THE MODERN MANNER
“THE THIRD MANNER THAT WE – WRITES VASARI – WANT TO CALL MODERN [...]”
Quoted by Enrico Castelnuovo and Carlo Ginzburg602
Having worked, during the last few years on the comparison between the painting of 16th and the 20th centuries, I now risk a sensation of vague bitterness. Plenty was disclosed but more has certainly remained uncovered... Besides, few investigative efforts have immediate visible consequences susceptible of changing the world – facts usually remain what they were.
The 16th century and Mannerism lie in the past, if such place can be considered as really existing. The 20th century moved more recently to this past, but it is still cause of the emergence of multiple consequences and crystallizations in the present, one of which is the age-generation I belong to. At the same time the 21st century opens up as an apparently stupid – because still so empty – entity.
As a perfect way of crowning my comparative work I decided to try the most objective conclusion, a real and almost mathematical proof to my the- sis: is it possible to draw any conclusions from such a diversified collection of studies? Can I draw an imaginary style or artistic movement, encompassing in it the characteristics I identified as being two-lane and both-way conceptual bridges between the 16th and the 20th centuries? A possible title: Modern Manner or Modern Maniera. Would such an artistic style today have cohesion, plausibility and unity?
If the answer is positive my thesis would be confirmed: a visible bridge exists between the 16th and the 20th centuries. The toll would be a very sim- ple grid of comparative methods, as the one I used. If it is negative, then my whole undertaking would have been abusive, all comparisons and associations merely circumstantial. I “invented” then this timeless style, the Modern Maniera, with the following properties:
1. Fundamental role of texts and critique in art. In the Modern Maniera there is great interaction between words written about art and the artistic practise. Writers elaborate, previously or a posteriori about what is built in the image realm, and the artists reflect about aesthetic or literary texts, when planning their art pieces. We can say that the Modern Maniera owns as much to images as to words. Art critics from this period were at least as famous and influential as the artists.
2. Another kind of texts and thought influenced the arts of the Modern Maniera, form the Platonic Academy of Ficino in the 15th century to the theories of Chaos or the black hole in the 20th. I’m referring to the philosophical thought, “scientific magic”, as André Chastel called it, leading the arts to the status of a liberal and academic discipline.
3. The Modern Maniera challenged Naturalism. First by asking: what is nature? Who’s nature? Where? The human nature deeply alters the “exterior” nature and upsets the intention of objectively representing it. Nature emerges in artists as a deeply diversified, specific, personalized, individualized reality. The myth of the unity of Nature that existed in previous periods has been lost, and mostly replaced by universal diversity.
4. The Visual continues as important in the Modern Maniera, but it is a conceptual and distorted one. The idea of space characteristic of Mannerism was the “trivial and humanized” labyrinth that Hauser mentions, while Impressionism proposed an indirect and shapeless spatial concept, despite of its scientific roots.
5. In Modern Maniera contradiction is an internal asset in most of its art works. They are one thing and simultaneously the opposite. Ambiguity would be a defining characteristic of this style if one could say that it is style, instead of stylistic absence.
6. The Modern Maniera was influenced by social and political riots and wars that lead to a symbolic secularization, a loss of iconic references for the ruling social and religious system. Berlin wall was destroyed, the Twin Towers too, and Rome was invaded by a barbarous army, many of whose soldiers (the lansquenets) were protestants and vandalized the precious relics.
7. The Modern Maniera followed a charismatic and unforgettable artistic system. In this inheritance process resides what Germain Bazin described as sort of Oedipus attraction-repulsion complex towards previous artistic periods. Renaissance is still considered by many the superior style of Modern Ages. Modernism succeeded a Neoclassic period. The Postmodern is also a “day after”, after the sublime mo- ment of fusion between artist and artwork that happen in the peak of Modernism.
8. Due to its incapacity of forgetting the past in the Modern Maniera, the 16th century, introduced practices of study, safekeeping and promotion of the artistic goods produced by preceding generations – new professional classes of antique dealers, restorers, administrators and specialists in historic heritage.
9. Among the measures invented to secure historic and artistic heritage invented by culture politicians in Modern Maniera were administrative restrictions to the export and circulation of cultural goods. These were corrective measures in order to overcome and limit the disad- vantages of globalization, one of the symptoms and, at the same time, cause of this Maniera.
10. The nature of the Modern Maniera, a constant practice of appropriation of other artwork, created two opposed but complementary forms of reality: copyright and falsification. Falsification is, as Federico Zeri said, a consequence of the notion of style. Based on this same notion was diffused the idea of author’s rights that lead Alessandro Allori to recognize it, when signing his work in the Montauto Chapel at the SS. Annunziata Sanctuary, that he owed them to Michelangelo that had explicitly yielded them. This specific chapter of the law, the author’s property rights, was thus created, with its consequences on the whole artistic practice.
11. The Modern Maniera can be taught. It is the cause of the spreading and flowering of art academies, from the first in the cinquecento to the most recent one. These image factories, with diverse focuses or spe- cificities, have been bringing up and preparing artists to a demanding, competitive and unpredictable art market. Learning is the mannerist rule; the “self-taught genius” is an exception.
12. Professionals, who intermediate between the artists and the final consumers of the artwork, without being artists or at least independently
of this condition, are essential in the Modern Maniera, creating links between the isolated artists and art consumers. They usually control commissions, exhibition and purchase channels. Today, we can see everywhere a generation of international art curators, who have the necessary skills for the manipulation of a global conceptualism. For some they are super-artists, according to others, only bureaucrats.
13. These super-curators of the Modern Maniera organize complex and articulate artistic programs, using allegoric and laic concepts popular in the world of media, professional politicians and patrons. Distributing commissions between themselves603 or other artists, working more or less peacefully with architects, they organize painting galleries or studiolos, which are coherent collections of art pieces.
In the beginning of the 21st century this breed of international super- curators, using new ways of artistic editing and exhibition, merging multiple artists as one single artwork, like a Cubist assemblage. These are contemporary visual salads, in which are displayed individual artworks. Consequently, they only have the legitimate right to sign. It is today impossible to show artwork that does not have an explicit concept of disregarding its own internal boundaries, because there is a perception that such exhibition would have “no sense”. Curators are the carriers of meaning that, implicitly, represents patrons. Thus they are the authorized interpreters of the Voice of the Master.
14. With the Modern Maniera began marchands or art dealers, such as Giovanni Battista della Palla, considered by the Wittkowers the first international art gallery owner. This trade was made possible by a lighter and more resistant technological type of art, a different kind of public, and even alterations in the form of payment. The existence of this commerce lead to change of art production itself, unfolding to- wards a faceless art market.
15. The Modern Maniera cannot be conceived without the widespread diffusion of “mass media”. First the duplication and then the multiplication of originals was influential both in artistic and social terms: the Gutenberg press, the circulation of woodcuts and other prints that generated the new illustrated leaflets and finally the written press, television and Internet. The circulation of information and the Maniera
penetrate and permeate mutually and end up by having the same texture.
16. The Modern Maniera corresponds to the rise of art to a new religious status, independent from explicit apostolic-roman art. The metaphysics of art has lead in the 20th century to enormous culture cathedrals, goal of the peregrination of masses of followers, different from the ones that still assemble in the persisting catholic shrines.
17. Vasari’s Le Vite de’ più Eccellenti Pittori, Scultori, et Architettori, a founding moment in the Modern Maniera, demonstrates firstly the extraordinary progress that occurred in art, due to the work of masters such as Cimabue and Giotto, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo. There were no doubts in the mind of the writer, nor in his readers, that after these artists art was much better, more advanced and perfect. A huge step was taken towards a paradigm. In a similar way all avant-garde movements in the 20th century, abstractionists or not, considered:
a. Having achieved something that no one had done before. b. That “something” being superior and more modern to what had been done previously. Arthur C. Danto, Postmodernism and the end of the 20th century brought to our mind the idea that this form of evolution was over. However, this anti-modernist concept in itself is presented as a “modern” idea. We are even more modern than modernity.
18. The main artist’s studios, even during Mannerism, were large hierarchical structures in which the master was in charge but where the humblest disciple had something to say, left his mark in the finished product. It is sometimes impossible to determine what was painted by the master or by one of the most able assistants. In the master surely resided the concept and a kind of creative responsibility. During Romanticism and Modernism a sort of fusion between the individual artist and the act of painting/sculpting could be noticed. The Modern Manner, Conceptual Art, Pop Art, readymade and other endeavors, made us rediscover the idea of an anonymous manufacture of the artwork, after its design and idealization by the artist (sometimes a group). Painting and sculpture is again the product of workshops and factories.
19. About Francesco Salviati (1510-1563), Paul Joannides said: “He kept a well organized archive and was prepared to combine forms emerging from various periods or artists, if he felt they were compatible with his aims [...] and his way of creating paintings – at least the large sized ones – was based on collage”604. Collage is a fetish system for the Modern Maniera. Also called readymade, it has been exhaustively used in order to compose new artistic spaces, recycling artwork or even diverse unexpected objects of common use. This happened both in the 21st and in the 20th century for instance in Cubism and Pop Art. Digital and computer memory makes collage even easier and more present, because it now happens only by pushing a button.
20. Some of the fundamental characteristics of Modern Maniera are its self-consciousness, self - referentiality and self-reflexivity, the “stylized style” that Shearman used to mention. This consciousness of oneself is the same “self- awareness” or “self - presentness” mentioned by Greenberg and Fried. It is a phenomenon related to dominant individualism of the 20th century, but was born in Baldesar Castiglione’s Il Libro del Cortegiano or the Praise of Folly, by Erasmus. The price of an individual point of view is, for artists, elitism and loneliness.
21. In the Modern Maniera anthropocentrism of the artist’s point of view reflects in a conception of space that, while based on a virtuous complexity, refuses the geometric simplicity of central perspective, except when it creates vertigo.
22. One of the essential characteristics of the Modern Manner is ostentatio artis, commonly known as “art for art’s sake”. This purpose is illustrated by the 16th century story of Giambologna’s well-known sculpture that was executed regardless of title or theme, only motivated by its own technical ingenuity and difficulty605, only afterwards baptized as The Rape of a Sabine by a patron, Father Raffaello Borghini. This is how were born artworks carrying the title “Untitled”, today so common.
23. Ostentatio artis corresponds to the birth of a class of collectors or mere cultural tourists, which in one way or the other make possible this form of self-centered artistic activity. This supporting cast in the art scene has become more and more numerous from the 16th century onwards, even outside governments of the Italian city-states and have become economically very significant or even decisive in the 20th century. The Modern Maniera initiated a progressive dissemination of ideas about art towards a wider public – larger than ever, in Western Europe and North America.
24. It would make little sense to refer to the Modern Manner without mentioning its intensive use of the past. Maniera is, in Zeri’s words about the end of the 16th century, a “pittura senza tempo”. That century lived under the influence of the archaeological findings in the city of Rome, whose influence one expected to find in works of contemporary masters. The 20th century lived under the spell of archaeological forms of a more sophisticated nature. Modernism was influenced by historic and later anthropologic research on civilizations considered non-occidental: the African campaigns, Egypt, the Indian tribes. But also western art, mainly from the 16th century, continued its decisive influence upon European and American art in the last century. Also citizens with a non-western origin looked back for their native roots, creating an art ethnically motivated. We could witness a juxtaposition or fusion of perception and remembrance, a continuous construction of bridges between past and present.
25. The Modern Maniera also developed what we can call a “modern memorialism”. Science has plunged into the mechanics of memory. This human capacity is also overstated in its relations to art. Present action often draws our attention to facts arriving from the Past. The rediscovery of Mannerism is an example of this phenomenon. The Studiolo of Francis I in the Palazzo Vecchio was reassembled in the 20th century. One of the paintings vandalized by the terrorist attack in the Uffizi in 1993 has been carefully restored preserving not the original artwork but the signs of the iconoclast act of destruction in it. The same seems to happen, with more impact on the media from the project for the reconstruction at the site where once rose the Twin Towers in New York. All monuments worship memory in an uncritical way.
26. From the second half of the 16th century onwards, with the Modern Manner, oil painting on canvas became common in Italy, after Flanders: a technologic revolution allowing a different type of painting. A wider freedom in the application of pigment can be witnessed in Venetian paintings, who in Italy firstly adopted this medium. They apply it in painterly layers of varied thickness (visible in Titian’s later works). These forms of artistic action were since developed outside Italy by executants such as El Greco, Rembrandt or Rubens. They were carried to a sophisticated epiphany only in the 20th century, creating even the myth of the “end of painting”, according to which painting would have attained perfection, in a specific historical moment, fulfilling thus its historic and artistic destiny and thus losing consequence.
It can be argued that something similar to the logic here exercised can achieve similar results in any other two artistic periods or styles. It would be necessary to prove it... Showing side by side artworks born in different con- texts is always a healthy reminder that art is, after all, a continuous discourse pursued in all times and circumstances, victoriously leaving behind the directly motivating factors and causing unpredictable influences over the future.
My experience is that even so, working with other historic periods, seldom would be achieved such a perfect continuity of thought as with the 16th and the 20th centuries. Here exist common causes, a previous connection of some kind that I have tried to study and describe along my thesis. Other very useful comparative studies should be done about different artistic moments.
Today, the historic or the avantgarde notion of style is immersed in a deep crisis, assailed by multiple factors between which prevails the over- whelming individuality of the artist and his voluntary decision of either keeping a marginal distance from the contemporary dominating tendencies, as happened in the beginning of the 16th century, or creating academic movements in which the academic or collective characteristics in art are followed with excess, creating ironic distance towards themselves, as happened in the Second Maniera, towards the end of the 16th century.
Style, a sort of ghost of the social and historic collective unconscious, embodied by the artist and narrated by art history, doesn’t make sense, as Arthur C. Danto has proved, and historic shortcuts such this one confirm it.
In the meantime individual paintings keep the livelihood that al- ways made them a centre of human attention, rich in memory and physical “presentness”606, containing so many specimens of infinite and vibrant tradition, but representing also radical freedom – fully using the combinatory possibilities of the above mentioned tradition and also other contemporary material.
These apparently contradictory features, tradition and freedom, come to my mind at the apex of an artistic and scholarly research that cannot evade the spirit of this artistic movement, that I have baptized the Modern Maniera.
602. “[...] the one of Leonardo, Giorgione, the very graceful Raphael of Urbino and the divine Michelangelo Buonarroti.” Storia dell’Arte Italiana, 1, p. 316. Opposing the “ancient” of the “German” Manner, as described by Panofsky in Renaissance and Renascences, pp. 34-35.
603. For instance, Vasari.
604. AMES-LEWIS & JOANNIDES, Reactions, p. 69. 605. Americans say: “For the hell of it!”
606. Thank you, Clement Greenberg!
FILIPE ROCHA DA SILVA
In Variações sobre o Maneirismo – Volume II. Bypass Editions, 2012