Robert Mapplethorpe and the Classical Tradition: Photographs and Mannerist Prints explores the dialogue between the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–1989) and classical art, in particular late-16th-century Flemish Mannerist prints, through the engravings and woodcuts of Hendrick Goltzius, Jan Harmensz. Muller, Jacob Matham, and Jan Saenredam.
Deeply rooted in Italian art, Mannerism was an international movement that arose after the death of Raphael in 1520. Mannerist printmaking spread from Italy to France and Northern Europe. Referred to as the "stylish style," Mannerism is illustrated by emotional and narrative elements that shift away from the balance of harmony articulated by the art of the High Renaissance. In order to emphasize torsos and limbs, Mannerist artists often violated classical canons of perfect proportions. Figures were not only nude, but elaborate and elongated in an almost vertiginous fashion, indicating the artists' mastery of anatomy.