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  • Mannerism, Baroque, and Modernism:Deleuze and the Essence of Art
  • Sjoerd van Tuinen (bio)

Going by the titles of his books, Deleuze has proposed two philosophical concepts for styles from art history: Expressionism and the Baroque. It is true that he discusses many other notions from the history of style, but these are the only ones that are truly made to “exist in themselves.” Or might there be a third, buried like a wedge between its two neighboring concepts? Although the notion of Mannerism recurs in several of Deleuze’s writings, it is never developed in a systematic way. Even in The Fold. Leibniz and the Baroque, Mannerism remains entirely subordinate to “its working relation with the Baroque” (37). It is only in his last course at Vincennes, in which he draws a parallel between Michelangelo and Leibniz (see van Tuinen 2011), that Deleuze wonders whether we possess “the means to give a certain philosophical consistency to the concept of mannerism,” which in addition he labels “the most evident, the most certain theme of our investigations this year”:

For, after all, mannerism as we all know has some very particular relations—either interior or anterior or posterior—precisely with the Baroque. But we feel sorry for the [art] critics who seem to have so much trouble in defining mannerism. We might as well change everything, change place, and tell ourselves: very well, couldn’t philosophy help them out, since they experience such difficulty to define mannerism in art? Maybe philosophy gives us a very simple means to define mannerism?

(CGD 07/04/1987)

My aim here is to render Mannerism separable again from the Baroque. Attempts by art history and art criticism to define Mannerism will be juxtaposed with close-readings of key passages in Deleuze’s work, especially from Francis Bacon. The Logic of Sensation, which considers the art of 20th-century British figurative painter Francis Bacon, as well as from The Fold. From the concept of the “Figure” developed in the former, I will distill an initial concept of Mannerism as an art that proceeds by way of diagrammatic deformation. I will then compare this concept to Deleuze’s concept of the Baroque (the “fold taken to infinity”) and argue that, while the Baroque pushes the anti-classical and revolutionary “catastrophe” of Mannerism to the extreme, it simultaneously and paradoxically forms a conservative and restorative reaction to it. It is by exploring Mannerism’s “very particular relations” with the Baroque, finally, that we can also [End Page 166] discover in Mannerism a precursor to 20th-century Modernism, and in Deleuze’s modernist allegiance, several neo-mannerist tendencies.

Method in Art History and Philosophy

The twentieth century has seen two major attempts to reinterpret and revalue Mannerism in terms of positive, albeit non-classical purposes. The first was prepared by Alois Riegl’s studies of late Roman art (1901) and of baroque art (1908) and can be situated in the 1920s in Germany and Austria. While the founders of art history (besides Riegl, Wölfflin) struggled to explain the phenomenon of the Baroque, their pupils—among them scholars such as Max Dvôrák (1924), Walter Friedländer (1925) and Nikolaus Pevsner (1928)—undertook a first canonization. Since among the “Gothic,” the “Renaissance” and the “Baroque,” Mannerism alone is an “ism” and more than any stylistic epoch problematizes style (a purely processual and programmatic term), it solicited analogies with modernist movements such as expressionism, to which it provided an alternative to the opposition between academic realism and impressionistic idealism. As Erwin Panofsky acknowledges in his classic Idea (1924),

Expressionism is related to mannerism in more than one sense, it comes with the particular speculation that guides us back to the paths followed by the metaphysics of art from the 16th century theory, paths that seek to derive the phenomenon of artistic creativity from an extrasensory and absolute, or as we say today, cosmic principle.

(Cassirer & Panofsky 149)

Moreover, the expressionists recognized in Mannerism a spiritual catastrophe that prefigured the catastrophes of their own time:

One could speak of a spiritual catastrophe, which preceded the political one, and which consisted of the collapse of the old, worldly, ecclesiastically...


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