When Johann Wolfgang von Goethe used the term 'mannerist' to describe an era of (generally) Italian painting directly succeeding the Italian Renaissance, it is said that he was picnicking upon smoked meats and cheeses on the green banks of the Rhine with his friend and comrade Caspar David Friedrich, who was amusing him with sketches of different yet concurrent species of dirt indigenous to Southern Italy, from where Goethe had just returned, and which initiated a great passage spoken by Goethe, which was transcribed by Goethe's poorly salaried transcriptionist and secretary and note-taker, who transcribed it as such:
"Fair Caspar, for as you have drawn here a silty clay holding heavy my horse's hoofprint, and which is best for growing absolutely nothing at all, and which is found in the most barren of Italy's regions, to this day uninhabited by civilized people and instead overrun with wild dogs, this is the dirt which Parmagianino incorporated into the background of his painting of the long-necked virgin, in a manner so deliberate and assured I can think of nothing to call it aside from 'manner-y' or 'mannerist'."
And so Mannerism was born on the same day that Germany was semi-unified by Prince Pilfersonn Wernheiser-Spank from fifty-odd city-states into, simply, East Berlin and West Berlin, that day being June 5, 1816, a momentous day for the German people, everything happening all at once like some great explosion, a shattered vase which has suddenly become broken only into two parts.
But returning to Mannerism, perhaps it is best to understand the period by analysis of specific works from the period. This 1620 painting by Bronzino is entitled, "The Hatching Of The Apostles In The Woods Near Jerusalem."
By way of Divine Intervention, the Virgin Mary conceived cinctuplets with the mythic goose Chastity, an enormous beast born with the holy task of carrying the five apostles in utero. On the fifth day of pregnancy, Chastity emitted his great birthing call from the lush coniferous forests on the skirts of Jerusalem, and Mary heeded the cry and witnessed the miraculous goose lay his eggs in a thatch of loganberries. After three days the eggs saw their own shadows and hatched the apostles John, Luke, Simon, Peter, and Thomas. Bronzino's animated depiction of each apostle's unique character is testament to his masterful sensitivity. John is seen at far left, prone to dark moods, his chin resting on his birthing shell, his face drawn in solemn awareness of mortal fragility, his hair segmented into golden dreadlocks by which he would later be hoisted to Heaven. The apostle Thomas is hiding beneath his eggshell's lid, symbolizing his predisposition towards and fondness for hats, being the first of three hat-wearing apostles. The obstreperous apostles Simon and Luke are crushing Peter inside his shell, just as Peter will be shit upon metaphorically many times during his life, charged with the most menial and horrific tasks at Christ's beckoning. From the memoirs of Apostle Luke:
Here is a tasty treatSee how he walks the street
Come nibble at his head
Delicious Man of Bread!
Warm and freshly-baked
Fat legs of honey cake
His arms are even plumper
Come out and have your supper!
Gobble up the Man of Bread
Bite his nose off, eat his head.
(repeat 8x) "
And so, this scene so lively and full of meaning is further enhanced in aesthetic value by the naturalistic anatomy of the figures. This is particularly evident with Mary, whose widely espoused athleticism is shown through extremely muscular abdominals and arms. Should the sallow complexions be called into question, the viewer must remember that in days of old anemia and ferritin deficiencies were not uncommon, and that Jerusalem is rainy and dull three seasons out of the year.
Please join us for he next chapter in Adventures in Mannerism, where we shall discuss exactly what fragments of Roman architecture have to do with the early Christian adult baby community.