Mannerism, Kitsch & the Avant-garde

Rosso Fiorentino, Madonna and Child With Four Saints (Spedalingo Altarpiece), 15
Rosso Fiorentino, Madonna and Child With Four Saints (Spedalingo Altarpiece), 1518, oil on wood, 172 x 141 cm (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence)

Barry Schwabsky reviews the exhibition Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino: Diverging Paths of Mannerism at Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, on view through July 20, 2014.

Schwabsky writes: "it’s precisely because Mannerism flirts with bad taste that it can also be seen as the first avant-garde. It’s a curious thing, when you think about it: medieval art, even with its naïveté and grotesquery, is never kitsch; rather, there is an admixture of what might be called healthy popular taste with more refined elements. In the Renaissance, stricter stylistic canons came into force and the popular elements receded. A second-rate Renaissance painting is just bland, but there’s never anything trashy about it; at worst, you get the slightly queasy mix of materialistic trompe l’oeil and overstated emotionalism in some of Carlo Crivelli’s paintings (no wonder the Pre-Raphaelites liked him). But in general, the inherent restraint of quattrocento style kept these kitsch tendencies in check, and only rarely did Crivelli achieve anything like truly bad taste. ... What I am calling 'kitsch' is just that clutching at the viewer’s heartstrings, the sense of what Keats called a “palpable design” on the beholder... But whatever is cringe-inducing in Rosso’s pictures is more or less inextricable from what sometimes makes them so breathtaking."