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Video transcript

so let's talk about Mannerist the manor is style and how it appears in portrait painting okay hello this is by Bronzino this is a painting by branzino this is called a portrait of a young man from around 1540 we don't know exactly who it is and therefore it has that title and it's located in New York City at the Metropolitan Museum of Art so we can all go see it we can all go see it if we're in New York yes absolutely you know it looks so elegant and so immediately I think of mannerism yeah absolutely the elegance of the image both in terms of the way that it's painted and in terms of how this young man presents himself to the things that really stand out so actually maybe we should start by saying in general what some trademarks of mannerism are and how this relates to it so that elegance ok elegance is definitely one thing a kind of hyper sophisticated elegance other things that are typical of mannerism include in a very enigmatic quality of puzzling quality right things that don't make sense the harder of Mannerist images to understand the better it was a certain extent they seemed to almost make things confusing on purpose absolutely and then also another important characteristic of mannerism and we could say this about sculpture as well is that the artistic virtuosity becomes an integral part of the work of art's meaning some people call mannerism the stylish style not only because of the subject matter and how its presented but also because of the creation of the work of art and its technical difficulty the kind of fireworks display of technical skill is also important now sometimes I think that it almost seems like if they did things wrong they were kind of showing off a kind of sophistication in an odd absolutely or at least making you wonder if they did it wrong as part of what a Mannerist artist I thought I remembered one artist writing to another one next time you do a painting of the figure put the right hand on the left arm that what you want to do it wrong in a way doing it wrong who that you knew how to do it right so easily absolute that it was a kind of showing off to do it wrong sure sure and also we should say these characteristics the reason why they emerged there's lots of different theories people have and in part perhaps because a new generation of artists starting with Pontormo but then also parmigianino and branzino they needed to do something different they felt like all the possibilities had been exhausted in the high Renaissance the works of Leonardo and Michelangelo and Raphael or Titian well it does kind of seem after the school of athens that the height of naturalism right of what the renaissance wanted to do had been reached and what what was there for new artists to do and so a new generation of artists turned away from the priorities of naturalism and classicism and overriding logic that we saw in earlier 1500s also mannerism can be tied to the medici both in terms of the election of a Medici Pope Leo the tenth in 1513 but also the return of the Medici to Florence in the teens and especially in the 2730 what was it about the Medici well when they become popes and when they return as dukes of florence ultimately they cultivate a very very sophisticated court because they want to prove that their peers of the great court rulers of europe and so the Mannerist style develops in a way in partnership with these efforts of their leadership to create a as I said before a hyper sophisticated elegant setting for their court so the medici are no longer pretending to be allies of the republic and they're really in a way embracing a kind of aristocratic yes sir nice style certainly by the middle of the 1500 definitely so let's talk about how this image reflects these kinds of ideas and themes first of all obviously the way the young man is dressed the way that he's standing the expression on his face all seemed to exude this very cool sophistication great detachment and a hyper articulated elegance all of these things are in a way characteristic of both Mannerist life as it was lived and Mannerist art we can also talk about the way that it's painted Bronzino is one of the masters of the oil painting technique of the 16th century and when you're standing in front of this painting and looking at it it's hard to see how it was actually painted you can barely see a brushstroke or any kind of surface texture polish and exactly it's as if he's transcended the medium itself and it's in its creation which was also definitely a goal of a Mannerist artist right um what else could we say about it in terms of mannerism he looks you know very distant very detached but also in a way very posed to me like this is not a position that one would catch one he has a badge for life guard oh yes it looks like you know he looks very much like a model sort of taking a pose that's true and that's an important part both of Mannerist sculpture as it was actually lived and Mannerist portraiture the idea of the pose the conspicuous nature of posing was actually something that people looked upon favorably it's so weird because we kind of looked down at it we think people are insincere we have a different take on it certainly but at the time especially in the medici circles of this period obvious artificiality was a goal of proper social behavior in elite circles your identity was something that was to be performed you presented yourself to be seen in a certain way and it was understood to be a performance something artificial it was supposed to seem effortless but it was supposed to be clear that the real you whoever you were was not something on display that would be gauche instead a very polished artificial superficial kind of performance is how you presented yourself in these court circles and as we can see actually in this painting as well so a kind of mask absolutely and that kind of fits in here Mannerist were obsessed with masks because of this idea that it presented something to be seen and was obviously hiding something underneath this painting addresses those kinds of themes into several ways first of all because of his conspicuous pose as we see it and you know usually a portrait is to present someone's physical appearance and identity but the way he's looking at us it's almost as if he's saying I dare you to understand who I am which is very very simply be condescending to us in a way perfectly absolutely so there's all of that just in the way that he presents himself it's typically manners but to return to the idea of the mask there are several masks or references to masks in the painting some people say that his hard kind of porcelain like skin makes his face look like a mask especially because his eyes don't look in this direction and also the way that his the light sort of falls on his face it is very very mask like but then we can also look at the face that's like a mask at the edge of the table facing out towards the viewer there's another one on the arm of the chair in the lower right and then if you look very carefully at the very bottom of the painting the folds in the fabric of his pants leg yeah form two eyes and a nose and another mask therefore yeah in the painting and this idea of things being hidden and you have to search for the meaning and suddenly discover things not making sense and things not making sense all of these are important characters and we talk about the book in that case right because normally what would be in a portrait would help to tell us something about the sitter right and in this case we kind of don't have anything except those masks here we see a book but it's closed it's not open for us to read and understand just like how we are presented with a man but he - because of the way he looks at us and is painted is closed off to us remains an enigma like the window or door in the back that's also hidden from view in a way like the book is closed let's look at our other image as well okay this is bronzy nose portrait of Ludovico Caponi approximately the same date and also here in New York City this is at the Frick Collection his fingers those elongated boneless fingers are also very typical of masters very similar to the last painting we looked at and to mannerism in general with its refined elegance and the rather elongated forms the face the cool polish and the sort of firm scan that we expect to see here he's not quite as aloof looking as the last image but still there's that sense that he's posing for us he's presenting himself to be seen in a particular way and we're never going to know who the real person underneath is and so again a kind of Virtua stick painting but also very good demonstration of how you were supposed to behave in upper-class society just like in the last painting we had a book that was closed so we were presented with something that we expect to understand but are prevented from seeing into it here too we have the same thing in his right hand on the left he's holding a cameo and usually when a man is painted in a portrait with a cameo we see who it is because his lover or some family member hi and here he holds it we expect to see it and understand it but he also covers her face with his finger it's so fascinating how mannerism evolves the style it's so different from the goals the naturalistic goals of the Renaissance yeah and when you think about Mannerist portraits like these in your head you can compare it to something like the Mona Lisa where she's not obviously posing and Leonardo's effort in a painting like that is seemingly more honest and open and she's engaging with you in a kind of expressive way right whereas in these Mannerist portraits as these two as well as many others you are presented with someone but at the very same time you're precluded from understanding who they are yeah do you think that this has anything to do with the Reformation that's beginning to happen or not yet I would say it would to word life early it's for that I think it has to do more with court life especially because these are such secular images ants you