“Now that’s what I call style!” one of them said.
It might have been Vasari, Cellini, Pontormo, Parmaginino, Tintoretto, El Greco, Rosso, or a dozen other young artists who crowded into the Medici Chapel to copy Michelangelo’s figures.
Tintoretto made these copies of Day:
Naldini copied Giuliano de Medici’s head and long neck:
And here on the base of Benvenuto Cellini’s famous salt cellar are two of the Four Winds, take -offs on Michelangelo’s Dusk and Day:
The figures were the master’s latest and most stylized work. “In the four [Medici Chapel] statues,” wrote the nineteenth-century historian and art critic Jakob Burckhardt, “Michelangelo…proclaimed his boldest ideas on the limits and aim of his art.”
Wasn’t an artist supposed to not merely copy nature but to improve on it? Here was improvement all right, here was artistic manner.
The older art lovers were a little disappointed. “The master has gone too far mannering the women,” they said. “Those aren’t women. Imagine what they would look like if they stood up.”
But the young artists smiled at that old generation who weren’t able to comprehend the revolution coming. They smiled and they went home and tried out Michelangelo’s new manner on their own canvasses.
“And that was the straight road to [their] ruin,” said Burckhardt.
By “ruin” he meant Mannerism—a style of art they toyed with for thirty years.
The great Tintoretto was intrigued by the bunches of muscles everywhere on both sexes. Many wanted to experiment with the curious masculine shapes Michelangelo gave to the female nudes Night and Dawn, and their unusual elongation.
“Long is pretty,” they told themselves and proceeded to stretch their figures and give them long necks and small heads for elegance. Cellini put both innovations into this Nymph of Fontainebleau that he sculpted for a delighted King Francis.
Nymph of Fontainebleau, Louvre, Paris
Parmigianino thickened this Venus’ waist à la Michelangelo:
And stretched out this Virgin and Child:
Even the old Titian gave this Venus a Mannerist look:
The Death of Actaeon, National Gallery, London
El Greco was the one who made most of the snaking. He found the distortions of figure and space just right for his immaterial world. He was the most spiritual of artists. He turned bodies into souls.
Laocoön by El Greco
What happened to Michelangelo’s Medici Chapel innovations? They became world famous when he exploited them on the wall of the Sistine Chapel, in his Last Judgment. From then on, as one critic put it, Michelangelo became the destiny of Italian art. The great Baroque painters were still drowsy with his dream a hundred years later.