Mannerism In Art
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
The defect, if so it may be termed, which is ordinarily called mannerism, consists in a peculiarity, or rather individuality of manner in which any person, in whatever branch of art, treats the subject he is describing, and which is in reality not unfrequently the result of the power of his genius, which bursts through all the ordinary trammels of rule, and leaves behind it the deep traces of his footsteps, while others of less weight and vigour do not produce the same impressions, or they are so feeble as to be soon effaced. Hence, nearly all our greatest poets and painters and orators, Shakspeare especially, are more or less mannerists, and that to a marked extent. Indeed, all real geniuses, all who originate and carry out a style of their own, are essentially more or less mannerists also. This is the case with regard to each of the arts alike, and in each department of them. As respects painting, it is seen as much in landscape as in epic composition. Their very individuality and independence, and difference of thought and feeling from those about them, at once and of itself produced their mannerism. And it may also be said that whoever and whatever of them is most striking, will almost invariably be found to be so characterized. Probably, indeed, the greatest of all mannerists is nature herself; and it is moreover in her most splendid and indeed perfect scenes, that her mannerism peculiarly, perhaps alone displays itself. In her still and ordinary plains no such mannerism is discernible, as none of the grand and exciting appearances characteristic of the former there exist. Both in nature and in art, however, wherever there is anything that is remarkable and peculiar and characteristic, there at once mannerism is sure to be exhibited.
Mannerism often consists in a peculiarity of style as regards subordinate and apparently trivial matters, which serves, how-ever, to mark the individual mind and character of the artist. This is, however, nowhere more observable than in the natural scenery of any particular district, especially scenery of the highest order, in which these small though striking peculiarities will be for ever exhibiting themselves. Indeed, as the higher are the qualities as regards grandeur and beauty that any prospect possesses, the more liable is it to the development of mannerism ; so is this peculiarly displayed in the sublime and noble scenery of Switzerland, the marked features and striking individual characteristics of which are every where shown, more especially in the peaks of the Alps, and the rugged passes and torrents and glaciers with which they abound. Each lake and mountain and rock and waterfall and valley appears formed on the same model, and pervaded by the same leading idea. The rudeness and wildness and grandeur of every one of them cor-respond; and yet, with all this, each is varied from the other in every possible way. In the majestic scenery, too, of the Pyrenees, the mannerism of nature is peculiarly exhibited, alike in the similarity of the general structure of the different mountains and valleys, and the uniform richness of the verdure and foliage with which they are clothed; but above all in the very perfect pyral form in which the peaks of the mountains are moulded, the elegance, symmetry, and proportion of which add much to the beauty and general effect of the outline.
In works of art mannerism is, nevertheless, so far, and to this extent, a blemish or a defect, that it serves to infuse into the work itself that peculiarity of style or expression which is individual and personal to the producer of such work, and from which it ought to be as much as possible, if not entirely free, and to derive all characteristics of this kind from nature, and from nature alone. Consequently, we must resort to the due application of rule to correct mannerism, even where it does not exterminate it by converting its efforts into general, instead of peculiar manifestations of artistic power. Although it is the prerogative of mannerism to break through rule, yet respect to rule should influence and modify, where it cannot wholly re-strain the efforts of the artist.