bronzino days


There’s a new old art star in New York this winter: Agnolo Bronzino, the sixteenth-century Florentine painter, whose entire corpus of some sixty known drawings (a few attributions are uncertain) is on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum, to rousing effect. His arrival heralds a new old movement: Mannerism, the most commonly despised period in Western art history and, I think, the one that best befits creative culture today. We are mostly Mannerists now. Art about art, and style for style’s sake, Mannerism held sway from the end of the High Renaissance, circa 1520, until the Baroque kicked in, seven decades later. Even the strongest Mannerists—Pontormo and Bronzino in Florence, Parmigianino in Rome, Tintoretto in Venice, and El Greco in Italy and Spain—squirmed under the crushing criteria that had been established by Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, and Titian. They did so in ways both ingeniously elegant and gamily perverse. Think of Parmigianino’s elongated body parts, then of El Greco’s elongated everything. Recall Bronzino’s “The Allegory of Venus and Cupid,” at the National Gallery in London: a confounding tour de force of over-the-top sensuality and cryptic symbolism, painted for France’s racy, bookish Francis I. (Cupid lewdly embraces his naked mother while, among other things, Father Time presides, a butterball putto rejoices, a cute-faced and snake-tailed grotesque proffers a honeycomb, and a dove departs on foot like a stricken guest from a party that is way out of hand.) As the Mannerists toiled in the twilight of the Renaissance, so do we in relation to the modern age—the word “modern” having been torn from its roots to signify things that loom behind us.

more from Peter Schjeldahl at The New Yorker here.