Mannerism in Architecture

In the same way that Mannerism in painting includes a certain amount of shock value, knowing the rules but bending the rules, high key pallets (very bright vivid colors), high contrast of light and shadow Mannerist architecture shares some of the same qualities.  The Italian word maniera meaning charm, grace or playfulness can also be applied to much of the architecture of the mid to late 1500's.  Part of the mannered world of the late Italian Renaissance was to recreate the glory of their Roman past but to do update in a contemporary style.

A more sober attempt to revive the classical theatre was made by the academies, organized by upper-class gentlemen who assembled to read and, on occasion, to participate in and to support financially productions of classical drama. The plays were generally of three kinds: contemporary poetic dramas based on ancient texts; Latinized versions of Greek dramas; and the works of Seneca, Terence, and Plautus in the original. Toward the middle of the 15th century, scholars discovered the manuscripts of the Roman writer Vitruvius; one of these scholars, the architect and humanist Leon Battista Alberti, wrote De re aedificatoria (1452; first printed in 1485), which stimulated the desire to build in the style of the classical stage. In 1545, Sebastiano Serlio published his Trattato de architettura, a work that concentrated entirely on the practical stage of the early 16th century.

Serlio's treatise on the theatre had three especially significant items. The first was a plan for an auditorium and stage that assumed a rectangular hall, with spectators arranged in the same pattern as in the Roman cavea (i.e., the tiered semicircular seating area of a Roman theatre), the difference being that the semicircle of the audience was cut short by the sidewalls. Second, his three types of stage designs--tragic, comic, and satiric--were the same as Vitruvius' classifications. Third, for the stage, he started with a Roman acting platform, but instead of the scaenae frons, he introduced a raked platform, slanted upward toward the rear, on which the perspective setting of a street was made up of painted canvases and three-dimensional houses. Since the perspective required that the houses rapidly diminish in size with distance, the actors were able to use only the front houses. Serlio used three types of scenes, all with the same basic floor plan. Each required four sets of wings (i.e., the pieces of scenery at the side of the stage), the first three angled and the fourth flat, and a perspective backdrop.

"The revival of theatre building in Italy."
Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.
Copyright © 1994-2001 Inc.   November 10, 2002.
Notice how the theatre below uses Serlio and Vitruvius's ideas.

Andrea Palladio, Teatro Olimpico (Olympic Theater)
Vicenza, Italy 1584
completed by Scamozzi (Schamozzi)
Italian Mannerist Architecture

Context:  According to the Brittanica, 
"During his stay in Rome, from 1554 to 1556, Palladio in 1554 published Le antichità di Roma ("The Antiquities of Rome"), which for 200 years remained the standard guidebook to Rome. In 1556 he collaborated with the classical scholar Daniele Barbaro in reconstructing Roman buildings for the plates of Vitruvius' influential architectural treatise (written after 26 BC) De architectura (On Architecture). The new edition was published in Venice in 1556.

Palladio's last commission came in 1579-80--to build a theatre in Vicenza for the Accademia Olimpica for the performance of classical dramas. The design of the Teatro Olimpico was in the nature of an academic exercise, being based on the reconstruction of the ancient Roman theatre at Orange, in France.

The Accademia Olimpica in the little town of Vicenza, near Venice, commissioned a famous late Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio, to design a theatre. This, the Teatro Olimpico, was the first permanent modern indoor theatre, and it has survived intact. Palladio thoroughly researched his subject (the outdoor classical theatre of Rome) and without knowing it designed something now considered very close to a Roman odeum. It is a scaled-down version of an outdoor Roman theatre, with shallow open stage and a heavily sculptured, pedimented, permanent background. A colonnade of heroic proportions, surmounted by sculptured figures, surrounds a steeply stepped bank of seating. Overhead is a painted sky. To promote an intimate stage-auditorium relationship, he used a flattened ellipse in planning the seating, rather than the classic half circle. The interior was to be lit by tallow candles mounted in wall sconces. Palladio died before the building was finished, and his follower Vincenzo Scamozzi completed the work in 1585. Behind the five stage entrances (attributed to Scamozzi) are static, three-dimensional vistas of streets receding to their separate vanishing points; it is not certain whether this was the intent of the original design. In performance, the theatre is efficient if the auditorium is full, and speech carries quite well because of the small volume, flat ceiling, modulated sidewalls, excellent vertical sight lines, and direct hearing lines from all seats to the stage. The exterior is an ungainly, masonry-walled structure with a wood-trussed, tiled roof."

"The revival of theatre building in Italy." 
Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.
Copyright © 1994-2001 Inc.   November 10, 2002.
Form:  So what makes this theater in the Mannerist style?  A classical Greek stage would have none of this ornamentation.  Follow this link to see.  The theatre does use an overall classical vocabulary of corinthian columns, triumphal arches and classical sculptures standing in contrapposto stance, but, the way in which the elements are combined is Mannerist because of the way in which the elements are combined in an almost unclassical manner.  In general, the overall decoration of the facade of the stages backdrop is too busy and suffers from a very unclassical horror vacui in which the parts of the entablature of ionic and corinthian structures are reordered in an almost unclassical way.  There are columns combined with flattened pilasters.  In some instances the columns do not support an entablature but rather are pedestals for sculptures.  In addition to this, the over ornate qualities of the carved architectural ornaments and sculptures are combined with different colored marbles and a painted ceiling. 

Iconography:  The use of classical themes and motifs in the Teatro Olimpico is almost obviously an attempt to dress up and elevate the contemporary entertainment of the Renaissance patron. 

The stage demonstrates the development of perspective scenery.  According to the Brittanica:

in theatre, scenery and the scene design technique that represents three-dimensional space on a flat surface, creating an illusion of reality and an impression of distance. Developed during the Italian Renaissance, perspective scenery applied the newly mastered science of linear perspective and brought the craft of illusion to the Italian stage. An initial motivation may have been to allow theatre to move from outdoors into closed rooms, where perspective painting could make small spaces appear larger.

Influenced by the perspective painting of Renaissance artists and by the 15th-century revival of Vitruvius' writings on architecture, Baldassarre Peruzzi applied the laws of perspective to scene design. His work provided a basis for his student Sebastiano Serlio's De architettura (1545), which outlined methods of constructing perspective scenery and the raked, or angled, stage--whence the terms upstage and downstage derive. In Serlio's designs, painted scenery receded directly from the viewer toward a single vanishing point at the back of the stage. Angle perspective was an 18th-century refinement of perspective scenery. Several vanishing points were set at the back of the stage and off to the sides, so that the scenery, receding in several directions, was pictured at an angle to the viewer.


Andrea Palladio, Villa Rotunda also called the Villa Capra
Vicenza, Italy 1566-69
Italian Mannerism

Form:  This building, although a private villa (home) is still designed according to the basic schema of a central church or temple plan very much like the Pantheon.  Nevertheless, the mannerist differences include four porticoes facing each of the compass points.  These porticoes were designed by Palladio to give the resident a clear view of his lands.

Another change to the central church plan is the proliferation of windows and arches throughout the structure which light the interior of the building.  The building is also set up so that it has two stories that surround the central area over the dome with bedrooms and other rooms. 

Iconography: Overall the basic plan really doesn't make sense for a private home but this kind of plan wasn't created in order to house the Capra family in a pragmatic way but rather to clothe them in a temple.

Context:  By the middle of the 1500's the population of Europe began to grow most likely as the result of new types of crops coming from the Americas and the rise of a new social order.  As a consequence of these factors, war, famine and disease became a natural part of city living.  In addition to this, Venice, which had owned much land and controlled trade with Greece and some of the Eastern provinces lost some of its power.

Once wealthy Venetian merchants who made there original wealth trough trade now no longer had the continuous influx of wealth from it.  They now turned towards the investments they now held and one of these was the country estates in the Vicenza outside of Venice.

These lands allowed the wealthy merchant such as Giulio Capra, to escape the criminal, diseased and dirty smelly cities to the country and this lead to the development of the country estate.  This lead to new commissions for architects like Palladio and land became iconic of power which explains why Palladio chose to create the four porticoes called belvederes (Italian for beautiful view). 

Palladio's architecture and the fact that he published his own interpretations of Vitruvius lead to a wholesale adaptation of his building style and philosophy.  This style, now known as Palladianism, spread all over the world and is still used today.

Andrea Palladio (1508-1580): 
Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, 
Venice. Begun 1566


Form: The formal elements that make this church a Mannerist style church are how the facade is organized and the strange design of the interior.  The facade is made of two layers, one of which seems to be almost a facade that is placed on pillars and breaks the space of the triangular pediment it contains.  In the interior, often flattened pilasters are combined with engaged double columns in odd groupings which are a bit unusual.
. . .situated on the island of San Giorgio, San Giorgio Maggiore's gleaming white facade faces across the basin of San Marco to the great piazza. Built as part of the Benedictine monastery on the island, the church's facade is scaled to present a public face to the town of Venice. It dominates and partially obscures the brick body of the church behind it, while it reflects the interior space of the nave and its side chapels. 
The central temple front is articulated with four three-quarter Composite columns raised on high pedestals, which frame the central door. In the back plane, the lower body of the church is articulated by a smaller order of pilasters, supporting two lower, half pediments on either side. The cornice line continues through the central body, interlocking the two forms. The deep relief of these elements, combined with the sculptural detail of capitals, cornices, niches and figures, makes a great play of light and dark in the sunlight. 

The interior plan combines elements of longitudinal and centralized buildings, a resolution responding to the Renaissance "ideal" of the centralized plan and symbolic cross form and both the medieval tradition of nave churches and the requirements of the Counter-reformation for functional churches with ample naves for a large congregations as well as side chapels big enough for celebrating the sacraments. 

The interior ceiling is a longitudinal barrel vault leading to a crossing, framed by grouped columns and arches, which support a dome lit with a lantern. Cross vaults above side aisles and a transept with apsidal chapels intersect the nave, and beyond the crossing is a presbytery and a monk's choir. Thermal, clerestory windows bring light to the side chapels and to the nave, and the interior glows with a warm light, reflected by the painted stucco surfaces (over brick) of the walls and vaults. In contrast, the architectural detail of cut stone columns and pilasters, capitals, bases, continuous entablatures, framed arches and railings, darkened with age, articulate the rhythmic sequence of spaces.  — JY


Giulio Romano, Palazzo del Tè  1525-1532 Mantua, Italy
Interior Courtyard
Italian Mannerism

Giulio Romano, Palazzo del Tè  1525-1532 Mantua, Italy
Metopes with fallen triglyphs in the entablature 
of the interior courtyard.

Giulio Romano, Palazzo del Tè  1525-1532 Mantua, Italy
Fall of the Giants 
fresco 1532-1534


Form:  The design of this country home is based on the enclosed courtyard design for similar Roman style homes in Pompeii.  However, unlike the homes of Pompeii, the central courtyard is not a perfect square nor is it perfectly symmetrical.  The classical order we come to expect from a building based on classical Vitruvian concepts however is not really there. 

The entablature contains a rusticated and illogical facade of fake ashlar bricks.  Below the classical entablature are the triangular pediments that one assumes should top structures such as they do in the Parthenon and the front of the Pantheon and the Roman triumphal arches, niches and windows often do not have any openings nor do they contain sculptures.  Romano also uses engaged columns which do not support the entablature and are merely a decoration. All of these elements are very similar to Michelangelo's library at San Lorenzo c1530.

Other, details of the entablature are also a bit irregular.  The entablature is Doric but the capitals of the columns represent an invented style.  The the way in which the standard Doric style entablature is arranged is a little odd.  The metopes of the entablature contain coats of arms and grotesque masks but alternate with fallen triglyphs.  Compare this against the entablature of the Parthenon.

Iconography:  The odd and "mannered" arrangements of the Palazzo are a kind of "What's wrong with this picture?" game.  The well educated courtier who came to visit such a palazzo would have a lot of fun analyzing the irregularities and laughing about them if he was knowledgeable enough.  The fact that Romano's patron was Frederigo Gonzaga (whose grandfather Ludovico Gonzaga commissioned Mantegna to decorate his  Camera degli Sposi, 1474) hired Romano to "play" with this architecture symbolizes Gonzaga's intelligence and erudition (education).

Context: Giulio Romano was Raphael's assistant.  He was summoned by Frederigo Gonzaga the Duke of Mantua in 1524 to design a recreation of an antique Roman villa for the Gonzaga family.  This was not meant to be a primary residence but rather a “fun house” for them. 

According to the Brittanica,

The principal rooms of the Palazzo del Tè are the Sala di Psiche, with erotic frescoes of the loves of the gods; the Sala dei Cavalli, with life-size portraits of some of the Gonzaga horses; and the fantastic Sala dei Giganti. This showpiece of trompe l'oeil (illusionistic) decoration is painted from floor to ceiling with a continuous scene of the giants attempting to storm Olympus and being repulsed by the gods. On the ceiling, Jupiter hurls his thunderbolts, and the spectator is made to feel that he, like the giants, is crushed by the mountains that topple onto him, writhing in the burning wreckage. Even the fireplace was incorporated into the decoration, and the flames had a part to play. This room was completed by 1534, with much help from Rinaldo Mantovano, Giulio's principal assistant. The colour is very crude; the subject is suited to facile virtuosity and tends to bring out the streak of cruelty and obscenity that runs just below the surface in much of Giulio's painting.
Form:  The overall room is meant to distort and create a type of funhouse effect.  The corners of the room, especially the ceiling corners have been smoothed out with plaster to create a continuous illusionistic space in which the ceiling and walls flow together.  The swirling floor pattern when coupled with the fresco's  massive size and distortions of space create an almost hallucinatory effect. 

great extra info


n [ME asheler, fr. MF aisselier traverse beam, fr. OF, fr. ais board, fr. L axis, alter. of assis] (14c)
1: hewn or squared stone; also: masonry of such stone
2: a thin squared and dressed stone for facing a wall of rubble or brick

rusticated A type of rough or raised in relief masonry found on the exterior of building.  Michelozzo's Palazzo Medici Ricardi  has this style of brickwork on the bottom courses.

trompe l'oeil
n, often attrib [F trompe-l'oeil, lit., deceive the eye] (1889)
1: a style of painting in which objects are depicted with photographically realistic detail; also: the use of similar technique in interior decorating
2: a trompe l'oeil painting or effect