Good Manners

Studio 360

Last week the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York opened its exhibition on 'The Drawings of Bronzino,' showcasing the work of a man who may just be the best painter nobody cares about.

Agnolo Bronzino was one of the leading painters and poets of sixteenth-century Italy. But during this time Italian art and culture were dominated by the Mannerist school -- and Mannerism is unquestionably the Jan Brady of European Art. It's not as naturally beautiful, or let's face it, well-proportioned as its older sister Marcia 'Renaissance' Brady. And it's also not as direct or emotional as its younger sister Cindy 'Baroque' Brady. Stuck in between these two celebrated periods, it languishes in overlooked middle child.

But there are reasons to celebrate Mannerist artists like Bronzino. Mannerism is more playful, fanciful, and really more inventive, than Renaissance art. Some time in the mid-sixteenth century, artists in Italy grew weary of constantly focusing on faithful, proportioned reproductions of nature. And so they started to play around a bit. They showcased their skills by distorting nature... maybe by elongating an arm or a neck... maybe by cramming in so much detail into a painting that the eye could hardly take it all in.

Bronzino's "Head of a Smiling Young Woman."

Long relegated to Jan status, Mannerism is making a comeback. The New Yorker's Peter Schjeldahlsays creative culture is full of Mannerists today, concerned with 'art about art, and style for style's sake.' Schjeldahl even finds similarities between Bronzino's poetry and the satire of 'The Daily Show,' in how both take 'glee in the absurdities of inescapable conditions' and force 'despairing cynicism to a pitch of wholesome revelry.'

The Da Vincis, the Donatellos...they've had their day. It's time to give Jan Brady her due!

- Michael Guerriero

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