What happened after the High Renaissance? Eighty years ago the answer
would have been simply that after the High Renaissance came the Late
Renaissance, which was dominated by shallow imitators of the great
masters of the previous generation and lasted until the Baroque style
emerged at the end of the century. Today we take a far more positive
view of the artists who reached maturity after
1520, and generally discard the term "Late
Renaissance" as misleading. Yet we have still to agree on a name for the
75 years separating the
High Renaissance from the Baroque. Any one label implies that the period
has one style, but there is no single style in the years
1600. Why, then, should this span be regarded as
a period at all, except in the negative sense of an interval between two
high points, as the Renaissance viewed the Middle Ages? This difficulty
can be resolved by thinking of the period as a time of crisis that gave
rise to several competing tendencies rather than one dominant ideal.
Although they had taken place during the High Renaissance, the great
voyages of discovery—Columbus'
landing in the New World in 1492,
followed by Amerigo Vespucci's exploration of South
America seven years later and Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe
between 1519 and
far-reaching consequences that were to reverberate until the end of the
sixteenth century. The most immediate consequence was the rise of the
great European colonial powers, which vied with each other for
commercial supremacy around the world. The Spanish (as well as the
Portuguese) quickly established themselves in the Americas: Mexico was
conquered by Hernan Cortes in 1519-21,
Peru by Francisco Pizarro during the following decade.
however, Sir Walter Raleigh had
established the first English settlement in North America, and the
French soon followed with outposts of their own. An unexpected effect
was the explosion of knowledge as explorers brought back a host of
natural and artistic wonders never before seen in Europe. Dazzled by
these revelations, avid collectors formed Kunst- und Wunderkammern
(literally, art and wonder rooms) to display exotic treasures from
every corner of the earth. As Europeans struggled to assimilate this
profusion of new discoveries into old categories of thought, the science
inherited from ancient Greece and Rome by the Early Renaissance was
largely discarded as inadequate by
in favor of a new body of learning.
At almost the same time, the Protestant Reformation was launched by
Martin Luther, a former Augustinian friar who had become professor of
theology at the University of Wittenberg. At face value, the
95 theses he nailed to the
Wittenberg castle church door on All Saints' Day in October
1517 were little more than a
broadside against the sale of indulgences promising redemption of sins.
More fundamentally they constituted a wholesale attack against Catholic
dogma, for he claimed that the Bible and natural reason were the sole
bases of religious authority. Freed from traditional doctrine, the
Protestant movement rapidly developed splinter groups. Within a few
years the Swiss pastor Huldreich Zwingli sought to reduce religion to
its essentials by preaching an even more radical fundamentalism,
denouncing the arts as distractions and denying the validity of even the
Eucharist as a rite, which led to a split with Luther that was never
healed. Even within Zwingli's camp there were rifts: the Anabaptists
accepted only adult baptism. What divided the reformers were the twin
issues of grace and free will in attaining faith and salvation. These
issues had been spelled out with the aid of the humanists, who initially
counted Luther and Zwingli among their number but who eventually turned
against the Reformation because of its extremism. By the time of
Zwingli's death at the hands of the Catholic forces at the Battle of
Kappel in 1531, the
essential corpus of Protestant theology had been defined. It was
codified around mid-century by John Calvin of Geneva, who tried to
mediate between Luther and Zwingli while adopting the puritanical
beliefs of the Anabaptists.
The Catholic church soon inaugurated a reform movement of its own,
generally known today as the Counter Reformation. It was spearheaded
following the Council of Trent in 1545-47
by the Society of Jesus, the Jesuit order representing
the church militant, which had been founded by the Spaniard St. Ignatius
of Loyola in 1534. The
internal reforms were carried out mainly by Pope Paul IV, who cleansed
the church upon ascending the throne of St. Peter in
1555, and by St. Carlo Bor-romeo,
who initiated the model reform as bishop of Milan five years later. The
Reformation and Counter Reformation quickly became bound up in the
political upheavals and social unrest sweeping Europe. Rulers allied
themselves with either movement depending on dynastic and economic
self-interest. Thus Henry VIII of England established the Church of
England in 1534 in order
to make divorce easier so that he could produce a male heir. Later,
Philip II of Spain made the Catholic cause part of the Hapsburg
ambitions, cloaking his true motives (the Spanish crown went bankrupt in
1598, despite the enormous
influx of gold from its South American colonies) in the mantle of a
crusade for the true faith.
Mannerism in Florence and Rome
Among the various trends in art in the wake of the High Renaissance,
Mannerism is the most significant, as well as the most problematic. In
scope, the original meaning of the term was narrow and derogatory,
designating a group of mid-sixteenth-century painters in Rome and
Florence whose sell-consciously "artificial" style (maniera) was
derived from certain aspects of Raphael and Michelangelo. This phase,
sometimes called High Mannerism, has since been recognized as part of a
wider movement that began around
Keyed to a sophisticated, even rarefied taste, Mannerism
appealed initially to a small circle around aristocratic patrons like
Cosimo I, the grand duke of Tuscany, but soon became international. The
plague of 1522 and, above
all, the Sack of Rome in 1527
by the forces of Charles V of Spain had the effect of
disrupting the development of Mannerism and displacing it abroad, where
its next phase took place. In 1530,
was called to France by Francis I to decorate the palace at
Fontainebleau, and was soon followed by
and other leading Mannerists. From there it spread gradually to the rest
Mannerism was the assertion of a purely aesthetic ideal. Grace, in
all its multifaceted meanings,
now became an end in itself. Through formulaic
abstraction, the Mannerists translated form and expression into a style
of the utmost refinement that emphasized variety, decorative
elaboration, and virtuoso display at the expense of content, clarity,
balance, and unity. In a larger sense, this taste for affected elegance
and bizarre conceits signifies a major change in Italian culture. The
High Renaissance quest for originality as a projection of the
individual's personality had a liberating influence that gave Mannerist
artists license to explore their imaginations freely. This investigation
of new modes was ultimately healthy, but the style itself came to be
regarded as decadent, and no wonder: given such latitude, Mannerism
produced extreme personalities, who today seem the most "modern" of all
sixteenth-century artists. Even the charitable
was sometimes hard pressed to excuse the excesses of his fellow
The seemingly cold and barren formalism of their work placed "inner
vision," however private or fantastic, above the twin standard of nature
and the ancients. Some scholars have even broadened the definition of
Mannerism to include the later style of
who could himself acknowledge no authority higher than his genius.
However, Vasari, who knew Michelangelo well and whose admiration for him
was boundless, realized that his fellow Mannerists were birds of a
different feather, no matter how much inspiration they derived from him.
Ironically, Mannerism is often considered a reaction against the ideals
created by the High Renaissance as well. Save for a brief initial
period, however, Mannerism did not consciously reject the tradition from
which it stemmed. Although the subjectivity inherent in this aesthetic
was necessarily unclassical, it was not deliberately anticlassical,
except in its more extreme manifestations. Even more conspicuous than
Mannerism's anticlassicism is its insistent antinaturalism. Michelangelo
and Leonardo both studied anatomy scientifically (see fig.
638), and regularly
performed dissections, continuing a discipline which must date back to
the beginning of the Renaissance but which became almost unthinkable for
most Mannerists, to whom it was antithetical in spirit and unnecessary
The relation of Mannerism to religious trends was equally
paradoxical. Notwithstanding the intense religious feeling that informs
works by the first generation, it has rightly been observed that
Mannerism illustrates the spiritual bankruptcy of the age. The extreme
worldliness of High Mannerism in particular was fundamentally
antithetical to both the Reformation, with its stern morality, and the
Counter Reformation, which demanded a strict adherence to doctrine.
After midcentury there was, strangely enough, a Counter Mannerist trend,
which utilized the vocabulary of Mannerism for Counter Reformation ends.
At the same time, the subjective latitude of Mannerism became valued for
its visionary power as part of a larger shift in religious sensibility.
1520 in Florence.
Art had been left in the hands of a younger generation that could refine
but not further develop the styles of the great innovators who had spent
their early careers there before leaving the city. Having absorbed the
lessons of the leading masters at one remove, the first generation of
Mannerists was free to apply High Renaissance formulas to a new
aesthetic divorced from its previous content. By
(1495-1540), the most eccentric
member of this group, expressed the new attitude with full conviction in
the Descent from the Cross (fig.
The first indications of disquiet in the High Renaissance appear shortly
Nothing has prepared us tor the shocking impact of this latticework
of spidery forms spread out against the dark sky. The figures are
agitated yet rigid, as if congealed by a sudden, icy blast. Even the
draperies have brittle, sharp-edged planes. The acid colors and the
light, brilliant but unreal, reinforce the nightmarish effect of the
scene. Here is clearly a full-scale revolt against the classical balance
of High Renaissance art: a profoundly disquieting, willful, visionary
style that indicates a deep inner anxiety. Vasari's statement that Rosso
committed suicide is probably untrue, yet seems plausible enough as we
look at this picture.
(1494-1556/7), a friend of
Rosso's, had an equally strange personality. Introspective, willful, and
shy, he worked only when and for whom he pleased and would shut himself
up in his quarters for weeks on end, remaining inaccessible even to his
closest friends. Pontormo's Deposition (fig.
676) well reflects
these facets of his character. The painting contrasts sharply with
Rosso's Descent from the Cross, but is no less disturbing. Unlike
Rosso's attenuated forms, Pontormo's have a nearly classical beauty and
sculptural solidity-inspired by Michelangelo, who in turned admired his
art. Yet the figures are confined to a stage so claustrophobic as to
cause acute discomfort in the viewer. The very implausibility of the
image renders it convincing in spiritual terms. Indeed, this visionary
quality is essential to its meaning, which is communicated by formal
means alone. We have entered a world of innermost contemplation in which
every pictorial element responds to a purely subjective impulse.
Everything is subordinate to the play of graceful linear rhythms created
by the tightly interlocking forms. These patterns unify the surface and
impart a poignancy unlike any we have seen. Although they act in
concert, the mourners are lost in a grief too personal to share with
each other—or us. In this
hushed atmosphere, anguish is transmuted into a lyrical expression of
exquisite sensitivity. The entire scene is as haunted as Pontormo's
selfportrait just to the right ol the swooning Madonna. The artist,
moodily gazing into space, seems to shrink from the outer world, as if
scarred by the trauma of some half-remembered experience, and into one
of his own invention.
Descent from the Cross.1521.
Oil on panel 3.4
Pinacoteca Communale, Volterra
Deposition, c. 1526-28.
Oil on panel, 312
Sta. Felicita, Florence
(1503-1540) suggests no
psychological turmoil. The artist's appearance is bland and well
groomed. The features, painted with Raphael's smooth perfection, are
veiled by a delicate Leonardesque sfumato. The distortions, too, are
objective, not arbitrary, for the picture records what Parmigianino saw
as he gazed at his reflection in a convex mirror. Why was he so
fascinated by this view "through the looking glass"? Earlier painters
who used the mirror as an aid to observation had "filtered out" the
distortions (as in figs. 546
except when the mirror image was contrasted with a
direct view of the same scene (see fig.
547). But Parmigianino substitutes his
painting for the mirror itself, even employing a specially prepared
convex panel. Perhaps he wanted to demonstrate that there is no single
"correct" reality, that distortion is as natural as the normal
appearance of things. The painting bespeaks an interest in magic as
well: the convex mirror was valued in the Renaissance for its visionary
effects, which seemed to reveal the future, as well as hidden aspects of
the past and present.
The first phase of Mannerism was soon replaced by one less overtly
anticlassical, less laden with subjective emotion, but equally far
removed from the confident, stable world of the High Renaissance. The
Oil on panel, diameter 24.7 cm.
Kunsthistorisches Museum. Vienna
This may help to explain why Parmigianino's scientific detachment
soon changed into its very opposite. Vasari tells us that Parmigianino,
as he neared the end of his brief career (he died at
37), was obsessed with alchemy
and became "a bearded, long-haired, neglected, and almost savage or wild
man." Certainly his strange imagination is evident in his most famous
work, The Madonna with the Long Neck (fig.
678), painted after he had
returned to his native Parma following several years in Rome.
He had been deeply impressed with the rhythmic grace of Raphael's art
(compare fig. 667),
but he has transformed the older master's figures into a
remarkable new breed. Their limbs, elongated and ivory-smooth, move with
effortless languor, embodying an ideal of beauty as remote from nature
as any Byzantine figure. Their setting is equally arbitrary, with a
gigantic (and apparently purposeless) row of columns looming behind the
tiny figure of a prophet. Parmigianino seems determined to prevent us
from measuring anything in this picture by the standards of ordinary
experience. Here we have approached that "artificial" style for which
the term Mannerism was originally coined. The Madonna with the Long
Neck is a vision of unearthly perfection, its cold elegance no less
arresting than the violence in Rosso's Descent.
The Madonna with the Long Neck.
ñ. 1535. Oil on panel, 2.2
x 1.3 m.
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
The Entombment. ñ.
Etching printed in brown ink,
31.3 x 23.8 cm.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
etching was introduced in the North, the first artists to
explore its possibilities seriously were the Italian
The Entombment (fig.
very much like his ink drawings in retaining a sketchlike
immediacy that conveys the agitation of the scene and
captures his nervous temperament.
We must say a word about etching as a new medium. By the
early sixteenth century, the techniques of woodcut and
engraving were employed mainly to reproduce other works. The
creative printmakers of the day, however, preferred etching,
often combined with drypoint (see fig.
An etching is made by coating a copperplate with resin to
make an acid-resistant "ground," through which the design is
scratched with a needle, laying bare the metal surface
underneath. The plate is then bathed in an acid that etches
(or "bites") the lines into the copper. The depth of these
grooves varies with the strength and duration of the bath,
and the biting is usually by stages. After a brief immersion
in the acid bath the etcher will apply a protective coating
to the plate in those areas where the lines should be faint.
The plate is then immersed until it is time to protect the
less delicate lines, and so on. To scratch a design into the
resinous ground is, of course, an easier task than to
scratch it into the copperplate itself. Hence, an etched
line is smoother and more flexible than a drypoint line. An
etched plate is also more durable; it yields a far greater
number of prints than a drypoint plate. Its chief virtue is
its wide tonal range, including velvety dark shades not
possible in engraving or woodcut.
favorite pupil, as a gift to Francis I of France from Cosimo I de'
Medici. The central motif of Cupid embracing Venus was suggested by a
lost Triumph of Love by Michelangelo that Pontormo, among others,
is known to have copied. However, as with so much else in Mannerism, it
has been corrupted in content and treatment. Father Time tears back the
curtain from Fraud in the upper left-hand corner to uncover Venus and
Cupid in an incestuous embrace, to the delight of Folly, who is armed
with roses, and the dismay of Jealousy, who tears her hair, as Pleasure,
half-woman and half-snake, proffers a honeycomb. The moral is that folly
blinds us to the jealousy and fraud of sensual love which time reveals.
The literal unmasking of this deceit revels in the very lasciviousness
it purports to condemn. The painting is thus a perversion of the
elevated humanism that informs Botticelli's Birth of Venus (fig.
623). With its
extreme stylization, Bronzino's subtle elegance proclaims an equally
refined erotic ideal that reduces passion to a genteel exchange of
serpentine gestures between figures as polished as marble.
The second generation of Mannerists, with whom High Mannerism is
identified, congealed the style they inherited from Rosso, Pontormo, and
Parmigianino into a cool perfection that filtered out the last vestige
of their intensely personal sensibility. As a consequence, they produced
few masterpieces. In their best works, however, formal beauty becomes
the aesthetic counterpart to recondite thought.
Nowhere is this better seen than in the Allegory of Venus
Allegory of Venus, ñ 1546.
Oil on panel, 146.1 x
The National Gallery, London.
654). Those in
Perseus and Andromeda (fig. 681)
chronicler of the Italian Renaissance who worked in the same chill vein,
owe more to Raphael, although he esteemed Michelangelo above all others.
The painting, one of the artist's last works, is a play on the
Galatea (see fig. 667).
Bronzino's figures are indebted to Michelangelo in their sculptural
quality (compare the Venus to Night in fig.
It forms part of the rich decorative scheme
Vasari devised for the study of Francesco I de' Medici of Florence. The
program, by the humanist Vineenzo Borghini, is devoted to the four
elements. Vasari has chosen to represent water with the story of coral,
which according to legend was formed by the blood of the monster slain
by Perseus in rescuing the fair Andromeda. The subject provided an
excuse to show voluptuous nudes, but in his hands the story has become
an enchanting fantasy. In keeping with this lighthearted treatment, the
Nereids, annealed versions of Raphael's mythological creatures, frolic
with bits of coral they have discovered in the sea. Vasari's painting
became a model in its own right: it spawned a host of imitations by
minor artists in the waning years of Mannerism.
Giorgio Vasari. Perseus
and Andromeda. 1570-72.
Oil on slate, 115.6 x 86.4
Palazzo Vecchio, Florence
682), the wife of
The Mannerists also produced splendid portraits in the same highly
cultivated style, like
painting of Eleanora of Toledo (fig.
Cosimo I de' Medici. The sitter here appears as the member of an exalted
social caste, not as an individual personality. Frozen into immobility
behind the barrier of her lavishly ornate costume, Eleanora seems more
akin to Parmigianino's Madonna (compare the hands) than to
ordinary flesh and blood.
this does not mean that there were none in the meantime. Pliny, for
example, mentions in his Natural History (Book
35) the names and describes the
work of women artists in Greece and Rome, and there are records of women
manuscript illuminators during the Middle Ages. We must remember,
however, that the vast majority of all artists remained anonymous until
the "Late Gothic" period, so that all but a few works specifically by
women have proved impossible to identify. Women began to emerge as
distinct artistic personalities about 1550.
The first of these to be widely recognized in her
own lifetime was
We have not encountered a woman artist since ancient Greece (see fig.
The oldest of six artistic daughters from a prominent family in Cremona,
she showed a precocious talent and at an early age exchanged drawings
with Michelangelo. After establishing her reputation as a portraitist
while still a young woman, she was called to Madrid, where she spent
20 years as a court
painter until marriage brought her back to Italy. She became such a
celebrity that her self-portraits, often showing her playing a spinet,
were in considerable demand. Anguissola was highly regarded throughout
her lifetime—Van Dyck drew
her likeness shortly before her death—
and her success was an important inspiration to other
women artists. While her commissioned portraits follow the formal
conventions of the day, she was at her best in more intimate paintings
of her family, like the charming portrait she made of her sister Minerva
shortly before leaving for Spain (fig.
Eleanora of Toledo and Her Son Giovanni de'
ñ. 1550. Oil on panel,
115 x 96 cm.
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Portrait of the Artist's Sister Minerva.
Oil on canvas, 85 x
Milwaukee Art Museum, Layton Art Collection.
Mannerism in Venice
674). Its leading
was an artist of prodigious energy and
inventiveness, who combined qualities of both its anticlassical and
elegant phases in his work. He reportedly wanted "to paint like Titian
and to design like Michelangelo," but his relationship to these two
masters, though real enough, was as peculiar as Parmigianino's was to
Raphael. Christ Before Pilate (fig.
one of his many huge canvases for the Scuola di San
Rocco, the home of the Confraternity of St. Roch, contrasts tellingly
with Titian's Christ Crowned with Thorns (see fig.
674). The bold brushwork,
the glowing colors, and the sudden lights and shadows show what
Tintoretto owed to the older artist, and indeed the entire composition
recalls the Madonna with Members of the Pesaro Family (see
fig. 671). Yet
the total effect is unmistakably Mannerist. The feverish emotionalism of
the flickering, unreal light, and the ghostly Christ, pencil-slim and
motionless among the agitated Michelangelesque figures, remind us of
Not until midcentury did Mannerism appear in Venice, where it became
allied to the visionary tendencies already manifest in Titian's late
work (see fig.
Christ Before Pilate. 1566-67.
5,5 x 4.1 m.
Scuola di San Rocco, Venice
Tintoretto's last major work, The Last Supper (fig.
685), is also
his most spectacular. This canvas denies in every possible way the
classic values of Leonardo's version (see fig.
635), painted almost
exactly a century before. Christ, to be sure, still occupies the center
of the composition, but now the table is placed at a sharp angle to the
picture plane in exaggerated perspective. His small figure in the middle
distance is distinguishable mainly by the brilliant halo. Tintoretto has
gone to great lengths to give the event an everyday setting, cluttering
the scene with attendants, containers of food and drink, and domestic
animals. There are also celestial attendants that converge upon Christ
just as He offers His body and blood, in the form of bread and wine, to
the disciples. The smoke from the lamp miraculously turns into clouds of
angels, blurring the distinction between the natural and the
supernatural and turning the scene into a magnificently orchestrated
vision. Tintoretto's main concern has been to make visible the miracle
of the Eucharist—the
transubstantiation of earthly into divine food—
the institution central to Catholic doctrine,
which was reasserted during the Counter Reformation. He barely hints at
the drama of Judas' betrayal, so important to Leonardo. Judas is seen
isolated on the near side of the table, but his role is so insignificant
that he could almost be mistaken for an attendant.
(1541-1614), called El Greco,
came from Crete, which was then under Venetian rule. His earliest
training must have been from a Cretan artist still working in the
Byzantine tradition. Soon after 1560
El Greco arrived in Venice and quickly absorbed the
lessons of Titian, Tintoretto, and other masters. A decade later, in
Rome, he came to know the art of Raphael, Michelangelo, and the Central
Italian Mannerists. In 1576/77
he went to Spain, settling in Toledo for the rest of his
life. There he became established in the leading intellectual circles of
the city, then a major center of learning as well as the seat of
Catholic reform in Spain. Although it provides the content of his work,
Counter Reformation theology does not account for the exalted
emotionalism that informs his painting. The spiritual tenor of El
Greco's mature work was primarily a response to mysticism, which was
especially intense in Spain. Contemporary Spanish painting, however, was
too provincial to affect him. His style had already been formed before
he arrived in Toledo. Nor did he forget his Byzantine background. Until
the very end of his career, he signed his pictures in Greek.
The Last Supper. 1592-94.
Oil on canvas, 3.7 x 5.7
S. Giorgio Maggiore, Venice
The last, and today most famous, Mannerist painter was also trained in
the Venetian School. Domenikos Theotocopoulos
The largest and most resplendent of El Greco's major commissions, and
the only one for a public chapel, is The Burial of Count Orgaz
in the church of Sto. Tome. The program, which was given
at the time of the commission, emphasizes the traditional role of good
works in salvation and of the saints as intercessors with Heaven. This
huge canvas honors a medieval benefactor so pious that St. Stephen and
St. Augustine miraculously appeared at his funeral and themselves
lowered the body into its grave. The burial took place in
1323, but El Greco presents it as
a contemporary event, portraying among the attendants many of the local
nobility and clergy. The dazzling display of color and texture in the
armor and vestments could hardly have been surpassed by Titian himself.
Directly above, the count's soul (a small, cloudlike figure like the
angels in Tintoretto's Last Supper) is carried to Heaven by an
angel. The celestial assembly filling the upper half of the picture is
painted very differently from the lower half: every form—clouds,
part in the sweeping, flamelike movement toward the distant figure of
Christ. Here, even more than in Tintoretto's art, the entire range of
Mannerism fuses into a single ecstatic vision.
The Burial of Count Orgaz.
Sto. Tome, Toledo, Spain
The Burial of Count Orgaz. 1586.
Oil on canvas,
3.6 m. Sto.
Tome, Toledo, Spain
The full import of the work, however, becomes clear only when we see it
in its original setting. Like an enormous window, it fills one entire
wall of its chapel. The bottom of the canvas is 6
feet above the floor, and as the chapel is only
about 18 feet deep, we
must look sharply upward to see the upper half of the picture. El
Greco's violent foreshortening is calculated to achieve an illusion of
boundless space above, while the lower foreground figures appear as on a
stage. (Their feet are cut off by the molding just below the picture.)
The large stone plaque set into the wall also belongs to the ensemble,
representing the front of the sarcophagus into which the two saints
lower the body of the count; it thus explains the action within the
picture. The beholder, then, perceives three levels of reality: the
grave itself, supposedly set into the wall at eye level and closed by an
actual stone slab; the contemporary reenactment of the miraculous
burial; and the vision of celestial glory witnessed by some of the
participants. El Greco's task here was analogous to Masaccio's in his
Trinity mural (see fig. 590).
But whereas the Renaissance master creates the
illusion of reality through his command of rational pictorial space
which appears continuous with ours. El Greco summons an apparition that
remains essentially separate from its architectural surroundings. The
contrast measures the dynamic evolution of Western art since the Early
has created a spiritual counterpart to his imagination, in contrast to
Counter Reformation images, which were given a solid physical presence.
Every passage is alive with his peculiar religiosity, which is felt as a
nervous exaltation occurring as the dreamlike vision is conjured up.
This kind of mysticism is very similar in character to the Spiritual
Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Spanish priest who founded the
Jesuits in 1534 and
spearheaded the Counter Reformation following the first meeting of the
Council of Trent in 1545.
St. Ignatius sought to make visions so real that they would seem to
appear before the very eyes of the faithful. Such mysticism could be
achieved only through strenuous devotion. That effort is mirrored in the
intensity of El Greco's work, which fully retains a feeling of spiritual
From El Greco's Venetian training came his mastery of portraiture. We
generally know little of his relationship to his sitters, but in his
memorable portrait of Fray Felix Hortensio
Paravicino (fig. 688),
the sitter, an important scholar and poet, was
also a friend who praised El Greco's genius in several sonnets. This
portrait is an artistic descendant of Titian's Man with the Glove
and the self-portrait in Pontormo's Deposition (see figs.
676). Yet the mood is one
of neither reverie nor withdrawal. Paravicino's frail, expressive hands
and the pallid face, with its sensitive mouth and burning eyes, convey a
spiritual ardor of compelling intensity. Such, we like to think, were
the saints of the Counter Reformation—mystics
and intellectuals at the same time.
Fray Felix Hortensio Paravicino. ñ.
Oil on canvas. 112.5 x 85.5 cm.
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Although it spread to Venice and other cities, Mannerism failed to
establish dominance outside Florence and Rome. Elsewhere it competed
with other tendencies. In towns along the northern edge of the Lombard
plain, such as Brescia and Verona, a number of artists worked in a style
based on Giorgione and Titian, but with a stronger interest in everyday
Brescia, whose St. Matthew and the Angel (fig.
must be contemporary with Parmigianino's Madonna with the
Long Neck. The broad, fluid manner of painting reflects
the dominant influence of Titian, yet the great Venetian
master would never have placed the evangelist in so
thoroughly domestic an environment. The humble scene in the
background shows the saint's milieu to be lowly indeed and
makes the presence of the angel doubly miraculous.
One of the earliest and most attractive of these North
Italian realists was
This tendency to visualize sacred events among ramshackle
buildings and simple people had been characteristic of "Late
Gothic" painting, and Savoldo must have acquired it from
that source. The nocturnal lighting, too, recalls such
Northern pictures as the Nativity by Geertgen tot
Sint Jans (see fig. 552).
But whereas the main source of illumination in Geertgen's
panel is the Divine radiance of the Child, here Savoldo uses
an ordinary oil lamp for his similarly magic and intimate
St. Matthew and the Angel, ñ.
Oil on canvas, 93.3 x
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
after the town 30 miles
northwest of Venice where he passed virtually his
entire career. He inevitably fell under the influence of Titian, but
equally important to the formation of his style were prints by Germans
such as Albrecht Durer, who had twice visited Venice,
and by the Mannerists, notably Parmigianino. In
The Adoration of the Shepherds (fig.
690), Bassano's most
characteristic subject, the landscape will remind us of the setting in
Titian's Bacchanal (fig. 670),
but the figures show the impact of Parmigianino:
their interlocking rhythms, the gentle grace of the Madonna, the gesture
of the Infant Christ, the seemingly arbitrary column, all can be found
in The Madonna with the Long Neck (fig.
678). The pose of the
shepherd doffing his hat, too, has its specific source in Parmigianino's
etching The Entombment (see fig.
679). The high-pitched color is decidedly
Mannerist as well (compare fig. 676).
A different form of realism is found in the paintings of Jacopo da Ponte
The Adoration of the Shepherds. 1542-47.
Oil on canvas, 139.5
The Royal Collection.
The role of Northern art seems less immediately apparent, until we
realize that the tender relationship between the Virgin and Child has an
intimacy that can have come only from German prints (compare fig.
565), not Italian
painting. The humble setting indicates that he must also have known a
similar composition by Martin Schongauer.
And the mountains in the distance find their nearest
counterpart in the watercolor Italian Mountains (see fig.
712) that Durer
sketched on his way back from Venice, rather than any work by Titian.
Unlike Durer's, Jacopo's landscape is a "portrait," showing Mount Grappa
near Bassano. The Adoration of the Shepherds is more than a
synthesis of diverse sources, however. "What is novel in all this is the
pastoral quality of the scene. The artist includes peasants of the sort
he must have encountered around his native town. Hugo van der Goes had
been among the few to show-such coarse, simple people, in The
Portinari Altarpiece (see fig. 551).
Yet for Bassano they were an essential feature of
his work. His realism, then, is not one of specific details but of
general type, which offsets the self-conscious artificiality of his
(1528-1588), North Italian
realism takes on the splendor of a pageant. Born and trained in Verona,
Veronese became, after Tintoretto, the most important painter in Venice.
Both found favor with the public, although they were utterly unlike each
other in style. The contrast is strikingly evident if we compare
Tintoretto's Last Supper (fig.
685) and Veronese's Christ in the House
of Levi (fig. 691),
which have similar subjects. Veronese avoids all
reference to the supernatural. His symmetrical composition harks back to
paintings by Leonardo and Raphael, while the festive mood of the scene
reflects examples by Titian of the 1520s (compare fig.
671), so that at first
glance the picture looks like a High Renaissance work born
50 years too late. Missing,
however, is one essential element: the elevated, ideal conception of
humanity underlying the High Renaissance. Veronese paints a sumptuous
banquet, a true feast for the eyes, but not "the intention of man's
In the work of
Significantly, we are not even sure which event from the life of
Christ he originally meant to depict, for he gave the canvas its present
title only after he had been summoned by the religious tribunal of the
Inquisition on the charge of filling his picture with "buffoons,
drunkards, Germans, dwarfs, and similar vulgarities"
unsuited to its sacred character. The account of
this trial shows that the tribunal thought the painting represented the
Last Supper, but Veronese's testimony never made clear whether it was
the Last Supper or the Supper in the House of Simon. To him this
distinction made little difference. In the end, he settled on a
convenient third title, the Supper in the House of Levi, which permitted
him to leave the offending incidents in place. He argued that they were
no more objectionable than the nudity of Christ and the Heavenly Host in
Michelangelo's Last Judgment, but the tribunal failed to see the
analogy on the grounds that "in the Last Judgment it was not necessary
to paint garments, and there is nothing in those figures that is not
The Inquisition, of course, considered only the impropriety of
Veronese's art. not its lack of concern with spiritual depth. His dogged
refusal to admit the justice of the charge, his insistence on his right
to introduce directly observed details, however "improper," and his
indifference to the subject of the picture spring from an attitude so
startlingly "extroverted" that it was not generally accepted until the
nineteenth century. The painter's domain, Veronese seems to say, is the
entire visible world, and here he acknowledges no authority other than
Christ in the House of Levi. 1573.
Oil on canvas, 5.5 x 12.8
Galleria dell'Accademia, Venice
A third trend that emerged about
in northern Italy has been labeled proto-Baroque, as
much because it eludes convenient categories as because it anticipates
so many features of the Baroque style, although such a term hardly does
justice to its highly individual qualities. This tendency centers
largely on Correggio, although later in the century it has a counterpart
in architecture (see pages 524-25).
phenomenally gifted North Italian painter, spent most of his brief
career in Parma, which lies to the west along the Lombard plain.
Consequently, he absorbed a wide range of influences: first Leonardo and
the Venetians, then Michelangelo and Raphael, but their ideal of
classical balance did not attract him. Correggio's work partakes of
North Italian realism but applies it with the imaginative freedom of the
Mannerists, though we do not find any hint of his fellow townsman
Parmigianino in his style. His largest work, the fresco of The
Assumption of the Virgin in the dome of Parma Cathedral (fig.
692), is a
masterpiece of illusionistic perspective, a vast, luminous space filled
with soaring figures. Although they move with such exhilarating ease
that the force of gravity seems not to exist for them, these are
healthy, energetic beings of flesh and blood, not disembodied spirits,
and they frankly delight in their weightless condition.
There was little difference between spiritual and physical ecstasy
for Correggio, who thereby established an important precedent for
Baroque artists such as Gianlorenzo Bernini.
We can see this by comparing The Assumption of
the Virgin with his Jupiter and lo (fig.
693), one canvas in
a series illustrating the loves of the classical gods. The nymph,
swooning in the embrace of a cloudlike Jupiter, is the direct kin of the
jubilant angels in the fresco. Leonardesque sfumato, combined with a
Venetian sense of color and texture, produces an effect of exquisite
voluptuousness that far exceeds Titian's in his Bacchanal (see
Correggio had no immediate successors, nor did he have any lasting
influence on the art of his century, but toward
1600 his work began to be widely appreciated. For
the next century and a half he was admired as the equal of Raphael and
Michelangelo, while the Mannerists, so important before, were largely
Assumption of the Virgin (portion),
Fresco. Dome, Parma Cathedral
Jupiter and Io. ñ 1532.
Oil on canvas, 163.8
cm. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna