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This term is widely used to describe a type of art of 16th-century Europe, first produced in Italy and then exported to other parts of the continent. It is more specifically used to define art of urban and courtly sophistication, which was highly finished and self-consciously stylised.

Such work is often figurative and includes idealisation of the human form, to a great extent derived from the precedent of Michelangelo. This approach is invariably combined with unnaturalistic colour employed for decorative and expressive purposes. Traditional subjects were treated in this way, as were innovative, intentionally complex and witty compositions; see for example the work of Pontormo and Bronzino.