The term Mannerism is controversial. Art historians can’t agree whether it is a style, a period or a movement. Yet, it is most commonly used to identify European art and culture in the 16th century. It started around 1520 in Italy. It describes the period between High Renaissance, which is commonly seen as a time of grandeur, harmony and of the revival of classical antiquity, and opulent, melodramatic Baroque.
Some might use the term as a derogatory to emphasize the apparent decline of art after Raphael. Yet, Mannerism was rather a reaction to the harmonious ideals and restrained naturalism of Renaissance. Mannerism takes an intellectual, sophisticated, artificial (as oppose to naturalistic) approach. It is characterized by elongated proportions, highly stylized posses and a lack of clear perspective.
Mannerism derives from the Italian word manira that translates style or manner. Just as in English the word can be used to describe a specific way of handling things or as a statement of absolute quality (he got style). Artists infected with the notion of bella manira rather tried to copy and better their predecessors than starting from scratch. The artists utilized the best from a number of source materials and by synthesizing it they created something new. Shakespeare is an example.
Some notable Mannerist artists are: EL Greco, Tintoretto, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Rosso Fiorentino, Giorgio Vasari, Gian Paolo Lomazzo