Artists working for the church in the 1500's were heir to a vast artistic tradition involving technical formulas, ideal proportions, and perspective. During the so-called Mannerist period that followed, these elements were manipulated even further with emphasis on stylistic virtuosity and complex design over the principles of restraint, idealism, and equilibrium of the Renaissance era. Paintings such as Madonna with the Long Neck by Parmigianino employed elongated body parts and exaggerated perspective over naturalism, resulting in a theatricality that was oddly lyrical, even erotic in the rendering of the Virgin and Child.
After the sack of Rome in 1527 by northern Protestants, the Counter-Reformation movement fought back against Protestant militancy. While the art of Rome did not change much until later, the church in the provinces began to rely not on classical artistic modes and symbolism, but on a directness of teaching in it's artistic commissions aimed at even the humblest of peasants could understand the chief tenets of the faith. Art was to become first a teaching device, and only very secondarily a decoration for the bare walls of Romanesque cathedrals. Even the Church in Rome could not forever remain immune to this trend. Bowing to Protestant insistence that art serve Christ, not it's own god, between 1559 and 1565, even the nude figures of Michelangelo's Last Judgement figures received a painted layer of drapery.