of Renaissance Style: "Mannerism"
Wylie Sypher (Four Stages of Renaissance Style, 1955) offers a
highly influential overview of the change in Anglo-European aesthetics
from 1400 through 1700. These are Sypher's four stages:
- "Gothic style": the
medieval artists' use of flattened perspective and multiple simultaneous
views of events outside time (viz. stained glass windows, or the
- "Mannerist style: the sixteenth and early seventeenth century's
emergence of sociopolitical ideas and artistic perspective (the
"vanishing point") ushers in art that is franticly shifting
that perspective's viewpoint in search of stability, as in Donne's and
Herbert's lyrics, each of which requires readers to conjure up a
specific dramatic situation with speaker-spoken-to relations, and to
interpret them using metaphors drawn from many different cultural
phenomena, often shifting juxtaposing multiple sources of metaphors in
the same poem (navigation, manuscript making, crying, making love,
optics, pest disposal, etc.).
- "Baroque style: the late-seventeenth-century artists
responded to Mannerist anxieties with robust displays of visual and
narrative power, as in Milton's Paradise Lost, which rewrites
cosmic and human history, from Genesis to the Apocalypse, in one poem.
- "Late Baroque style": art of the period 1680-1700 emphasizes
Neoclassical rules for idealizing the Baroque's grand displays, like the
elevated but balanced rhetoric of Dryden, Pope and Johnson.
- Sypher uses Donne as his primary example of "Mannerist" style, one characterized by a
"circling examination . . . in a world thrown off center, wanting repose and
safety" (104). With Donne in this Mannerist canon of art produced in a state of
profound disorder, Sypher includes Shakespeare's character, Hamlet, Webster's Bosola (Duchess
of Malfi), Shakespeare's "Dark Lady" sonnets, and the visual art of El
Greco, Velazquez, and Rembrandt. Consider this expression of the mood from Donne's
"First Anniversary," and try to find the sources of its chaos:
- So did the world from that hour [of The Fall] decay,
That evening was the beginning of the day,
And now the springs and summers which we see
Like sons of women after fifty be.
And new philosophy calls all in doubt:
The element of fire is quite put out,
The sun is lost, and the earth, and no man's wit
Can well direct him where to look for it.
And freely men confess that this world's spent,
When in the planets and the firmament
They seek so many new; they see that this [world]
Is crumbed out again to his atomies.
'Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone;
All just supply, and all relation:
Prince, subject, father, son, are things forgot,
For every man alone thinks he hath got
To be a phoenix, and that these can be
None of that kind of which he is, but he.