16th C Netherlandish Renaissance Art of Bosch

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BOSCH, Hieronymus. 
Death and the Miser c. 1490 
Oil on wood, 93 x 31 cm 
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Context:  Even though the Reformation doesn't officially start until Luther publishes his writings around 1516-20 there are strains of the ideas and Luther and his writings are probably the result of years of moving in that direction in the North.  Many of Luther's ideas can be seen to evolve in the Northern art of the mid 1400's.  It makes sense that the critical and often sarcastic imagery we saw in Metsys' The Moneylender and his Wife, 1514 and the ideas expressed in Petrus Christus. Saint Eloy (Eligius) in his Shop.  1449 evolve into a critical point of view about the main religious institution controlling their lives.
Hiëronymus Bosch, 
b. c. 1450,, 's Hertogenbosch, Brabant [now in The Netherlands]
d. Aug. 9, 1516, 's Hertogenbosch 
also spelled JHERONIMUS BOS, pseudonym of JEROME VAN AEKEN, also spelled AQUEN, OR AKEN, also called JEROEN ANTHONISZOON, brilliant and original northern European painter of the late Middle Ages whose work reveals an unusual iconography of a complex and individual style. Although at first recognized as a highly imaginative "creator of devils" and a powerful inventor of seeming nonsense full of satirical meaning, Bosch demonstrated insight into the depths of the mind and an ability to depict symbols of life and creation.
Bosch was a pessimistic and stern moralist who had neither illusions about the rationality of human nature nor confidence in the kindness of a world that had been corrupted by man's presence in it. His paintings are sermons, addressed often to initiates and consequently difficult to translate. Unable to unlock the mystery of the artist's works, critics at first believed that he must have been affiliated with secret sects. Although the themes of his work were religious, his choice of symbols to represent the temptation and eventual ensnarement of man in earthly evils caused many critics to view Bosch as a practitioner of the occult arts. More recent scholarship views Bosch as a talented artist who possessed deep insight into human character and as one of the first artists to represent abstract concepts in his work. A number of exhaustive interpretations of Bosch's work have been put forth in recent years, but there remain many obscure details.
 "Bosch, Hiëronymus."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Inc.   December 3, 2002. 
Notice that Bosch's iconography is a problem for art historians and each one attempts to interpret it according to what they know.  Below you will find several points of view as to what the iconography may or may not mean.  Read these different accounts and decide for yourself.

BOSCH, Hieronymus. 
Death and the Miser c. 1490 
Oil on wood, 93 x 31 cm 
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Form and Iconography: The use of oil paint to create an incredible level of realism is quite evident in this image.  Here, the artist shows off again by showing how well he is able to paint the textures and surfaces but he is also demonstrating his ability to create space. In some ways, this scene is a genre scene.  It takes place in what looks to be a domestic setting and the central character is one that the viewer would be expected to identify with.
Bosch often worked with almost incomprehensible or bizarre iconography.  It seems, like the submerged symbolism of Robert Campin's  Merode Altarpiece c. 1425 he is inventing or using a now lost lexicon of iconography.
The interior of this composition is formed to look almost as if the scene is taking place within the nave of a vaulted cathedral.  This is probably done almost as a sarcastic reference to the Gothic style Church.  To the left of the doorway in which a skeleton is entering is a Romanesque or Gothic capital and column.
This image seems to be a sarcastic play on the iconography associated with annunciation scenes such as those by Robert Campin's  Merode Altarpiece c. 1425.  Almost as in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, in this scene, a miser is being visited on his death bed by a variety of fantastic creatures.  Death stands ready in the door to fling his last arrow and take the man to his fate while his soul is wrestled over.  God is represented by the apparition of the crucifixion in the window.  The light that shines through the window is represented similarly to the soul of Jesus being delivered to Mary in the Merode Altarpiece c. 1425.   Above the bed, on a canopy, a demon shines a fake sparking lamp to misguide him.
At the misers back is an angel.  Again the angel is similar to representations of Gabriel in annunciation scenes but the miser pays no attention and seems torn, even on his deathbed, between the glory of god and the vain gloria of his avarice represented by the evil frog like demon tempting him with the money bag.
Overall the composition is a vertical one and this plays into the iconography.  God is represented at the top of the image and as we descend through the image we can also see that the iconography descends into the common world of man.
Beneath the deathbed is a rather red nosed and almost drunken looking man who has a key and a rosary hanging from his robes.  According to the the National Gallery's website, "At the foot of the bed a younger man, possibly the miser at an earlier age, hypocritically throws coins into a chest with one hand as he fingers a rosary with the other." 
I think they may have it wrong though, to me it looks like he is placing money into an alm's bowl held by a demon while another demon passes up what looks to be a letter or a papal indulgence.  Could this be St. Peter and the chest represent the holdings of the Catholic Church?  Perhaps then, the letter is an indulgence that is an attempt to pay his way into heaven.
Beneath the chest and at the very bottom of the picture plane lies a suit of discarded armor.  Perhaps a representation of the miser's discarded faith.  Notice that the sword is rusted.  He is no longer the good Christian soldier depicted in Durer's print.
Here's another point of view but I'm not sure if it's correct:

Bosch's depiction of a dying miser lying in his high narrow bedchamber features a number of details pointing out the consequences of a life devoted to avarice. The figure of death stands in the doorway indicating that the miser's end is rapidly approaching. And while the miser's guardian angel vainly tries to draw his attention to the crucifix in the window at the upper left, the demonic influence is overpowering. Many commentators have noted that Bosch's work here seems to be of a type which may have been influenced by the Fifteen Century devotional work Ars Moriendi (Craft of Dying) which describes how a dying man is exposed to a series of temptations by demons surrounding his deathbed. At each temptation an angel comforts him and strengthens him and in the end the angel is successful, the soul is carried to heaven and the devil's howl in despair. Here, however, the outcome is much less certain.
The fact that the miser's path was established long before his death is apparent with the inclusion of an image of his younger self placing a coin into a bag held by a demon. Underneath the chest other demons await. in the forefront a winged demon handles the red robes which indicate the miser's earthly rank. While at bedside another creature offers a bag of gold which provides a final distraction to the dying man. The message appears to be that despite God's willingness to provide salvation most people will persist in their sins until the point of death.
Here's the National Gallery of Art, Washington point of view:

Of all fifteenth-century artists, Hieronymus Bosch is the most mysterious. His puzzling, sometimes bizarre imagery has prompted a number of false assertions that he was, for example, the member of a heretical sect, a sexual libertine, or a forerunner of the surrealists. What can be said is that he was a moralist, profoundly pessimistic about man's inevitable descent into sin and damnation. In this slender panel, probably a wing from a larger altarpiece, a dying man seems torn between salvation and his own avarice. At the foot of the bed a younger man, possibly the miser at an earlier age, hypocritically throws coins into a chest with one hand as he fingers a rosary with the other. In his last hour, with death literally at the door, the miser still hesitates; will he reach for the demon's bag of gold or will he follow the angel's gesture and direct his final thoughts to the crucifix in the window?
Avarice was one of the seven deadly sins and among the final temptations described in the Ars moriendi (Art of Dying), a religious treatise probably written about 1400 and later popularized in printed books. Bosch's painting is similar to illustrations in these books, but his introduction of ambiguity and suspense is unique.
This panel is thinly painted. In several areas it is possible to see in the underdrawing where Bosch changed his mind about the composition. His thin paint and unblended brushstrokes differ markedly from the enamellike polish of other works in this gallery.
also see


BOSCH, Hieronymus,  Haywain 1500-02
Oil on panel, Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial

Oil on panel, 147 x 66 cm


Context: The subject of sin and its punishments was central to all of Bosch's art. A famous triptych, The Haywain, contains a progression of sin, from Eden to hell, across its panels. In the central panel sin is represented through the metaphor of a large wagonload of hay for which a greedy world grasps. All the while, the wagon is being pulled by demons towards the right panel - which shows one of Bosch's earliest depictions of hell. Form:  Interestingly enough, Bosch again is collaging together elements from images by Giotto in his Last Judgement and Masaccio's Expulsion as well as various elements and compositional devices one might find in the Tympanum of Gothic and Rmanesque Churches such as those found at Autun.
In the sky we see an image of God almost as if he is in a Last Judgement scene.  The composition is very similar to Giotto's Last Judgment.  The arrangement and scale of the angels or possibly even some demons is in a semi- circular form as in Giotto's.
Beneath, in the garden, we the arrangement of the figures in this continuous narrative scene is based on various standard compositions for each story.  For example, the creation of Eve uses the same poses as Michelangelo does about ten years later in his Sistine Chapel panel.
Iconography:  The arraangement of this panel is hierarchical.  The scene at the top, may represent creation but the weird bug like demons grouped at the bottom coupled with the angels who are higher up in the picture plane, may indicate that this is the fall of the angels which is echoed by Adam's expulsion at the very bottom.   An interesting, Catholic icon is represented by God the father as he pulls Eve from Adam's rib.  God is wearing the papal crown.


BOSCH, Hieronymus,  Haywain 1500-02
Oil on panel, Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial
Form: The composition of the center scene is fairly symmetrical.  The hay wagon that sits in the center of the image creates the bottom of pyramidal shape that is completed by the figure who sit atop the wagon and God in heaven who looks over the scene. Iconography:  The overall scene is one that represents our unavoidable journey to damnation.  It is a bit pessimistic.
Atop the Hay wagon, angels pray for us and demons also vie for our attention.  A vessel, possibly representing the holy vessel is atop a pike, while opposite this is an owl, representing knowledge and death, sits atop another branch surrounded by blackbirds (death?).
Below the wagon are scenes of chaos, murder, lust and avarice.  Basically all the seven deadly sins are represented in one guise or another and even the clergy are not immune to gluttony in the lower right hand corner.


BOSCH, Hieronymus.
Garden of Earthly Delights (closed triptych) c. 1500
"Creation of the World"?
Oil on panel,  (86 5/8 X 76 1/4) 220 x 195 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid
   The outer panels of Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights betray little of the wonders which lie within. Here we see the earth as Bosch envisioned it to be on the third day of creation. Light has been separated from the darkness, the waters have been divided above and below the firmament and trees are beginning to grow across the face of the earth. Overlooking this pale and watery earth composed primarily of subtle grays and green-grays is the Creator who is pictured as sitting passively on his throne holding a book which represents the creative Word. And lest we miss the allusion to the effortlessness of the Creator's act, Bosch has added an inscription from Ps. 33.9, "For he spake and it was done; he commanded and it stood forth."

BOSCH, Hieronymus.
Garden of Earthly Delights
(central panel of the triptych) c. 1500
Oil on panel, 220 x 195 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid
The "Garden of Earthly Delights," representative of Bosch at his mature best, shows the earthly paradise with the creation of woman, the first temptation, and the fall. The painting's beautiful and unsettling images of sensuality and of the dreams that afflict the people who live in a pleasure-seeking world express Bosch's iconographic originality with tremendous force. The chief characteristic of this work is perhaps its dreamlike quality; multitudes of nude human figures, giant birds, and horses cavort and frolic in a delightfully implausible, otherworldly landscape, and all the elements come together to produce a perfect, harmonious whole.  "Bosch, Hiëronymus."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Inc.   December 3, 2002. 
 Various attempts have been made to relate these fantasies to the realities of his own day. For instance, some of the sexually related visions have been related to the  creed of the Adamites, a hereticel sect of the day advocating, at least in theory, sexual freedom like that in Eden. But the most promising line has been to recognize many of them as illustrations of proverbs: for instance, the pair of lovers in the glass bubble would recall the proverb 'Pleasure is as fragile as glass'. This approach  also provides a link between these fantasies and Bosch's other work, such as the Cure of Folly or Haywain, and between Bosch's later work and Bruegel's in the  middle of the sixteenth century: though without Bosch's satanic profusion, Bruegel also made illustrations of proverbs in this way.
At the time of his death, Bosch was internationally celebrated as an eccentric painter of religious visions who dealt in particular with the torments of hell. During his lifetime Bosch's works were in the inventories of noble families of the Netherlands, Austria, and Spain, and they were imitated in a number of paintings and prints throughout the 16th century, especially in the works of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. 
Bosch's most famous and unconventional picture is The Garden of Earthly Delights which, like most of his other ambitious works, is a large, 3-part altarpiece, called a triptych. This painting was probably made for the private enjoyment of a noble family. It is named for the luscious garden in the central panel, which is filled with cavorting nudes and giant birds and fruit. The triptych depicts the history of the world and the progression of sin. Beginning on the outside shutters with the creation of the world, the story progresses from Adam and Eve and original sin on the left panel to the torments of hell, a dark, icy, yet fiery nightmarish vision, on the right. The Garden of Delights in the center illustrates a world deeply engaged in sinful pleasures.


Left Detail Heaven/Paradise 
with Adam and Eve
    The subdued gray earth of The Garden of Earthly Delight's exterior panels gives way to an explosion of vibrant color within. With the felt panel we move to the final three days of creation when life burst forth on the earth with all of its abundance. Swarms of living creatures inhabit the fertile garden with many gathering near a tall, slender Fountain of Life which occupies a small island in the lake at the center of the panel. To the right of the fountain a group of animals are climbing a bank which transforms itself into a face.      In the foreground, near the Tree of Knowledge we see God presenting Eve to an astounded Adam who seems amazed at this creature who has been brought forth from his rib. It is notable that here God is much more youthful that we have seen in previous representations in that Bosch sets aside his earlier convention and presents the Deity in the Person of Christ. This follows a frequent convention in Fifteenth Century Dutch literature where the marriage of Adam and Eve is performed by a Youthful Deity.
     As is usually the case with Bosch, however, no paradise exists entirely free from at least a foreshadowing of evil and this foreshadowing appears as a pit in the extreme foreground, out of which a variety of creatures are emerging.

Right Detail
    The dreamlike paradise of the center panel gives way to the nightmare of Hell in which the excitement of passion is transformed into a frenzy of suffering. Here the lushest paradise Bosch will ever produce leads to the most violent of his always violent hells. As is generally the case in Bosch's vision of Hell a burning city serves as a backdrop to the various activities carried out by Hell's citizens, but here the buildings don't merely burn, rather they explode with firey plumes blasting into the darkness as what appears to be a wave of refugees flee across a bridge toward an illuminated gate house.      As is always the case in Bosch's Hells the general theme is a chaos in which normal relationships are turned upside down and everyday objects are turned into objects of torture. And, given Bosch's use of musical instruments as symbolic of lust it is not surprising that in the Hell musical instruments as objects of torment are prominently featured. From the left we see a nude figure which has been attached by devils to the neck of a lute, while another has been entangled in the strings of a harp and a third has been stuffed down the neck of a great horn.

The picture shows a detail of The Hell. Several huge musical instruments figure prominently in Bosch's conception of hell. They are shaped similarly to the ones used at that time, but their positioning is unrealistic (for example, a harp grows out of a lute). Their relationship to each other bears strongly fanciful elements, and they have been adapted in form. What is more, the use of these instruments is wholly fantastic. There is a human figure stretched across the strings of a harp; another writhes around the neck of a flute, intertwined with a snake; a third peers out of a drum equipped with bird-like feet, the next one plays triangle while reaching out from a hurdy-gurdy, and even the smoking trumpet displays an outstretched human arm. It is difficult to conceive that the group of damned souls would sing a hymn from the musical score fixed to the reverse of the reclining figure in front of them - although this has been proposed by some scholars. The ensemble, lead by an infernal monster, could more likely be a parody.
According to Dr. Bruce Lamott, a music historian, the depiction of the individual crucified on the harp, the image of the trumpet shoved up the rear end of one of the figures, and the ears sliced by the knives could be a reference to the ideas that were being debated by the Council of Trent.  Many individuals felt that music was too sensuous and the work of the devil and that the new traditions of playing music in Church was a mistake. There are also some very Giottoesque elements in this painting.  In the lower right hand of hell is an image of a pig dressed in a nun's habit which obviously is a jab at the greedy nature of the Catholic Church.  It is very similar to Giotto's inclusion of the Bishop who is taking money for indulgences and pardoning people in hell.



Printmaking The Reformation Durer Cranach and Holbein

Printmaking and the Reformation

Engraving Depicting a Renaissance Printmaking Shop
Context:  One of the major innovations of the Renaissance, much like our own information revolution concerning the internet, was the invention of the movable type printing press.  Two majors forms had been around for several hundred years already.  Engraving and woodblock printing but this innovation was something new. The movable type printing press, perfected most likely by Johannes Gutenberg (1398-1468),  created an information revolution.  What made the movable type printing press so significant was the fact that it used reusable interchangable parts to create pages of texts.  In the large illustration on the left is a man putting precarved blocks (made out of medal or wood) in to small compartments in a larger tray.  Above the tray is the original manuscript which he is "typesetting."  The page once it had been set would be run through a printing press for a series of images and then once enough copies had been made, the block would be dumped out, sorted and then reused in another page.
The major benefit to this process is speed and economy.  Since the individual pages didn't need to be carved from scratch, half the time was needed to print off a series of pages.  It was also cheaper because less labor and materials were needed.
In the past, books and especially the Bible, were often hand made.  Monks or scribes would hand copy and decorate each page individually and the major producer or publisher of such manuscripts was the Catholic Church.  With this new technology, wealthy individuals could now afford to print off multiple sets of books and flyers with their ideas.  The text of the Bible, whose cost was prohibitively expensive and also outlawed to anyone but the Cathloic clergy, could now be printed up at much less cost.  The equivalenyt of these events would be our ability to send off a mass e-mail, print out multiple copies of a flyer at a copy shop and or post documents to the web.  This is called "self-publishing."
New books were now being published and copies of Gutenberg's famous Bible were being mass produced and this lead to the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in the North of Europe and the writings of Martin Luther who used this movable type press to circulate his ideas.  This lead to the "Reformation" 
Martin Luther was the leader of the religious movement known as the Reformation.  After reading a passage in the Book of Romans, he had a greater understanding about the judgment of God—basically that anyone could go straight to God and ask for forgiveness for their sins.  This, of course, went against what Catholicism taught which was that people could only speak to God through an intermediary (usually a priest) and that the only way to get a speedy ticket out of Purgatory was to buy one’s way out.  This led Luther to write the "95 Theses."
There was a great outcry against Luther by the Pope about the "95 Theses."  This led Luther to write three manifestos – the first of which was an open letter to the Christian Nobility.  This letter appealed to the noblemen of Germany to hear his beliefs and try to persuade the people who still followed the “Romanists” (Catholics). 
In this manifesto, Luther uses a metaphor of three walls to describe what is seemingly a catch-22 situation.  The Pope was all-powerful and was the only one who could translate the Bible. If a person wished to challenge this, they would have to call a council – and the only person who could call council was the Pope!  Luther dispels this belief with his teachings. 
According to the Britannica Encyclopedia:
The role of Luther Luther said that what differentiated him from previous reformers was that they attacked the life, he the doctrine of the church. Whereas they denounced the sins of churchmen, he was disillusioned by the whole scholastic scheme of redemption. The assumption was that man could erase his sins one by one through confession and absolution in the sacrament of penance. Luther discovered that he could not remember or even recognize all of his sins, and the attempt to dispose of them one by one was like trying to cure smallpox by picking off the scabs. Indeed, he believed that the whole man was sick. The church, however, held that the individual was not too sick to make up for bad deeds by some good deeds. God gave to all a measure of grace. If human beings lay hold of it and did the best they could, God would reward them with a further gift of grace with which they could perform deeds of genuine merit, which would give them credit before God. Human beings might even die with more than enough credits for salvation. These extra credits constituted a treasury of the merits of the saints, from which the pope could make transfers to those whose accounts were in arrears. The transfer was called an indulgence and for this, in Luther's day, the grateful recipient made a contribution to the church.
 "The continental Reformation- Germany, Switzerland, and France."
Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.
Copyright © 1994-2001 Inc.   November 12, 2002.

The text of the  "An Open Letter to The Christian Nobility" is a good summary of the main ideas published in Martin Luther's "Ninety-five Theses."  However, here are his "Ninety-five Theses" for those of you who would like to read the whole thing.

Please readMencher, Liaisons  125-136 Martin Luther (1483-1546) "An Open Letter to The Christian Nobility" 1520.
A lot of the primary texts concerning the Reformation can be found here.

Lucas Cranach the Elder. 
"Passional Christi und Antichristi." 
Woodcut. 1521.
Northern Renaissance, Germany

Matthew Chapter 21

12  Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those 

engaged in selling and buying there. He overturned the tables 

of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. 

13 And he said to them, "It is written: 'My house shall be a house of 
prayer,' but you are making it a den of thieves." 

Form:  These are two prints presented in the form of a diptych (two images side by side).  The two images by Lucas Cranach demonstrate a large amount of fine detail even though this is hard to do with woodcut printmaking.

The images also demonstrate that by this time linear perspective and anatomical accuracy were common place expectations for almost all art.

Iconography: The image on the left depicts Jesus in the manner to which the audiences of the Renaissance would have come to expect him and his disciples to look like.  He is a young bearded man in a robe; however, the people he thrashes are all wearing clothing contemporary to Germany in the 1500's.  The temples architecture is also familiar and typical for a church from the 16th century.  This is designed to draw the audience in and make them identify with the sinners in the image.  This device is referred to as a genre element.  Art historians use the term genre to describe images that depict people and events from everyday life.

The right hand image shows a scene similarly useing genre elements in which the Pope (who wears the Papal tiara or crown) is seated on a comfortable cushion while he is surrounded by his bishops (note the hats).

In this picture from a Lutheran devotional (and propagandist) booklet, Christ (on the left) is driving the moneychangers out of the temple, in contrast to the Pope, who is shown as a hawker of indulgences. The picture originated as a woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder the court painter for the Elector of Saxony and a close friend of Luther's.

Context:  The image at left is a representation of this Bible passage from the book of Matthew.  Cranach and Luther got together on this one to illustrate the text from the Bible but also to update it.  This image would have been distributed as a piece of propaganda against the Catholic Church and used to illustrate Luther's new and radical ideas.

This following lifted directly from this page

It seems amazingly relevant!

Had television existed in the 16th century, the daily dose of political attack ads might have shown spots of Martin Luther as saint and the pope as sinner! People who use the phrase "politics as usual" when they are disgusted by the mudslinging and outrageous claims of political commercials probably don't realize just how "usual" that really is. The modern mass media campaign of charge and countercharge originated not in the smoke-filled rooms of political parties but in the Protestant-Roman Catholic struggle of the Reformation.
The printing press was barely 70 year s old when Martin Luther and his supporters turned it into an awesome tool--and weapon--for the spread of the Lutheran understanding of the gospel. They used every trick in today's campaign adviser's book to advance their cause, and their Catholic opponents responded in kind.

A commercial this summer framed an upbeat President Clinton against a bright blue sky, while Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich were shown in black-and-white with frowns on their faces. In similar fashion, 16th century folk were treated to woodcuts of Luther, Bible in hand, surrounded by a halo of sanctity and overshadowed by the hovering dove of the Spirit. His "opponent," the pope, was cast as a servant of the devil, enthroned in hell.

One of the most famous attack ad woodcuts commissioned by Luther pairs the scene of Christ driving the money-changers from the temple with a view of the pope receiving indulgence money. Sound familiar? It's not unlike a recent commercial depicting Clinton wanting more and more tax money, while Dole drives the wicked "taxers and spenders" away.
In his contributions to this media melee, Luther didn't hesitate to depict his opponents in the worst possible light or to put a highly favorable "spin" on the efforts and beliefs of his side.
Yet, in even his angriest publications, Luther always offered profound teachings about the gospel. He could never just attack. He had to preach and teach as well.
Would that the modern media campaigns imitate less Luther's trashing of opponents and more his presentation of issues that really matter.

Albrecht DÜRER, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. 1498 Woodcut, 39 x 28 cm
(Revelation 6:1-8:) Conquest, War, Plague and Famine, Death
Iconography:  Stokstad describes the iconography of this image as a "moral lesson on the power of evil" but more than that, Stokstad discusses the use of images of witches in his images as an expression of evil.  It is interesting that this is one of the roles that older, perhaps unattractive woman were accused of during the Renaissance and well into the 1800's.  In some ways, the depiction of witches in the art of the Renaissance represents the anti-ideal for a woman.  In this way, woman are still provided with a role model of what not to become.
Form and Context: 
Woodcut is the technique of printing designs from planks of wood. . . It is one of the oldest methods of making prints from a relief surface, having been used in China to decorate textiles since the 5th century AD. In Europe, printing from wood blocks on textiles was known from the early 14th century, but it had little development until paper began to be manufactured in France and Germany at the end of the 14th century. . . In Bavaria, Austria, and Bohemia, religious images and playing cards were first made from wood blocks in the early 15th century, and the development of printing from movable type led to widespread use of woodcut illustrations in the Netherlands and in Italy. With the 16th century, black-line woodcut reached its greatest perfection with Albrecht Dürer and his followers Lucas Cranach and Hans Holbein. In the Netherlands Lucas van Leyden and in Italy Jacopo de' Barbari and Domenico Campagnola, who were, like Dürer, engravers on copper, also made woodcuts. As wood is a natural material, its structure varies enormously and this exercises a strong influence on the cutting. Wood blocks are cut plankwise. The woods most often used are pear, rose, pine, apple, and beech. The old masters preferred fine-grained hardwoods because they allow finer detail work than softwoods, but modern printmakers value the coarse grain of softwoods and often incorporate it into the design.

The printing of woodcuts is a relatively simple process because it does not require great pressure. Although presses are used, even hand rubbing with a wooden spoon can produce a good print. The ink used to print woodcuts must be fairly solid and sticky, so that it lies on the surface without flowing into the hollows. The printing ink can be deposited on the relief either with dabbers or with rollers. Thinner papers are particularly suitable for woodcuts because they make rich prints without heavy pressure.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Albrecht DÜRER, 
The Knight, Death and The Devil
1513-14 Copper engraving, 25 x 19 cm

Form:  In this variation of the theme, the two figures are nude and the total environment is much more worked out.  This image indicates a fairly good use of anatomy and perspective and shows more of a development of the mark making discussed in Grien's drawing.  The development of the vocabulary of marks would have been important for Grien to be able to make a high quality engraving.

In engraving, the design is cut into metal with a graver or burin. The burin is a steel rod with a square or lozenge-shaped section and a slightly bent shank. The cutting is accomplished by pushing the burin into the metal plate. The deeper it penetrates into the metal, the wider the line; variations in depth create the swelling tapering character of the engraved line. After the engraving is finished, the slight burr raised by the graver is cleaned off with a scraper. The engraved line is so sharp and clean that it asserts itself even if cut over a densely etched area. In the print, the engraved line is notable for its precision and intensity. In engraving, the hand does not move freely in any direction but pushes the graver forward in a line; a change of direction is achieved by the manipulation of the plate with the other hand. Although copper, zinc, aluminum, and magnesium plates are used--and in the past soft iron and even steel were used--the best all-around metal is copper. It has the most consistent structure and is neither too soft nor too hard.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Context: In the North, places like Germany, France and Holland, the art market was a bit different than in Italy.  Although the Reformation did not officially begin until 1518, there were stirrings of it earlier than that. 
In Northern towns and cities, there was a different distrubution of wealth and probably a larger upper middle class than in Italy.  In addition to these factors, the main patron for the arts was in Italy in the Churches of Rome, Padua and Florence.  Since individuals could afford to buy work for smaller prices many artists sought out this different market. The print market allowed artists to sell multiple copies of the same images to a larger number of people and make as much money from it as the sale of one or two paintings.
This also freed some of the artists from the typical more Catholic or overtly religious iconography of much of the art of the South and allowed them to explore other kinds of imagery and subjects.
For more info on printmaking go here;

Albrecht DÜRER, 
The Knight, Death and The Devil
1513-14 Copper engraving, 25 x 19 cm
"Though the imagery of his Knight, Death and the Devil is influenced by his travels to Italy, the rich iconography is an element of his Northern upbringing. The knight represents the "good Christian soldier", who is traveling through the "forest of darkness" to arrive at the "kingdom of light". On his way, he encounters Death (the old man with serpents for hair) and the Devil (the single-horned goat), but he does not even give them a moment's glance. He is steadfast in his aim, accompanied by his faithful dog (representing loyalty). There is a small lizard below the hind legs of his horse going the opposite direction. Anything reptilian generally connotes evil in Christian iconography, and also serves to emphasize that his is going the right direction. In the left corner is a skull, symbolic of the fate of all mankind, just above Albrecht Durer's signature, "A.D."
See how it relates to this hymn.
Go here for the melody
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle see His banners go!

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.

At the sign of triumph Satan’s host doth flee;
On then, Christian soldiers, on to victory!
Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise;
Brothers lift your voices, loud your anthems raise.

Like a mighty army moves the church of God;
Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod.
We are not divided, all one body we,
One in hope and doctrine, one in charity.

What the saints established that I hold for true.
What the saints believ'd, that I believe too.
Long as earth endureth, men the faith will hold,
Kingdoms, nations, empires, in destruction rolled.

Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
But the church of Jesus constant will remain.
Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail;
We have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail.

Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng,
Blend with ours your voices in the triumph song.
Glory, laud and honor unto Christ the King,
This through countless ages men and angels sing.




Renaissance Mannerism
Mannerism in Painting
Italian MANIERISMO (from maniera, "manner," or "style").
Mannerism is a weird overly "stylized" style that is a subset of the Italian Renaissance style and period.  Its main qualities are that it is a bit shocking in terms of the subject matter.  Often, although the themes are classical they are "sexy."  However, although they are a bit shocking and risqué, Mannerist artists still seem to know the basic rules and get away with staying inside the boundaries of good taste.  So another quality of Mannerism is that Mannerist artists seems to know the etiquette or "manner" of good taste but they also bend the rules a bit.
They tend to bend the rules also in terms of the formal qualities.  Mannerist art takes many of its schemas from Michelangelo but they tend to exaggerate the qualities found in his art.  The figures always seem to be perched on the edge of action.  Often they are portrayed in the moment just before they rise up from a chair.  They are nether seated nor are they actually moving.  Often the figures' anatomies are weird, twisting and distorted.  Heads are too small, figures seem to float in ambiguous space and the color and value structure are often over emphasized or exaggerated unnaturally.

Correggio (Antonio Allegri)
Jupiter and Io
oil on canvas 64x28 in
Kuntshistorisches Museum, Vienna
Italian Renaissance, Mannerism
Form: Correggio's style of painting is almost a shopping list of what a Mannerist painting should look like.  Correggio paints the fantastic in an illusionistic and believable manner.  The cloud, which is Zeus in disguise, is rendered in a believable manner.  The figure of Io's anatomy is distorted.  The head is a bit too small and the torso is elongated but on first glance it seems believable.  The pose is somewhat improbable but again it looks real.
The space he creates is also a twist on earlier depictions of space.  Here Correggio foregoes the illusion of deep space and pushes the whole scene up against the picture plane and the space around it is strange.  The viewer after a closer look at the painting is forced to ask themselves, "where is this taking place?"
Iconography:  Correggio even takes the idea of classicism and the depiction of classical mythology and puts a spin on it.
 Io was a priestess of the Roman goddess Juno. Juno was the jealous wife of Jupiter, the king of the gods. Jupiter was indeed very unfaithful. When Jupiter fell in love with Io, he transformed himself into the shape of a dark cloud to hide himself from his jealous wife. 
However, noticed the small cloud and suspected that the cloud was one of Jupiter's tricks. Thus, she approached to check the true nature of the cloud. As soon as Juno arrived, Jupiter immediately transformed Io into a white cow to avoid his wife's wrath. But Juno guessed the intrigue and asked if Jupiter wanted the cow as a gift. Jupiter could not refuse such a little gift without giving himself away. 
Thus, Juno tied the poor cow and sent her faithful servant Argus to watch over Io. Argus had a hundred eyes and only a few were ever closed at any time. To free Io, Jupiter sent his son Mercury to sing and tell boring stories to make Argus sleep with all his eyes. Mercury told so many stories that finally Argus close all his hundred eyes. Only then did Mercury kill Argus and untie Io, who ran home free. 
Yet when Juno discovered what had occurred, she was so furious that she sent a vicious gadfly to sting the cow forever. Moreover, to honor the memory of her faithful servant, Juno put the hundred eyes of Argus on the tail of her favorite bird, the peacock. The hundred eyes could not see any more but beautifully decorate the tail of the peacock. 
Meanwhile, Io, who was still prisoner into the shape of a cow, could not get rid of the malicious gadfly. Finally, after Jupiter vowed to no longer pursue his beloved Io, Juno released Io from her inhuman prison, and Io settled in Egypt, becoming the first queen of Egypt. 
This tale is not a moralizing one but rather an excuse to show a semi erotic scene under the disguise, much like Titian's Venus of Urbino, of a classical or humanistic theme. 
Context:  Correggio and other Mannerist artists of his day were catering to the new, somewhat controversial tastes of his clients. 
"At the height of his career while working for the Duke of Mantua, Frederigo Gonzaga (1530-33), Correggio painted a group of works for presentation to Emperor Charles V representing the loves of Jupiter ("Leda", "Antiope", "Ganymede", and "Io")." 


Correggio (Antonio Allegri)
Ganymede 1531-32
Oil on canvas, 163,5 x 70,5 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Italian Renaissance, Mannerism
Form: As in Correggio's Jupiter and Io, this painting of Ganymede contains the main elements of Mannerist painting.  Correggio paints the fantastic in an illusionistic and believable manner.  He shows us he has the traditional renaissance command of illusion.  In this painting the atmospheric perspective is quite clear and he shows us how skillfully he is able to foreshorten the figures anatomy as if we are looking at the scene from slightly above the horizon line, but this changed vantage point is odd.  On closer inspection Correggio gives us a weird or distorted sense of space.  The viewer is not firmly on the ground but seems to be floating above the scene with the young boy who is being abducted by the eagle.  The figure of boy's anatomy is distorted as in Jupiter and Io.  The head is a bit too small and the torso is elongated but on first glance it seems believable.  The pose is somewhat improbable but again it looks real.
Correggio use of color is also somewhat "over the top."  His use of colors is highly saturated and high key.  Meaning that the colors are bright very pure and intense.  This is also one of the hallmarks or the Mannerist style.
Iconography:  Correggio even takes the idea of classicism and the depiction of classical mythology and puts a spin on it.
Ganymede is the young, beautiful boy that became one of Zeus’ lovers. One source of the myth says that Zeus fell in love with Ganymede when he spotted him herding his flock on Mount Ida. Zeus then came down in the form of an eagle or sent an eagle to carry Ganymede to Mount Olympus where Ganymede became cupbearer to the gods. According to other accounts, Eos kidnapped Ganymede, to be her lover, at the same time she kidnapped Tithonus. Zeus then robbed Eos of Ganymede, in return granting Eos the wish that Tithonus be immortal. Unthinkingly, Eos forgot to ask that Tithonus remain youthful. Everyday, the faithful Eos watched over Tithonus, until one day she locked him in a room and left him to get old by himself. 
When Ganymede’s father, King Tros of Troy or Laomedon, found out about Ganymede’s disappearance, he grieved so hard that Zeus sent Hermes on his behalf to give Tros or Laomedon two storm footed horses. In other accounts, Zeus gave Tros a golden vine and two swift horses that could run over water. Hermes was also ordered to assure the bereaved father that Ganymede was and would be immortal. Later, Heracles asked for the two beautiful horses in exchange for destroying the sea monster sent by Poseidon to besiege the city of Troy. Tros agreed and Heracles became the owner of the bribe sent by Zeus to Tros. 
Upon hearing that Ganymede was to be cup bearer as well as Zeus’ lover, the infinitely jealous Hera was outraged. Therefor Zeus set Ganymede’s image among the stars as the constellation Aquarius, the water carrier. Aquarius was originally the Egyptian god over the Nile. The Egyptian god poured water not wine from a flagon. 
All of Zeus’ scandalous liaisons have allegorical meanings. Zeus’ torrid affair with Ganymede was a religious justification for homosexuality within the Greek culture. Before the popularity of the Zeus and Ganymede myth spread, the only toleration for sodomy was an external form of goddess worship. Cybele’s male devotees tried to achieve unity with her by castrating themselves and dressing like women. 
Apollodorus argued that this myth emphasized the victory of patriarchy over matriarchy. This showed that men did not need women to exist, therefor they did not need the attentions of women. The philosopher Plato used this myth to justify his sexual feelings towards male pupils.

Agnolo Bronzino, Venus, Cupid and the Time 
(Allegory of Lust) 1540-45 Oil on panel, 
57"x45" 147 x 117 cm 
National Gallery, London
Italian Renaissance, Mannerism
Form:  Bronzino's painting exhibits the Mannerist flair for an intense distortion of anatomy, space, and color.  The figures, particularly that of the cupid  on the left, exhibits an almost grotesque distortion.  Cupid is simultaneously showing us his rump and his head.  The fingers of Cupid's hand, which grasp Venus's breast (his mother!) is posed in a very unnatural manner.  (Try holding your hand in such a manner.)  The pose of the hand and his incredible twist are almost impossible.  Likewise, the two hands of the figure behind the small child at right, are reversed. 
The space all of these jumbled figures exist in is almost incomprehensible.  Where are they are?  What are they standing on and why does it appear as if the picture plane is tilted forward and that they will all tumble out of the picture towards us.
The color is also very high key.  The blues and purple tones are almost garish and the flesh tones of the figures range from an almost greenish hue (the figure grasping his head in the background)  to a naturalistic copper (Father Time pulling back the curtain) to a pale unnatural vampirish glow of the figures in the foreground.
Context and Iconography:  Even Bronzino's name is a kind of mannered twist.  His original name was Agnolo, or Agniolo, Di Cosimo but because his skin was a dark olive, his contemporaries nicknamed him "Bronzino" which is the Italian word for bronze.

Iconography according to the National Gallery website:
The picture is almost certainly that mentioned by Vasari in his 'Life of Bronzino' of 1568: "He made a picture of singular beauty, which was sent to King Francis in France; in which was a nude Venus with Cupid kissing her, and Pleasure on one side and Play with other Loves; and and on the other, Fraud, Jealousy, and other passions of love."
The figures of Venus, and Cupid, together with the old man with wings and an hourglass on his shoulder who must be Time (not mentioned by Vasari), are all clearly identifiable by their attributes. Agreement on the identity of the other figures, and on the meaning of the picture has not been reached.
The howling figure on the left has variously been interpreted as Jealousy, Despair and the effects of syphilis; the boy scattering roses and stepping on a thorn as Jest, Folly and Pleasure; the hybrid creature with the face of a girl, the back and tail of a reptile and the haunches of a lion as Pleasure and Deceit; and the figure missing the back of its head in the top left corner as Fraud and Oblivion.
The composition was influenced by the work of Michelangelo, especially his famous cartoon showing Venus and Cupid kissing, from which a painting was made by Pontormo, Bronzino's master. Bronzino was an accomplished poet as well as a painter. The picture seems to reflect his interest both in the conventional oppositions of Petrarchan love lyrics as well as more bawdy poetic genres.London National Gallery
According to the Brittanica:
Bronzino was greatly influenced by the work of his teacher, the Florentine painter Jacopo da Pontormo. Bronzino adapted his master's eccentric, expressive style (early Mannerism) to create a brilliant, precisely linear style of his own that was also partly influenced by Michelangelo and the late works of Raphael. Bronzino served as the court painter to Cosimo I, duke of Florence, from 1539 until his death. His portraits, such as "Portrait of Eleanor of Toledo with Her Son Giovanni" (Uffizi, Florence), are preeminent examples of Mannerist portraiture: emotionally inexpressive, reserved, and noncommittal, yet arrestingly elegant and decorative. Bronzino's great technical proficiency and his stylized rounding of sinuous anatomical forms are also notable. He also painted sacred and allegorical works of distinction, such as "The Allegory of Luxury," or "Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time" (c. 1546; National Gallery, London), which reveals his love of complex symbolism, contrived poses, and clear, brilliant colours.
"Bronzino, Il."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Inc.   November 9, 2002.

School of Fontainebleau,
Venus and Cupid, c1559
oil on panel, 
transferred to composition board 
37 3/4 x 27 3/4 
(95.9 x 70.5 cm) inches
French Renaissance, Mannerism
A Contextual Comparison:
Although Mannerism is an essentially Italian style of painting it did have its followers in other countries.  This is an example of a less accomplished French style of Mannerism.  Notice that it uses Bronzino's painting as its schema yet it lacks some of the formal qualities that its Italian schema has.  It also lacks some of the "edge" or aggressive risqué qualities of Bronzino's work in terms of how the iconography is used.  This painting is more or less a watered down imitation of its Italian counterpart.
There is no known artist for this work.  Rather than that, this painting is ascribed to a school or style of a group of painters called the "School of Fountainebleau."
According to the San Francisco Museum Legion of Honor's website, 
"Fontainebleau is a royal palace of Francis I. It was begun in 1528 and added to for the next 200 years. The Galerie François I (1533-40) introduces the so-called "Fontainebleau style" of interior decoration, a combination of sculpture, metalwork, painting, stucco and woodwork. It was evolved by Italian artists Niccolo dell'Abbate, Primaticcio and Rosso, who worked for Francis I from 1530 to 1560. The first School of Fontainebleau introduced Mannerism to France. A decorative revival under Henry IV, known as the second School of Fontainebleau, was less important."

Correggio, Dome of Parma Cathedral
The Assumption of the Virgin, 1520
Parma Cathedral
Italian Renaissance, Mannerism
Nichole Young-Lin
Art History 103B
July 18, 2001
Professor Mencher
The Assumption of the Virgin
In William Hazlitt’s essay, The Pleasure of Painting, he wrote, "One is never tired of painting, because you have to set down, not what you knew already, but what you have just discovered. There is a continual creation out of nothing going on." Upon looking at Correggio's 1520 fresco, The Assumption of the Virgin, one truly has the sense that something was created out of nothing the effect of excellent trompe l’oeil. Correggio (whose real name is Antonio Allegri) is not just another artist and his mural is not just another example of an artist trying to mislead the eyes of the viewer. By scrutinizing the fresco's form, iconography, and history/background, one can conclude that Correggio's Parma Cathedral dome is not only the epitome of Mannerist art, but also a foreshadowing of the Baroque period (Encyclopedia Britannica).
A formal analysis of Correggio's The Assumption of the Virgin reveals many important details about this fantastic artwork. The fresco is a spiraling tunnel with a bright light at the end of the tunnel. Correggio draws everything in one-point perspective with the vanishing point at the central bright light and uses chiaroscuro to give the dome depth. To create space, Correggio also used foreshortening when drawing the figures, making the limbs look long despite the small drawing space. The combination of perspective, chiaroscuro, and foreshortening gives the dome its trompe l’oeil characteristic and allows Correggio to fool the viewer into thinking that there isn't a dome at all, but a tunnel upwards toward a bright light. All the colors of the work are very bright, full of yellow hues. This makes the viewer think that the light at the end of the spiraling tunnel is a real light. The figures are what make The Assumption of the Virgin the epitome of Mannerist art. The arms and legs of many of the angels are elongated and their bodies are twisted in physically impossible ways (serpenata). There is also much confusion over where the body of an angel begins or ends. Correggio also includes a plethora of nude figures.  The figures and the entire fresco also have a sense of movement. The angels and Apostles in the painting seem to move and spiral upward.
The iconography of The Assumption of the Virgin is also very exciting. Since Mannerism is a reaction to the Reformation, the Mannerist artists are trying to recruit people and convince people to hold on to religion by glorifying the religious stories. Correggio uses icons to accomplish this task. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Mary, mother of Jesus, ascended into heaven after her death. This explains why one sees a figure (mostly the legs) flying towards the lighted end of the tunnel (heaven). The pendentives also have portraits of saints; the one holding a lamb is Saint John the Baptist (Frieberg). The Apostles are at the drum of the dome and the angels are flying all around the tunnel, playing their lutes, flutes, and tambourines (CGFA). It seems as if they are making way for Mary and celebrating Mary's ascension into heaven with music. The pattern on the arches of the pendentives is a reference to classical art. The same box-shaped spiral pattern can be found in the outside of the 13-19 BCE Ara Pacis Augustae, a Roman altar.
In addition to the forms and icons of The Assumption of the Virgin, the history and background of the fresco help prove that Correggio is a master of Mannerism and the forefather of the Baroque period. Historically, it is reasonable that Correggio would choose to portray the religious Assumption scene in his art. The Assumption of Mary in art stems from the late Middle Ages of western Europe. During this time, the Church was a powerful force in people's lives and Mary was often worshipped (Encyclopedia Britannica). In response to the Reformation, the break from the Catholic Church in 1517 when Martin Luther posted his "Ninety-Five Theses," Mannerist painters strove to return glory to the Catholic Church. Thus, the beauty of this dome, in the true spirit of Mannerism, is an attempt to impress people with the power of the Catholic Church and remind them that the absolution they all seek can only be obtained through the Catholic Church. Correggio also painted the Dome of the Parma Cathedral in 1520, during the beginning of Mannerism. Even though The Assumption of the Virgin is the epitome of Mannerist works since it embodies all the aspects of Mannerism, this work also foreshadowed the ensuing Baroque period (Gardner 510). Baroque works are typically very dramatic and lavish, just like Correggio's The Assumption of the Virgin. The figures are all in dramatic poses (some are dancing, some are dangling, etc.) and they all show a lot of expression in their faces. The voluminous clouds and light on the top of the dome also give the fresco a dramatic setting. And, like Baroque art, the fresco is very extravagant because every space is filled with an object, forming an intricate work of art.
It is obvious that Correggio is a mast of Mannerism and foretells many of Baroque art characteristics. The Assumption of the Virgin has the Mannerist serpenata figures, distortion of the body, and the sense of movement that is found in all Mannerist painting. Besides having Mannerist qualities, Correggio's time period made him the founder of future Baroque art. The drama and extravagance of the Parma Cathedral dome is an indicator of Baroque art. However, even without the knowing anything about Mannerism and Baroque art, the viewer is still overwhelmed with the awe-inspiring fresco that fools you into thinking that there is a tunnel up above and real light is coming from the end of that tunnel. The scene and effects of this fresco is a memorable one and will stay with the viewer forever. Keats’s words in Endymion, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever," describes the effect of this dome on the viewer to perfection.
Works Cited
Assumption (2001). Britannica article [WWW document] URL:
Correggio. (2001). Britannica article [WWW document] URL:
Detail of the Assumption; Apostles at the base of the dome. (date unknown). Later Italian
Renaissance Art: Jack Frieberg [WWW document] URL:
Gardner, Helen. Art Through the Ages. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, INC., 1975.
Henry, Lewis C. Best Quotations for All Occaisons. New York: Fawcett Premier, 1986.

Giovanni da Bologna, 
Rape of the Sabines
1581-83 Marble, 
height: 410 cm 
Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence

Italian Renaissance, Mannerism
Form:  This is sculpture with a mannered "twist."  Form is the most important element in this work.  As a work of sculpture, this work is really meant as a work of art "in the round."  This means that, unlike the works of sculpture that came before it that were frontally oriented, this work was meant to be seen from all angles.
The viewer is able to move completely around the sculpture and maintain visual interest because the figures are designed to interrelate and show an interesting view of the bodies in action from any angle.
Iconography and Context:  According to the Brittanica, "First trained under Jacques Dubroeucq, a Flemish sculptor who worked in an Italianate style, Giambologna went to Rome around 1555, where his style was influenced by Hellenistic sculpture and the works of Michelangelo."  Like Michelangelo, the Laocoon groups influence was initially interesting to Michelangelo and Giovanni because of its formal qualities rather than its symbolic ones and this is born out in how often each artist uses the basic poses of each figure as schemas for later works. We can see that he probably was influenced by looking at sculptures like the Laocoon because of its drama and the portrayal of anatomy and expression. 
Initially, the story of the "Rape of the Sabines" is unimportant in terms of what the story itself signifies.  One account of the naming of this sculpture is that Giovanni did not name the work but some patrons who were visiting his studio upon viewing the sculpture did and he accepted the name.  Therefore, the classical theme was really an excuse for him to explore and play with anatomy and drama.  This anecdote in itself is almost more iconic in a way because it symbolizes what the Mannerist artists' intentions were all about. 

Jacopo Pontormo, Deposition, c. 1528
Oil on wood, 313 x 192 cm
Cappella Capponi, Sta Felicita, Florence
Italian Renaissance, Mannerism
These figures seem to be perched on the edge of action but from there poses and attitudes, we are not really sure what they are doing or just about to do.  The figures' anatomies are weird, twisting and distorted.  The figure of Christ is literally twisted in two directions.  His head and torso or facing the viewer while the legs are quite the opposite and project back into space.  The figure below Jesus, who holds his legs, seems to have an extra vertebrae or joint in his spine.  Try to bend from the middle of your back!  All the heads are a bit too small and the bodies are a bit too elongated.
Compositionally, the image is both a stable triangle but also a whirling vortex.  The image hinges on and swirls around a central area in which three hands exist within a pocket of dark drapery.  The confusion of the composition and the space they exist in: where are they and on what are they standing?  These riddles are  further complicated by trying to figure whose hands go with whose bodies. 
The colors used are intense and saturated.  They are almost pastel in nature and are overly dramatic.  The value structure and  chiaroscuro is exaggerated unnaturally and the viewer is left wondering where the light is coming from.
Iconographically this image is a cross between Giotto's Lamentation a Deposition scene and Leonardo's Pietà.
"The painting appears to represent the moment in which the body of Christ, having been taken down from the cross, has just been removed from the mother's lap. The Virgin, visibly distraught, and perhaps on the point of fainting, still gazes longingly towards her Son, and gestures with her right arm in that direction. In the center of the painting, the moment of the separation is underlined by the subtle contact of Mary's legs with those of Christ, now freed from his Mother's last pathetic embrace. The twisted body of Christ is reminiscent of Michelangelo's Vatican Pietà (1498)."
Context: "The cloaked man wearing a strange hat, almost imperceptible against the background of the painting behind the arm of the Virgin, may possibly be the artist himself. "
The rest of this quote and a site with more details of the image
Pontormo was Bronzino's teacher and if you look closely at this image at the anatomy and the composition you can see a lot of similarities between the two.  A site that puts this together for you is:
A site which compares Bronzino's Deposition to Pontormo's (his teacher)

Madonna dal Collo Lungo
(Madonna with Long Neck) 1534-40
Oil on panel, 216 x 132 cm,
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Italian Renaissance, Mannerism
Form:  The central figure of the Madonna seem to be perched on the edge of her chair but there is no chair visible in the image!  Her feet rest on a cushion but the cushions are not compressed and there is no sense of gravity to her figure.  The figures' anatomies are weird, twisting and distorted.  Her fingers and neck is elongated and taffy like and so is the "alien" looking child who looks as if he about to spill from her lap.   In particular, her anatomy is somewhat accentuated by the wet drapery which stretches across her abdomen. All the heads of each figure are a bit too small and the bodies are a bit too elongated.
Compositionally, the image is a stable triangle in the mode of Leonardo, however,  the confusion of the composition becomes more evident when trying to figure out where they are and from what the drapery is hung.  The figures to the Madonna's right are bunched together and there is not realistically enough space for them all to be standing.  The figure who irrationally holds a scroll out and looks away from it is framed by a column or a set of columns  that do not hold up an entablature.
The colors used are intense and saturated.  They are almost pastel in nature and are overly dramatic.  The value structure and  chiaroscuro is exaggerated unnaturally and the viewer is left wondering where the light is coming from.
Iconography:  Iconographically this image shares much with earlier scenes which depict the Virgin but somehow this one is a little "dirty."  The breasts and abdomen of the figure are accentuated by the wet drapery style and we can see this even in the Late Gothic/Early Renaissance painting of the Madonna Enthroned by Giotto but somehow, the tilt of her head adds what my Professor Herbert Broderick of Lehman College referred to as a "coy sensuality."  See the "Venus of Urbino" for a good comparison.
Some of the iconography is almost straightforward in this image.  The vessel that the "angels" carry refers to standard iconographic symbology such as in Martini's Annunciation, but notice that the shape and the base are a bit wacky.  The column in the background is a reference to classicism but what is it holding up and is it really a single column or many columns.  The figure reading the scroll looks away from the scroll he is reading.  Is he a philosopher or an angel like Gabriel in Martini's work?  If he Gabriel and this is part of the standard iconography of a "Annunciation" scene but it would then be after the fact of Jesus' birth and therefore an anachronism (out of a logical sequence of time).
Context:  Again with the twist on his name his nickname was Parmigiano (he was from Parma). His original name was GIROLAMO FRANCESCO MARIA MAZZOLA, OR MAZZUOLI, or Francesco Mazzola.
Another twist!  It took him six years to paint the picture, he never finished it and he was thrown in jail for breach of contract because he procrastinated working on some frescos in the church of Sta. Maria della Steccata in Parma. 

El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos)
The Burial of Count Orgaz 1586
Oil on canvas, 16'x12' 480 x 360 cm 
Santo Tomé, Toledo
Spanish Renaissance, Mannerism
Form:  This is a massive painting done in oil rather than fresco.  This is significant because monumental paintings in the past was usually executed in fresco. 
Aside from the more obvious Mannerist distortions of the figures' anatomies, this painting demonstrates a slight break with other Mannerist's use of color in El Greco's use of a low key or earthtoned palette for some of the regions of the painting.  This use of color is almost iconic.
Iconography:  Count de Orgaz was a significant and important patron to the Church.  In order to glorify his contributions and patronage a monumental image was called for.  The grandiosity of the Count is further complimented by the supernatural vision of the Heavens above which open to greet him.   He is further complimented by the company he keeps and by those important individuals who are attending his funeral.  The funeral is well attended by the Spanish nobility of Orgaz's time but their faces are updated and replaced by members of contemporary Toledo society.  This is done much in the same way that Raphael gives cameo appearances to his contemporaries in his School of Athens.  El Greco even includes his own son in the lower left hand corner and provides him with a handkerchief monogrammed by the artist himself.  But the really honored guests are Saints Augustine and Stephen who appear to be helping to entomb the Count.
Heaven and earth are distinguished symbolically through the use of color.  Saints Augustine and Stephen and even the Counts armor are depicted in colors that echo the ones in the heavenly scene above.  The earthbound participants are literally wearing earthtoned colors.
Context: El Greco is a nickname which chronicles or traces all the places where El Greco lived and where he was born.  He was born in Crete (then a Venetian possession but still considered a Greek island by the Italians) Doménikos Theotokópoulos moved to Venice since he was officially considered a citizen.  There he acquired the nickname of il Greco (the Greek.)  After studying Venetian painting and possibly realizing that the competition may have been a bit too steep, Theotokópoulos moved to Spain in search of more commissions.  In Spain, it is possible that the "il" article in front of his name was exchanged for the Spanish one of "El."

El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos)
St. Francis Venerating the Crucifix c. 1595
Oil on canvas, 147,3 x 105,4 cm
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Spanish Renaissance, Mannerism,

El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos)
St. John the Baptist c. 1600
Oil on canvas, 111 x 66 cm
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 
These two paintings by El Greco are in the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco.  Using all the things that you have learned about Renaissance iconography and Mannerism's formal qualities be ready to write an essay on how one of these works exemplifies these qualities.
Mannerism in Architecture
In the same way that Mannerism in painting includes a certain amount of shock value, knowing the rules but bending the rules, high key pallets (very bright vivid colors), high contrast of light and shadow Mannerist architecture shares some of the same qualities.  The Italian word maniera meaning charm, grace or playfulness can also be applied to much of the architecture of the mid to late 1500's.  Part of the mannered world of the late Italian Renaissance was to recreate the glory of their Roman past but to do update in a contemporary style.
A more sober attempt to revive the classical theatre was made by the academies, organized by upper-class gentlemen who assembled to read and, on occasion, to participate in and to support financially productions of classical drama. The plays were generally of three kinds: contemporary poetic dramas based on ancient texts; Latinized versions of Greek dramas; and the works of Seneca, Terence, and Plautus in the original. Toward the middle of the 15th century, scholars discovered the manuscripts of the Roman writer Vitruvius; one of these scholars, the architect and humanist Leon Battista Alberti, wrote De re aedificatoria (1452; first printed in 1485), which stimulated the desire to build in the style of the classical stage. In 1545, Sebastiano Serlio published his Trattato de architettura, a work that concentrated entirely on the practical stage of the early 16th century.
Serlio's treatise on the theatre had three especially significant items. The first was a plan for an auditorium and stage that assumed a rectangular hall, with spectators arranged in the same pattern as in the Roman cavea (i.e., the tiered semicircular seating area of a Roman theatre), the difference being that the semicircle of the audience was cut short by the sidewalls. Second, his three types of stage designs--tragic, comic, and satiric--were the same as Vitruvius' classifications. Third, for the stage, he started with a Roman acting platform, but instead of the scaenae frons, he introduced a raked platform, slanted upward toward the rear, on which the perspective setting of a street was made up of painted canvases and three-dimensional houses. Since the perspective required that the houses rapidly diminish in size with distance, the actors were able to use only the front houses. Serlio used three types of scenes, all with the same basic floor plan. Each required four sets of wings (i.e., the pieces of scenery at the side of the stage), the first three angled and the fourth flat, and a perspective backdrop.
"The revival of theatre building in Italy."
Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.
Copyright © 1994-2001 Inc.   November 10, 2002.
Notice how the theatre below uses Serlio and Vitruvius's ideas.

Andrea Palladio, Teatro Olimpico (Olympic Theater)
Vicenza, Italy 1584
completed by Scamozzi (Schamozzi)
Italian Mannerist Architecture
Context:  According to the Brittanica, 
"During his stay in Rome, from 1554 to 1556, Palladio in 1554 published Le antichità di Roma ("The Antiquities of Rome"), which for 200 years remained the standard guidebook to Rome. In 1556 he collaborated with the classical scholar Daniele Barbaro in reconstructing Roman buildings for the plates of Vitruvius' influential architectural treatise (written after 26 BC) De architectura (On Architecture). The new edition was published in Venice in 1556.
Palladio's last commission came in 1579-80--to build a theatre in Vicenza for the Accademia Olimpica for the performance of classical dramas. The design of the Teatro Olimpico was in the nature of an academic exercise, being based on the reconstruction of the ancient Roman theatre at Orange, in France.
The Accademia Olimpica in the little town of Vicenza, near Venice, commissioned a famous late Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio, to design a theatre. This, the Teatro Olimpico, was the first permanent modern indoor theatre, and it has survived intact. Palladio thoroughly researched his subject (the outdoor classical theatre of Rome) and without knowing it designed something now considered very close to a Roman odeum. It is a scaled-down version of an outdoor Roman theatre, with shallow open stage and a heavily sculptured, pedimented, permanent background. A colonnade of heroic proportions, surmounted by sculptured figures, surrounds a steeply stepped bank of seating. Overhead is a painted sky. To promote an intimate stage-auditorium relationship, he used a flattened ellipse in planning the seating, rather than the classic half circle. The interior was to be lit by tallow candles mounted in wall sconces. Palladio died before the building was finished, and his follower Vincenzo Scamozzi completed the work in 1585. Behind the five stage entrances (attributed to Scamozzi) are static, three-dimensional vistas of streets receding to their separate vanishing points; it is not certain whether this was the intent of the original design. In performance, the theatre is efficient if the auditorium is full, and speech carries quite well because of the small volume, flat ceiling, modulated sidewalls, excellent vertical sight lines, and direct hearing lines from all seats to the stage. The exterior is an ungainly, masonry-walled structure with a wood-trussed, tiled roof."
"The revival of theatre building in Italy." 
Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.
Copyright © 1994-2001 Inc.   November 10, 2002.
Form:  So what makes this theater in the Mannerist style?  A classical Greek stage would have none of this ornamentation.  Follow this link to see.  The theatre does use an overall classical vocabulary of corinthian columns, triumphal arches and classical sculptures standing in contrapposto stance, but, the way in which the elements are combined is Mannerist because of the way in which the elements are combined in an almost unclassical manner.  In general, the overall decoration of the facade of the stages backdrop is too busy and suffers from a very unclassical horror vacui in which the parts of the entablature of ionic and corinthian structures are reordered in an almost unclassical way.  There are columns combined with flattened pilasters.  In some instances the columns do not support an entablature but rather are pedestals for sculptures.  In addition to this, the over ornate qualities of the carved architectural ornaments and sculptures are combined with different colored marbles and a painted ceiling. 
Iconography:  The use of classical themes and motifs in the Teatro Olimpico is almost obviously an attempt to dress up and elevate the contemporary entertainment of the Renaissance patron. 
The stage demonstrates the development of perspective scenery.  According to the Brittanica:
in theatre, scenery and the scene design technique that represents three-dimensional space on a flat surface, creating an illusion of reality and an impression of distance. Developed during the Italian Renaissance, perspective scenery applied the newly mastered science of linear perspective and brought the craft of illusion to the Italian stage. An initial motivation may have been to allow theatre to move from outdoors into closed rooms, where perspective painting could make small spaces appear larger.
Influenced by the perspective painting of Renaissance artists and by the 15th-century revival of Vitruvius' writings on architecture, Baldassarre Peruzzi applied the laws of perspective to scene design. His work provided a basis for his student Sebastiano Serlio's De architettura (1545), which outlined methods of constructing perspective scenery and the raked, or angled, stage--whence the terms upstage and downstage derive. In Serlio's designs, painted scenery receded directly from the viewer toward a single vanishing point at the back of the stage. Angle perspective was an 18th-century refinement of perspective scenery. Several vanishing points were set at the back of the stage and off to the sides, so that the scenery, receding in several directions, was pictured at an angle to the viewer.

Andrea Palladio, Villa Rotunda also called the Villa Capra
Vicenza, Italy 1566-69
Italian Mannerism
Form:  This building, although a private villa (home) is still designed according to the basic schema of a central church or temple plan very much like the Pantheon.  Nevertheless, the mannerist differences include four porticoes facing each of the compass points.  These porticoes were designed by Palladio to give the resident a clear view of his lands.
Another change to the central church plan is the proliferation of windows and arches throughout the structure which light the interior of the building.  The building is also set up so that it has two stories that surround the central area over the dome with bedrooms and other rooms. 
Iconography: Overall the basic plan really doesn't make sense for a private home but this kind of plan wasn't created in order to house the Capra family in a pragmatic way but rather to clothe them in a temple.
Context:  By the middle of the 1500's the population of Europe began to grow most likely as the result of new types of crops coming from the Americas and the rise of a new social order.  As a consequence of these factors, war, famine and disease became a natural part of city living.  In addition to this, Venice, which had owned much land and controlled trade with Greece and some of the Eastern provinces lost some of its power.
Once wealthy Venetian merchants who made there original wealth trough trade now no longer had the continuous influx of wealth from it.  They now turned towards the investments they now held and one of these was the country estates in the Vicenza outside of Venice.
These lands allowed the wealthy merchant such as Giulio Capra, to escape the criminal, diseased and dirty smelly cities to the country and this lead to the development of the country estate.  This lead to new commissions for architects like Palladio and land became iconic of power which explains why Palladio chose to create the four porticoes called belvederes (Italian for beautiful view). 
Palladio's architecture and the fact that he published his own interpretations of Vitruvius lead to a wholesale adaptation of his building style and philosophy.  This style, now known as Palladianism, spread all over the world and is still used today.
Andrea Palladio (1508-1580): 
Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, 
Venice. Begun 1566

Form: The formal elements that make this church a Mannerist style church are how the facade is organized and the strange design of the interior.  The facade is made of two layers, one of which seems to be almost a facade that is placed on pillars and breaks the space of the triangular pediment it contains.  In the interior, often flattened pilasters are combined with engaged double columns in odd groupings which are a bit unusual.
. . .situated on the island of San Giorgio, San Giorgio Maggiore's gleaming white facade faces across the basin of San Marco to the great piazza. Built as part of the Benedictine monastery on the island, the church's facade is scaled to present a public face to the town of Venice. It dominates and partially obscures the brick body of the church behind it, while it reflects the interior space of the nave and its side chapels. 

The central temple front is articulated with four three-quarter Composite columns raised on high pedestals, which frame the central door. In the back plane, the lower body of the church is articulated by a smaller order of pilasters, supporting two lower, half pediments on either side. The cornice line continues through the central body, interlocking the two forms. The deep relief of these elements, combined with the sculptural detail of capitals, cornices, niches and figures, makes a great play of light and dark in the sunlight. 
The interior plan combines elements of longitudinal and centralized buildings, a resolution responding to the Renaissance "ideal" of the centralized plan and symbolic cross form and both the medieval tradition of nave churches and the requirements of the Counter-reformation for functional churches with ample naves for a large congregations as well as side chapels big enough for celebrating the sacraments. 
The interior ceiling is a longitudinal barrel vault leading to a crossing, framed by grouped columns and arches, which support a dome lit with a lantern. Cross vaults above side aisles and a transept with apsidal chapels intersect the nave, and beyond the crossing is a presbytery and a monk's choir. Thermal, clerestory windows bring light to the side chapels and to the nave, and the interior glows with a warm light, reflected by the painted stucco surfaces (over brick) of the walls and vaults. In contrast, the architectural detail of cut stone columns and pilasters, capitals, bases, continuous entablatures, framed arches and railings, darkened with age, articulate the rhythmic sequence of spaces.  — JY

Giulio Romano, Palazzo del Tè  1525-1532 Mantua, Italy
Interior Courtyard
Italian Mannerism

Giulio Romano, Palazzo del Tè  1525-1532 Mantua, Italy
Metopes with fallen triglyphs in the entablature 
of the interior courtyard.

Giulio Romano, Palazzo del Tè  1525-1532 Mantua, Italy
Fall of the Giants 
fresco 1532-1534
Form:  The design of this country home is based on the enclosed courtyard design for similar Roman style homes in Pompeii.  However, unlike the homes of Pompeii, the central courtyard is not a perfect square nor is it perfectly symmetrical.  The classical order we come to expect from a building based on classical Vitruvian concepts however is not really there. 
The entablature contains a rusticated and illogical facade of fake ashlar bricks.  Below the classical entablature are the triangular pediments that one assumes should top structures such as they do in the Parthenon and the front of the Pantheon and the Roman triumphal arches, niches and windows often do not have any openings nor do they contain sculptures.  Romano also uses engaged columns which do not support the entablature and are merely a decoration. All of these elements are very similar to Michelangelo's library at San Lorenzo c1530.

Other, details of the entablature are also a bit irregular.  The entablature is Doric but the capitals of the columns represent an invented style.  The the way in which the standard Doric style entablature is arranged is a little odd.  The metopes of the entablature contain coats of arms and grotesque masks but alternate with fallen triglyphs.  Compare this against the entablature of the Parthenon.
Iconography:  The odd and "mannered" arrangements of the Palazzo are a kind of "What's wrong with this picture?" game.  The well educated courtier who came to visit such a palazzo would have a lot of fun analyzing the irregularities and laughing about them if he was knowledgeable enough.  The fact that Romano's patron was Frederigo Gonzaga (whose grandfather Ludovico Gonzaga commissioned Mantegna to decorate his  Camera degli Sposi, 1474) hired Romano to "play" with this architecture symbolizes Gonzaga's intelligence and erudition (education).

Context: Giulio Romano was Raphael's assistant.  He was summoned by Frederigo Gonzaga the Duke of Mantua in 1524 to design a recreation of an antique Roman villa for the Gonzaga family.  This was not meant to be a primary residence but rather a “fun house” for them. 
According to the Brittanica,

The principal rooms of the Palazzo del Tè are the Sala di Psiche, with erotic frescoes of the loves of the gods; the Sala dei Cavalli, with life-size portraits of some of the Gonzaga horses; and the fantastic Sala dei Giganti. This showpiece of trompe l'oeil (illusionistic) decoration is painted from floor to ceiling with a continuous scene of the giants attempting to storm Olympus and being repulsed by the gods. On the ceiling, Jupiter hurls his thunderbolts, and the spectator is made to feel that he, like the giants, is crushed by the mountains that topple onto him, writhing in the burning wreckage. Even the fireplace was incorporated into the decoration, and the flames had a part to play. This room was completed by 1534, with much help from Rinaldo Mantovano, Giulio's principal assistant. The colour is very crude; the subject is suited to facile virtuosity and tends to bring out the streak of cruelty and obscenity that runs just below the surface in much of Giulio's painting.
Form:  The overall room is meant to distort and create a type of funhouse effect.  The corners of the room, especially the ceiling corners have been smoothed out with plaster to create a continuous illusionistic space in which the ceiling and walls flow together.  The swirling floor pattern when coupled with the fresco's  massive size and distortions of space create an almost hallucinatory effect. 
great extra info
n [ME asheler, fr. MF aisselier traverse beam, fr. OF, fr. ais board, fr. L axis, alter. of assis] (14c)
1: hewn or squared stone; also: masonry of such stone
2: a thin squared and dressed stone for facing a wall of rubble or brick
rusticated A type of rough or raised in relief masonry found on the exterior of building.  Michelozzo's Palazzo Medici Ricardi  has this style of brickwork on the bottom courses.
trompe l'oeil
n, often attrib [F trompe-l'oeil, lit., deceive the eye] (1889)
1: a style of painting in which objects are depicted with photographically realistic detail; also: the use of similar technique in interior decorating
2: a trompe l'oeil painting or effect