European studies blog

02 July 2014

The Triumph of Mannerism – Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino in Florence

De Triomf van het Maniërisme (The Triumph of European Mannerism), a mammoth (518 items) Council of Europe exhibition in Amsterdam in 1955 was the first comprehensive examination of Mannerism – the dominant, and previously overlooked, artistic style between the High Renaissance and the Baroque, roughly between 1520 to 1600. It was followed, a year later, by the Mostra del Pontormo e del primo manierismo fiorentino at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, on Pontormo and early Florentine Mannerist art. In 1972, L’École de Fontainebleau, an exhaustive (705 items) examination of French Mannerism, largely indebted to Italian artists working for Francis I, completed the trio of major exhibitions that led to a proliferation of  monographs, conference proceedings and exhibitions on Mannerism which continues unabated. In the first half of 2014 alone there was a rich crop of Mannerist shows: El Greco in Toledo  and Madrid (one on his library  and one on his influence on modern art), Pontormo drawings in Madrid, and Baccio Bandinelli and Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino in Florence. 

Pontormo & Rosso Fiorentino: diverging paths of Mannerism revisits the subject of the 1956 Florence exhibition. It follows the stylistic development of these two leading artists of early Florentine Mannerism in roughly chronological order but with separate sections on their portrait paintings and their drawings (they were both remarkable draughtsmen). They had much in common, both temperamentally and artistically. They were ‘born under Saturn’ (i.e. they were eccentric, restless, and anguished) and were influenced by Michelangelo’s paintings and by Northern Renaissance prints, especially Dürer’s.

The exhibition, as its title indicates, also aims to demonstrate that, after their common beginnings in the workshop of Andrea del Sarto, the careers of the two artists took different directions. Pontormo enjoyed the protection of the Medici family for the rest of his life,whereas Rosso, thanks to his republican inclinations, was forced to lead a peripatetic existence, working in various artistic centres in Tuscany and also in Rome and Naples before going to France, where he spent his last ten years in the court of Francis I, becoming one of the key figures of the School of Fontainebleau. This last period of Rosso’s output, though examined in the catalogue,  is largely omitted in the exhibition as it was the subject of a major show in the Château de Fontainebleau last year which demonstrated the far-reaching influence Rosso’s allegorical decorations exerted, through prints, on subsequent generations of artists. The present exhibition includes, nevertheless, two contrasting, examples from Rosso’s French years, his Pietà and Bacchus, Venus and Cupid, the first tragic and austere, the second erotic and voluptuous.

Rosso Fiorentino's Pietà, showing the dead Christ with attendantsRosso Fiorentino, Pietà (ca 1538-40). Paris, Musée du Louvre. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Fiorentino's 'Bacchus Venus and Mars' showing the naked Bacchus and Venus seated with Cupid standing between themRosso Fiorentino Bacchus, Venus and Cupid (ca 1535-39). Luxembourg, Musée National d’Histoire et d’Art. Image from Wikimedia Commons

The exhibition is a feast for the eyes. It opens spectacularly with three enormous detached frescoes, by Andrea del Sarto, Rosso, and Pontormo, from the atrium of  the Church of SS Annunziata, all newly restored for the exhibition. Numerous other works  have also been cleaned recently, sometimes with unexpected results – the cleaning of Rosso’s The Marriage of the Virgin has made St Joseph, traditionally depicted as an elderly man, look even more youthful  whereas the head of a donkey, previously obscured by layers of grime, has been revealed in the background of Pontormo’s magnificent Visitation.

Rosso's 'Marriage of the Virgin' showing a youthful Joseph putting a ring on Mary's finger before a priestRosso Fiorentino, The Marriage of the Virgin (Ginori Altarpiece) 1523. Florence, Basilica di san Lorenzo (Image from  Artemagazine)

Pontormos's 'Visitation' showing Mary and Elizabeth embracing with two female attendants standing behind themPontormo, Visitation  (ca 1528-29). Carmignano, Pieve di San Michele Archangelo. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The Mannerist treasures in churches and museums  in Florence and surroundings are
overwhelming. They include Pontormo’s most famous work, his otherworldly Deposition/Lamentation, in the church of Santa Felicita  and his beautiful lunette fresco decoration of Vertumnus and Pomona,  in the Medici country villa at Poggio a Caiano. Palazzo Pitti has the world’s most important collection of Andrea del Sarto paintings, the Uffizi an incomparable collection of  paintings by Bronzino, Pontormo’s pupil and himself the subject of a memorable exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi four years ago. Bronzino’s frescoes for the Chapel of Eleonora da Toledo are in the Palazzo Vecchio where several rooms were decorated by Giorgio Vasari, Johannes Stradanus, and Francesco Salviati and other artists of the second generation of Florentine Mannerists.

Chris Michaelides, Curator Italian and Modern Greek


A Select Bibliography of Florentine Mannerism and the École de Fontainebleau

Pontormo, Rosso and Mannerism in Florence

Pontormo e Rosso: atti del convegno di Empoli e Volterra progetto Appiani di Piombino. [Congress held on Sept. 22, 1994 in Empoli and on Sept. 23-24, 1994  in Volterra]. (Florence, 1996). YA.1998.b.216.

L’Officina della maniera: varietà e fierezzanell’arte fiorentinadel Cinquecento fra le due repubbliche, 1494-1530. (Venice, 1996). YA.2000.b.284.

Pontormo, Bronzino, and the Medici: The Transformation of the Renaissance Portrait in Florence (exh. cat., ed. by C. B. Strehlke; Philadelphia, PA, Mus. A., 2004–5). m04/.37453

Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino: diverging paths of mannerism / edited by Carlo Falciani and Antonio Natali. (Florence, 2014).  LF.31.b.10009.


Mostra del Pontormo e del primo manierismo fiorentino : [tenuta al] Palazzo Strozzi, Firenze, marzo-luglio 1956. (Florence, 1956). YV.1989.a.419.

Pontormo: disegni degli Uffizi / catalogo di Carlo Falciani. (Florence, 1996). WP.4334. v.79.

Pontormo, dibujos (Fundación Mapfre, Madrid, 12 de febrero-11 de mayo de 2014) [comisariado, Kosme de Barañano] (Madrid, 2014). LF.31.b.11064

Rosso Fiorentino

Cecile Scaillierez, Rosso. Le Christ mort. (Paris, 2004). YF.2014.b.2174

Antonio  Natali, Rosso Fiorentino: leggiadra maniera e terribilità di cose stravaganti. (Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2006). LF.31.b.3723.

Le roi et l'artiste: François Ier et Rosso Fiorentino : Château de Fontainebleau, du 23 mars au 24 juin 2013 / commissariat, Thierry Crépin-Leblond, Vincent Droguet.  (Paris,  [2013]) YF.2014.b.420.


Janet Cox-Rearick, Bronzino’s Chapel of Eleonora in the Palazzo Vecchio. (Berkeley, 1993). YK.1994.c.10.

Bronzino: artist and poet at the court of the Medici / edited by Carlo Falciani and Antonio Natali. (Florence, 2010). LC.31.b.8601.

Pontormo, Bronzino, and the Medici: the transformation of the Renaissance portrait in Florence / Carl Brandon Strehlke; with essays by Elizabeth Cropper ... [et al.]. (University Park, Pa,  2004). LC.31.b.2261.


John Pope Hennessy, Cellini  (London, 1985). L.45/3693.

École de Fontainebleau

L’École de Fontainebleau [catalogue of the exhibition in the Musée du Louvre and the  Galeries nationales d'exposition du Grand Palais]. (Paris, 1972). X.410/5309.

Primatice: maître de Fontainebleau: Paris, Musée du Louvre, 22 septembre 2004-3 janvier 2005. (Paris, 2004). YF.2006.b.1071

Dominique Cordellier, Luca Penni, un disciple de Raphaël à Fontainebleau. (Paris, 2012). LF.31.a.4504.

Xavier Salmon, Fontainebleau, le temps des Italiens ([Heule?], 2013)]. LF.31.b.9839

Francesco Salviati

Francesco Salviati et la bella maniera: actes des colloques de Rome et Paris. (Rome, 2001). Ac.5233.a/284.

Francesco Salviati (1510-1563) ou, La bella maniera / sous la direction de Catherine Monbeig Goguel. (Paris, 1998). LB.31.b.17992.

Andrea del Sarto

Andrea del Sarto, 1486-1530: dipinti e disegni a Firenze : [catalogo della mostra a] Firenze, Palazzo Pitti, ... nov. 1986-mar. 1987. (Milan, 1986). YV.1987.b.798.

Giorgio Vasari

Patricia Lee Rubin, Giorgio Vasari: art and history. (New Haven; London, 1995). YC.1995.b.4896.

Giorgio Vasari disegnatore e pittore, a cura di Alessandro Cecchi. (Skira, 2011). LF.31.b.8051

  Pontormo's 'Vertumnus and Pomona' showing gods and goddesses in a rural landscapePontormo, Vertumnus and Pomona ( 1519-21) Poggio a Caiano, Villa medicea. Image from Wikimedia Commons


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