Counter-Mannerist Grotesque engraving on paper, about 1500–1512, Italy V&A Museum no. E.180-1885 Artist/designer: Nicoletto da Modena. This engraving shows a dense grotesque design. Two of the figures in the print are copied from Nero’s Golden House, the wildly extravagant palace the emperor built for himself after the great fire of Rome. Nicoletto’s grotesque prints were among the first to be published. The theme of the grotesque – referring to designs with human and animal forms and foliage – was a popular one around this period.

Counter-Mannerism is a general art historical term for a trend in painting, printmaking and interior decoration that originated as a sub-category of Mannerism.[1] Contra-Maniera (or Counter-Mannerism in English) followed the general worldliness of the second generation of Mannerist painters. It is generally disquieting due to its visionary style - a style that evolved in Florentine painting as a result of a revolt against the classical balance of the High Renaissance art.[2]

An example of the Counter-Mannerist style from the period is the Grotesque, which is deliberately anti-actual, often including elaborate depictions of multiple figures bound in tendrils. The Grotesque (in Italian Grottosesco) became an arabesque style of all-over decoration based on a linked mêlée of fantastic, diminutive figures deriving from Roman mural and vault decoration which had been unearthed during the Renaissance (such as at the Golden House of Nero); mural decorations which themselves suggested ancient expressions of religio-sexual inter-penetrability. This fanciful imagery involved mixing animal, human, and plant forms together. First revived in the Renaissance by the school of Raphaël (1483–1520) in Rome, the Grotesque quickly came into fashion in 16th-century Italy and subsequently became popular throughout Europe.[3]

Painters of the style described as Contra-Maniera or Counter-Mannerist


  • John Shearman, Andrea del Sarto, Volume 1 Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965
  • John Shearman, Mannerism, Baltimore, MD/Penguin, 1967
  • Joseph Nechvatal, Immersive Ideals / Critical Distances. LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, 2009


  1. ^ John Shearman, Mannerism, Baltimore, MD/Penguin, 1967, p.178
  2. ^ John Shearman, Andrea del Sarto, Volume 1 Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965, p. 100
  3. ^ Joseph Nechvatal, Immersive Ideals / Critical Distances. LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, 2009, pp. 198-199

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