Francesco Salviati (1510 – 1563)
A study of a man leaning down - Guise Bequest 1765
“[A] silver-tongued language of articulate, if unnatural, beauty, not one of incoherence, menace and despair […] in a phrase, the stylish style” is how the art historian John Shearman (1931 – 2003) described the art of the mid-16th century. A period that the art critic John Ruskin (1819 – 1900) regarded with contempt and associated with artistic decline and decadence, but whose artists were re-discovered and brought back into the limelight in the early 20th century - the era of modernism. The new interest in these mid-16th century artists also manifested itself in the subsequent naming of the period as Mannerism. An –ism with theories closer to the contemporary art of the time, like Cubism and Expressionism and which – together with the Italian word for style - maniera - makes up the name.
Elegance and grace, over-sophistication and artificiality are the uniting features. Artists attempted to overcome nature rather than to imitate it: limbs are elongated, figures overly-twisted, vessels elaborately decorated, ideas exceptionally erudite and laden with riddles. The cerebral artist, the inventor and creator takes centre stage.
The collection at Christ Church Picture Gallery is rich on works of this period and some drawings which were given little recognition in the 19th century were re-established as some of the most important works of that period. This is especially true for the preparatory drawing by Jacopo Pontormo (1494 – 1557) for his altarpiece of the Lamentation in Santa Felicita in Florence, a painting that has reached an iconic status.
However, styles are never coherent and uniform, but constructed and named in retrospect. They comprise a variety of artists working in geographically different areas, to name but two of their obvious limitations. The 44 drawings on display, all from Christ Church’s own collection, reflected this duality of similarity and diversity by bringing together a number of artists from Florence, Rome and Parma, among them Vasari, Salviati, Pontormo, Bronzino, Parmigianino and Tintoretto.
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