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

many works.

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

Italian masters.

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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