Mannerism, Kitsch & the Avant-garde

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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."

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