The Agony In the Garden, a mannerist style of art by EL Greco, proclaims a sense of
spiritual power of religious faith which accomplishes El Greco’s aim to move his
audience. El Greco was born on the island of Crete and lived from 1541 to 1614. He
represented the most characteristic figure of Spanish Mannerism. El Greco was
influenced by and became acquainted with the art of Titian and Jacopo Bassano in Venice
where he studied in 1566. In addition to visiting Italy, El Greco made his way to Rome,
Parma and probably Florence. On his travels he became more familiar with the work of
Parmigianino and the work of Correggio. In El Greco’s use of form can be seen
Florentine Mannerism. Venetian Mannerism can be seen in the peculiar brilliance of his
coloring. The plans for the construction of the Escurial and the discussion of works of art
being selected by Philip II, probably attracted El Greco to Spain. However, El Greco
failed to satisfy the Italianate tastes of the King. He lived virtually uninterruptedly in
Toledo from 1575 on. In Toledo he formed friendships with men of advanced beliefs and
humanist interests. The monastic, from which his prime commitment came, were glad to
decorate their churches and cloisters with his elevated visionary paintings. El Greco
paintings bordered on a supernatural world of creative fantasy. Most of his paintings
survive in a number of copies painted in his own hand. El Greco’s studio which
employed a large number of assistants also produced many contrasts of his works.
People were very curious about his paintings with their unusual setting and flickering
In The Agony In The Garden there are two planes displayed in the art work that
are disconnected by a few bare branches that contain fugitive leaves. The upper plane
consists of the vision of Christ set against a large rock with a few trees. Christ is kneeling
in a reddish-purple robe, with hands stretched out toward the ground. He turns toward
the floating angel who is painted in pearly greys. Behind the angel, on the left are
spinning clouds. Preceding from an outline of an imaginary town, on the right, are
soldiers carrying flags. The inconceivable impression of the picture is due to the contrast
of not only passionate and cerebral but in terms of colour- between the two planes and
their figural content as well.
This painting is the last date of the El Greco pictures in Budapest and is from the
last period of the artists life. The Biblical occurrence illustrated is standardized on two
levels, one above the other. The group of the three sleeping apostles fill the lower plane.
We find comparable groups of apostles in pictures by Giovanni Bellini. El Greco returns
to Quattrocento etiquette, especially in the manner in which the sleeping gray-haired
apostle bends his arm around his head.
Of the abundant versions of this painting in the artist’s own hand there is a smaller
copy in the Museum at Lille, and other variants are to be found in the Episcopal palace in
the Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires. The variant most similarly related to the
painting in Budapest is the larger-scale version in the Church of Santa Maria at Andujar
which displays other works of mannerist art.
The mannerist style thrived at the same time as High Renaissance and Baroque art.
Mannerism, like many other names attached to so many other periods of art, was a name
conceived in disdain and impudence. Maniera, meaning maner, was correlated with the
artist who worked in the manner of someone else. Like an imitator who adapted and
sometimes perfected the forms of another. However, there are characteristics of the
Mannerist style which disconnected it from the period of the High Renaissance as well as
the distinguishing it from the emerging Baroque. A number of crucial artist of
Mannerism have displayed meaningful works. Only in the last ninety years has
Mannerism come to be respected as an independent style in the history of art. Before
representatives of the style were classified under either the Renaissance or the Baroque.
Some of the most excellent Mannerist were banned from the gallery walls and the church
altars. However, they produced works of great emotional impact. Probably the findings
of El Greco early in this century provided for the re-judgment of Mannerism as a style in
its own right. Mannerism became a style bleeding with imaginative content which had
deliberately broken with reality, and often bordered beyond understanding and the
Mannerism was thought of as “anticlassical” in that it broke the classic tradition-
the tradition of Antiquity and the Renaissance. Mannerism surfaced in the first half of
the sixteenth century in Florence and later throughout Italy who was desolate by the
French and Spanish armies. In the full tide of the classic Renaissance a number of
strange, restless works had come into existence. These new paintings first appeared in
the field of religious composition. They no longer expressed the classic beauty and
symmetry the reassurance of the Renaissance, which everyone could understand and
cherish. Their aim was to be bright and determined on external effects. In many cases
they were more reminiscent of the conjuring tricks of a magician than the work of art that
soothes and delights.
Paintings of the Mannerist style tended to express beauty that affected a fashion
and in turn produced an impact with supernatural visions. In other cases, the painter
seemed chiefly concerned with tricks of brawn and muscle. Mannerist artists enjoyed
disagreement and paradox for their own sake in order to disconcert by the direct opposite
itself. The difficulty of the subject-matter made the artist well aware that they were living
in a world of tension. The interlacing conflicts expressed themselves in the spirit form of
A reason why the art of the Mannerist period was quicker to reflect the restless
uncertain atmosphere of the time was because the uncertainties of the situation in Italy.
The failure of ambitions to integrate city states into large unity did not lead to the
development of bourgeois republics. It opened the way for common bankers to take over
the control of the cities and the patronage of art.
According to the tasteful explanations of the Patonic Academy in Florence,
Mannerist paintings “should reflect the ideals of the artists, they should be intellectual
mirror images of the arts rather than servile imitations of nature.” This standard was
embraced by the first generation of Mannerists in Florence and Northern Italy. It
ordained artistic method in Rome, Venice and Fontainbleu, and even more so in the
Northern centers of art. It was due to this propose that the figures seem to lose
with nature and man’s actual environment, and to take their place in the painting as if
floating in some kind of unreal medium, inclined beside one another, but joined by an
emotional or intellectual bond. El Greco’s sleeping apostles are creatures of loneliness,
discovered in the shell of their dreams. There are several reasons for the relatively swift
spreading of Mannerist style throughout cultivated Europe, and for its similarity, despite
geographical distances and economic differences. Both the uniqueness of its style and its
spreading were partly due to the peculiar popularity of the techniques of reproduction
then available. Literary sources refer the prevalent diffusion of engravings of the work of
Through the proficient genius of El Greco, who took a acute interest in the
intellectual currents of his time the style spread as far as distant Spain. At the same time
that Spanish and French invaders were in control of Italy, France, Spain, England and the
German city states were fighting their own long-enduring wastes.
The characteristics of Mannerism first made their appearance in the full during the
period of the classical Renaissance. It began to spread and finally it prevailed. Similarly,
in the second half of the sixteenth century, the Baroque style began to come forth and
conquer. The judgment of the Council of Trent ran counter to the philosophy as well as
the literature and art of the Renaissance. The decisions also disagreed with both the sprit
of classical mythology and the conclusions of natural sciences. In fact they engage in
active battle for absolutism in the rule of the Church and the temporal monarch. The
churches of the Jesuit order considered the new standard in art. They did not advocate
silent dedication, they were designed as mediums for the preacher and the religious
propagandist. Making use of the documents and the characteristics of the Mannerists
artists, the new style was a form of assertion which alarmed a sacred faith in the believer,
giving him an active sense of partaking in the mysteries of religion. The solemn guaranty
of the Renaissance portraits, the stiff and chill portraits of Mannerism were replaced by
radiant allegorical representations of the dominant princes and monarchs producing a
feeling of awe and acquiescence before their almost superhuman power in the spectator’s
breast. Paintings were of classical gods and goddesses, extraordinary in flying draperies
and their fervid and unsettled indications.
However, this was all that cultivated Europe had in common during the Baroque
period. The international similarity of Mannerist art which had lasted for about a
century, disintegrated England, but the widespread notions of art began to contrast in
France, Italy and Spain. The bourgeois perspective of the Dutch Baroque naturally
familiarized the Dutch painters towards realism. There is no dilemma in determining
whether one is looking at the work of a Northern or Southern arts, an Italian or a Dutch.
The national characteristics break through the thin international coating that developed
during the Mannerist period. The diffusion and victory of Baroque art was at the same
time a success for unique national characteristics. Some Mannerist artist were able to
combine themselves in the melting pot of the European public and benefited most form
the prudent principles of their times. A Baroque painter even conserved his national
Baroque made use of characteristics of the Mannerist style by engaging and future
maturing them. There was more unity in Mannerist style’s outweighing ideas and more
variance in its forms of presentation. Classicism, however, was piercingly against
everything mutual to Mannerism and the Baroque. It condemned Mannerism in some
unstable terms, with all its integrity and corruption’s.
The Masters, such as El Greco were forgotten, but that taste in art could not be
hidden forever. Mannerist art came back to life after it had been dead for a few centuries.
It fist came back to life with the discovery of El Greco and others.
Bousquet, J. (1964). La Peinture manieriste. Neuchatel
Haraszti-Takacs, Marianne. (1968). The Masters of Mannerism. Corvina Press.
Hauser, A. (1964). Der Manierismus. Munich.
Sherarman, J. (1967). Mannerism. London.
Wolf, R. and Millen, R. (1968). Renaissance and Mannerist Art. Harry N Abrams, Inc.
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