mannerism.”

When leaders acquired Italian artworks in the northern part of Europe, it influenced the artists in this part of the continent and the Northern Mannerism era emerged there as well.

This art movement lasted for about the duration of the 16th century and even extended into the 17th century in some parts of Europe.

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It laid the foundation of the Baroque era, one of the most significant art movements in European which is defined by the theatrical features derived from Mannerist artists.

What is Mannerism art example

Main Characteristics of Mannerism Art

How could Mannerist artists surpass the perfection of the Renaissance era? The answer to this question was to exaggerate the harmonious ideals of this era.

That’s why the main characteristics of Mannerism art are based on distorting figures to achieve certain artistic goals. Below is an overview of how they achieved this.

Elongating figures – Depicting figures without a sense of anatomical correctness was the main feature for Mannerist artists to surpass the grace with which figures were depicted during the Renaissance.

Foreshortening – This technique is also known as point projection and distorts the ideal perspective that was achieved in Renaissance paintings.

Chiaroscuro – Integrating a contrast between light and shadow was something that Leonardo da Vinci experimented with as he perfected his Sfumato technique, but Mannerist artists took this to another level.

Black Backgrounds – Mannerist artists didn’t shy away from using a black background to emphasize the main elements of a painting and their unusual shapes and forms.

Distinctive colors – While some Renaissance paintings might seem dull when it comes to the use of color, this certainly doesn’t apply to Mannerist artworks. The same exaggeration of light and shadow was applied to using bright colors.

Famous Mannerist paintings - The Wedding at Cana - Paolo Veronese

Types of Mannerism Art

The medieval forms of art such as illuminated manuscripts, embroideries, and stained glass windows, played a minor role during the Mannerist era.

Below is a list of the most common types of artworks that were produced during the 16th and early 17th centuries.

Oil Painting

Using oil as the main material to paint on canvas or wood panels was perfected during the Renaissance and Mannerist artists simply continued using this medium. Some of the most famous Mannerist artists in history were painters.


The Renaissance was a period in which rich patrons who were not associated with the church emerged. Rich bankers, aristocrats, as well as clergymen, constructed villas and mansions in the 16th century that were decorated with mannerist-style frescoes.


Michelangelo was the creator of Renaissance sculptures that were virtually impossible to surpass in brilliance. Several sculptures were commissioned to join Michelangelo’s David in Florence. Sculptures such as “Hercules and Cacus” and “Perseus with the head of Medusa” are perfect examples of how Mannerist sculptors aimed to achieve this.


A notable mention of the Mannerist era is the development of Mannerist architecture. While Renaissance architecture focused on harmonious ideals, Mannerist architecture integrated visual elements that challenged this. There was certainly more creativity among architects during this period.

Joachim Wtewael Perseus and Andromeda

Notable Mannerist Artworks

If you want to learn more about Mannerist artists and their most famous artworks, then the list below is a good starting point to learn more about this art movement.

Want to discover more? Check out some of the most famous Mannerist Paintings.

Madonna with the Long Neck by Parmigianino paintings