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Mannerism is a European art period that began around 1520 and ended in the 1580s, though Northern mannerism continued into the 17th century. This style of art typically focused on the human form placed in unusual settings and in exaggerated poses. Some of the best-known mannerist painters include El Greco, Michelangelo Buonarroti, and Parmigianino.
Though not strictly a mannerist painter, Michelangelo Buonarroti was thought to be one of the pioneers of this style. Near the end of the Italian High Renaissance, Michelangelo's personal style, often characterized by a sense of grandeur and passion, began to be imitated by other artists. Some of the key features often reproduced by subsequent artists included bright, clashing color schemes, unnatural poses and anatomical features in the human figures, and dramatic scenes as backdrops.
One of the mannerist painters who took inspiration from Michelangelo was an Italian artist known as Parmigianino. This artist was best known for the graceful though unnaturally elongated figures that appeared in his religious pieces. Although his religiously themed works were some of his most celebrated, he also created many portraits, etchings, and woodcuts. These pieces often included unusual spatial effects, such as trompe l'oeil, a technique that involves creating a realistic image with a three-dimensional optical illusion.
Although Michelangelo may have spearheaded this unusual art movement, one of the best known of all the mannerist painters is El Greco. Originally trained in the Byzantine manner in Crete, El Greco quickly learned to use bright, dramatic colors after spending a significant amount of time in Venice. Moving to Rome, then to Spain, this artist picked up other key mannerist characteristics. For instance, much of his art featured unusual perspective points, while his human figures were often turned and twisted in unnatural ways.
Despite having been born during the early days of the mannerist movement, Giuseppe Arcimboldo became one of the more distinctive of the mannerist painters. Unlike many other artists of the time, he did not typically work on religious themes, but instead focused on the subjects of nature and science. Sometimes placed into the category of surrealism, he created a number of uncanny and symbolic portraits that were predominantly made up of vegetables, flowers and fruits. During his lifetime, he was often copied, but was not fully recognized as a great artist until his work was rediscovered in the 1920s.