Multiple descriptions of Mannerism in art, literature, and music in Europe include the difficulty of pinpointing exactly what the period represents. The literal origin of the term Mannerism comes from an Italian word “maniera,” which refers to style or stylishness. One scholastic interpretation of Mannerism is that it distinguishes between people with genuine style and people putting on airs.
Mannerism refers to a period during and after the High Renaissance (1520-1600). The artists of this movement dealt with human figures in various poses in portraits and scenes in experimental ways. Their subjects were similar to other Renaissance artists, including Classical mythology and Catholic themes. According to Honour and Fleming (2005), mannerism has been characterized “as an expression of the spiritual crises of the time or as a sophisticated art created solely for art’s sake.”
The sheer genius of Correggio’s work sheds insight on the Mannerist style. Estimates place his birth somewhere between 1489 and 1495. Antonio Allegri of Correggio, known as Correggio, was the son of a merchant. His works reflected influences of other Renaissance artists, including Raphael and Michelangelo. Some scholars say he traveled to Rome, or might have observed their works in prints of the period. Known as the Master of Parma, Correggio is praised for superior depiction of human flesh on canvas and for techniques such as exquisite finishes and portrayal of human arms and legs from below (such as the Cupola of the Cathedral of Parma).
In the Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine with St. Sebastian (c. 1526-1527), a smiling, nude Baby Jesus sits on Mary’s lap and St. Sebastian looks on fondly. In other paintings and frescoes, Correggio treats human figures differently. In the Assumption of the Virgin (1526-1530), the artist creates a fresco masterpiece in the Dome (Cupola) of the Cathedral of Parma. His work is illustrative of illusionism and is likened to Raphael’s work (dome painting) in the Vatican. In Parma’s Cathedral, Correggio creates a spiral (or vortex) of ascending ranks of angels, and Mary makes her way to the light at the pinnacle of heaven.
A different work by Correggio is Virgin and Child with Musician Angels (c. 1510-1515). Observers see in Correggio’s style features similar to Baroque painters, such as the Dutch painters Rubens and Rembrandt. Mary looks sad as Baby Jesus watches an angel playing a stringed instrument. Her face looks very similar to faces in Dutch Baroque paintings. Correggio also uses intricate realism in the clothing of Mary and the angels. The brilliant light in the background shows his understanding of how to portray lighting in paintings like other Renaissance masters.
One of the most talented Mannerist painters, Correggio left behind few details about his life, including how he learned to paint. Art history serves as a record of his many technical achievements in painting, including the foregoing techniques, chiaroscuro, and the Classical technique of foreshortening. Correggio died in 1534.