Mannerism and Maniera.
Cropper situates Smyth's argument in its historiographic context, the ongoing debate over the nature of Mannerism that culminated with the 1961 session at which Smyth first presented his ideas. She astutely compares his thesis to the other papers at that session (for example, John Shearman's "stylish style"), as well as to earlier attitudes equating Mannerism with anticlassicism and artistic decline. In particular, Smyth's investigation of the dynamic between maniera and antiquity serves to unmask "ideological alibi," remarks Cropper (employing Amadeo Quondam's term), namely the privileged and ostensibly unproblematic hegemony of classicism.
Smyth's definition of Mannerist painting invokes both derogatory and positive sixteenth-century notions of maniera, as well as related critical vocabulary. He identifies a set of figural and gestural conventions, derived largely from late antique relief, which were used by Mannerist artists to create ambiguity and tension in the representation of fictive space. An interplay of convention and license characterizes the work of these artists, according to Smyth, their drawings eloquently described in terms of a calligraphic search for inventive possibility (90). The focus on form in Smyth's essay appears all too often divorced from issues of content, however, a tendency typical of the broader debate on Mannerism in the 1960s. For example, the book reproduces no less than four works by Vasari representing the Immaculate Conception without any further iconographic reference. It is noteworthy that the artist in this case is known to have discussed such imagery at some length. Indeed, a relevant passage in Vasari's autobiography testifies to the degree of symbolic sophistication he intended in the composition of the Immaculate Conception, ascribing meaning to poses that might otherwise be dismissed as simply stock formulae.
The reissue of Craig Hugh Smyth's classic study, with its stimulating introduction by Elizabeth Cropper, will prove valuable to the continuing discourse on Mannerism. The reader only regrets the lack of an epilogue in which Smyth might have shared more fully his own insights on the matter as they have developed over the past thirty years. Nevertheless, his original thesis, still extremely suggestive, should invite us to consider anew the complex relations between order and license, invention and tradition, form and meaning.
MARY VACCARO University of Texas, Arlington
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1996|
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