hey! now that i know you're a general art history nerd, do you have any analyses about the Madonna With the Long Neck by Parmigianino? I hate on this painting so much any time the subject of mannerism comes up but every time I visit the Uffizi I have to visit it, it makes me laugh and cry tears of frustration and I can't help but love it a lot. It's just a beautifully rendered goddamn mess. I was wondering if you had any insights?
Hey! I’m so sorry it took me so long to answer this! I’ve been caught up in school, but I didn’t mean to put it off for so long!
Anyhow, I actually LOVE Madonna with a Long Neck. Haha! That being said, I ALSO agree that it is a “beautifully rendered mess”- but that’s part of why I love it. For anyone reading this response who doesn’t know what we’re talking about, here is “Madonna with a Long Neck” by Paramigianino from 1535-1540:
There’s definitely a lot about this that is distinctly wtf. The weird composition with everyone pushed up to the front, the strange, incomplete architecture in the background, the strange dude in the right corner that looks tiny and far away but the longer you look the more it seems like he’s actually much close and just abnormally tiny like a barbie doll. The terrifying, giant baby Jesus that looks a few steps away from being a Silent Hill monster…. There’s…. a lot going on here.
So this painting is one of the most well-known and typical paintings in what is called the Mannerist tradition of art (as you already mentioned in your ask). I will preface by saying that I haven’t studied Mannerism extensively so I may be a bit off on a few points, but what I will say is that Mannerism is WEIRD. It’s important to note that while there was a particular trend of art style in this time which is denoted as “mannerist”, the artists themselves didn’t come up with the term or defined “movement”.
“Mannerism” was a term applied by later art historians who came up with it from an except in Vasari’s Lives of the Artist’s about Michelangelo. Vasari referred to Michelangelo’s individual and idiosyncratic style as his “maniera” in reference to his particular handling. (Not that Michelangelo is considered a mannerist- this is just where historians got the term. This is important to note because the sort of post-definition of the art movement means that he artists themselves weren’t necessarily working with a set of rules defining the “movement” they were a part of, and so mannerist paintings can vary wildly.
The main definer of Mannerism, though, is the sort of decadence which led to a distinct sense of artificiality to the work. I mean look at the painting up there: the lushness of the fabrics, the compressed and therefore almost chaotic but beautiful composition of figures, the elongated anatomy and poor sense of gravity- Baby Jesus looks like he’s in the middle of straight up dropping off of her lap and onto the ground.
Perfect example? Look at that angel in the front’s leg. It’s out there like BAM. Saucy. It’s like Angelina Jolie’s leg at the Oscars- and like Jolie’s leg, the effect is both dramatic and beautiful while also being so performative and jarring that it’s ridiculous at the same time and you can’t help but laugh.
But that’s just it. That’s what I love about Mannerist paintings: their artificiality and almost parody-level dramatics are so perfectly balanced with the beautiful elements that you’re not quite sure if the ridiculousness was intentional or not. Look at another classic example of Mannerism to drive the point home.
Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time, by Bronzino from 1545:
Like…. Holy shit. There is…… I don’t even know where to begin with this cacophony of confusing, vaguely terrifying/vaguely erotic shit right here. Somehow, the longer you look, the pre-teen-looking Eros with a spine made of silly puttie casually getting to second base with his own mom is the LEAST unsettling thing here.
But I don’t know. It’s certainly an engaging painting. And despite the numerous classically technical flaws, it’s extremely technically impressive at the same time.
For me, what I’ve always liked about Mannerism is that I’ve always kind of thought of it as a sort of pseudo-pre-surrealism.
So that was probably a way longer answer than you wanted, but it’s pretty difficult for me to not go on endlessly about art history.