Young artists working in the wake of the Italian High Renaissance faced the challenge of deciding what to do next. One answer was Mannerism, a style that subjected the human figure to strange attenuations, distortions and spatial compressions. In Florence, Rosso Fiorentino (1494Ð1540) was one of the first and strangest of the Mannerists. He began his career in the studio of Andrea del Sarto, but by the early 1520s, he’d broken from the serene perfection of his master’s work to produce paintings like this concise exhibition’s centerpiece: Holy Family with Young Saint John the Baptist, ca. 1520, on loan from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. A Kewpie-doll Christ child, with enormous eyes and no neck, stands on a cushion and embraces his mother, who has a notably long nose, perky nipples and spiky fingers recalling calipers. Joseph, who resembles Disney’s Geppetto, and a vine-leaf-crowned St. John crowd in from the left. Remote, jittery, enigmatic and unsettling, the unfinished picture seems to resonate with the mood of our own era.
Some 21 drawings round out the exhibition, including several by Rosso’s forebear Michelangelo, whose tiny studies of a nude, muscled David straddling and pummeling an equally ripped Goliath feel oddly sexual. There are contributions as well by his contemporaries Pontormo, Salviati and Vasari, along with those by the younger Mannerists he influenced. A rendering from around 1575 by an artist known as Il Poppi clearly reproduces Rosso’s stylistic quirks, showing that his elegant weirdness made an impression from the very beginning.—Joseph R. Wolin