Mannerism is a term subject to many, radically different and varying interpretations, but it’s general and first wide spread use was to describe the sort of art that took rise in Italy and succeeded that of the Renaissance but preceded the Baroque. Mannerism, while not the “polar opposite” to Counter-Reformation art, Mannerism would gain criticism from some of those that looked upon it’s bizarre and narrowly compressed or constricting exploration of spatial and compositional relationships, unusual and harsh juxtapositions of extremely intense and outlandish color. It’s unrealistic elongated, often dramaticized portrayal of the figure, was utilized in a way that created an emphasis on abnormalities of scale and compromised realism for the composition and statement of pieces. (ex. Elegantly over stretched and extended limbs of different lengths and heads disproportionately small compared to the elongated,serpentine figures) this emphasis was often done in the interest of portraying a point or idea through the piece better.
Parmagianno’s work, Madonna with a Long Neck appears to intend to appeal specifically to a wealthy audience, while a piece such as Madonna and Child with St. Martina and St. Agnes by El Greco was intended for a religious audience of a christian faith. Because Mannerism was a style and exploration of work not focused solely on a religious subject matter, it could appeal to a broader audience than Counter-Reformation Art. Counter-Reformation art was directed at those that may have been diverging from the catholic fate and an effort to reaffirm the faith. It was given rise in response to the Protestant Movement and the loosening grip of the Catholic Church due to inner corruption from the top.
In the venture of correcting and righting abuses and other wrongs that would paint the church as hypocritical and predatory, clarifying it’s intent and teachings and overall, clearing it’s tarnished reputation. Counter-Reformation art was intended to be a visual aide to this goal and invoke fervor and regain the lost trust. Catholic-Reformation art had strong guidelines that defined it, but loose style. Artists were expected to focus on very distinctive aspects of the Catholic Faith to distinguish from the divergent Protestant sects. Topics such as The Annunciation of the Virgin, The Transfiguration of Christ, Christ’s Suffering on the Cross, and the Immaculate Conception were common topics used to illustrate the Catholic faith and define Catholic-Reformation art. The style of the art, while commonly renaissance and mannerist inspired, varied because it was defined more so by topics and Catholic social standard than a solely creative venture such as Mannerism.