Mannerism can be understood as both a late form of the Renaissance and as its own independent epochal phenomenon. In Italy, it denotes the period 1520-1600 as a transitional style between the Renaissance and the Baroque. The term as such was used for the first time at the end of the 18th century in the Storia pittorica by Luigi Lanzi; already in 1568, Vasari speaks about the certain "maniera" of an artist, and Lomazzo give the advice in 1590 in his tract, that every artist should imitate this distinguishing characteristic. The conscious imitation of the manner of the Renaissance becomes thus the characteristic feature of mannerism. This imitation often leads to the conscious exaggeration of qualities and thus to a departure from classical Renaissance norms. A feeling of artificiality is produced: in painting, spatial proportions are often exaggerated into limitlessness, the colors are more intense and contrast with each other, limbs are lengthened. The depiction loses individuality and appears more aristocratically reserved as Castiglione’s literary work The Book of the Courtier remarks. The "figura serpentinata" typical for the sculpture of mannerism is the result of a strongly exaggerated classical contrapost, by means of which multiple perspectives are also thematized. Smaller sculptures attain increasing significance. In architecture too, classical forms are treated in a playful manner.
Analogous to the exaggeration of formal characteristics, pictorial content is also thematically intellectualized and translated into a complex and codified iconography. Research explains the phenomenon of mannerism through weighty social upheavals. Besides the Reformation and the Counterreformation, in 1527 above all the Sacco di Roma – the plundering of Rome by the troops of Charles V – shook the people’s spirit.
Mannerism was developed further by Rosso Fiorentino and Primaticcio in the castle at Fontainebleu; in Spain, El Greco was influential. The style reached the courts of Prague and Munich, and in the Netherlands, Cornelis Floris influenced his own movement – the Floris style.
Other artists typical for mannerism are: Michelangelo Buonarotti, Andrea del Sarto, Rosso Fiorentino, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Benvenuto Cellini, Giambologna, El Greco, Parmigianino, Pontormo, Giulio Romano, Paolo Veronese, Bartholomäus Spranger, Giorgio Vasari, Adriaen de Vries.