Let's take a step back in time to the period of 1530 when religious tensions were in the air. The very fabric of society was changing and being reshaped by religious leaders from the protestant and the Catholic faiths. The protestants had openly challenged the Catholic church with religious reforms which threatened Catholic power. As protestant religion grew in popularity, the Catholic church wanted to define and reestablish its dominance, which lead to a counter reform being created.
A part of this counter-reform included the commissioning of art and from this Baroque was born. The Art of the Baroque era was built upon the renaissance style and was a direct movement away from the simple tastes of the protestants. The Catholic church inspired and commissioned in large part this new art movement. Which started in Rome and spread like wildfire across Europe, with churches and religious leaders being it primary patrons. The art of the Baroque period was fuelled with richness, grandeur, vibrancy, flamboyance and extravagance.
The art was to follow guidelines that depicted religious objects and scenes from the bible. But only scenes that were exclusive to the Catholic church such as the immaculate conception, the assumption of the virgin etc. While artists had some creative authority, they also had to follow a strict set of guidelines as approved by the counter-reform council. These guidelines had to adhere to the Catholic vision for this creative propaganda.
According to Wikipedia, the name ‘Baroque’ was inspired by the Portuguese term Barroco, which means a flawed pearl. However, some scholars argue that it more likely comes from the Italian word ‘Barocco’ meaning an obstacle to logic. Where ever the name stemmed from in both cases the word had negative connotations. But eventually, it lost its meaning and came to be known only as of the name of an art movement.
Popular from the late 1500s to early 1700s, Baroque art can be described as both beautiful and imperfect. It can be seen expressed in Baroque painting, Baroque architecture, Baroque music, Baroque Opera, Baroque literature, Baroque dance and Baroque sculpture.
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10 Characteristics And Ideas Of The Baroque Style
- Baroque art serves to bring images of Catholic worship back into the public environment. However, it was also used for non-religious art.
- It made art easy to understand for the layman to encourage awe and respect for the Catholic church.
- Baroque architecture had domes and open central spaces, which allowed light to shine down and illuminate the space below. Surfaces were covered with ornate designs to further drive home the message of being in a space that united the heavens and the earth. For this reason, it was often saved for churches and religious buildings. Although Castles and stately homes of royalty and leaders also adopted this style.
- The style that joined all works is that of implied flowing movement. The idea of the infinite which is in line with god and the image of power that the church wanted to portray.
- Light and dark was also used as a key technique in this style to create a dramatic look which was out of this world. Called chiaroscuro defined as the use of strong contrasts in light and dark to create an image.
- Quadro Riportato (framed ceiling paintings) were developed to further the style. Often painted in gold and made to look as if they were displayed on easels. Painted within a fresco (a kind or mural) in an illusionary style. You can see many of these on the ceilings of the Vatican.
- Trompe l'oeil (a kind of 3D realism) techniques; the term which means deceives the eye, is a style of painting that gives an almost photographic realism to paintings. This illusion also blurs the lines between what is just an image and what is real.
- Baroque created a new style of sculpture which focused on intense emotion, movement and richness. Figures can be seen from all angles as they rose out of the centre of the pieces and reaching into the empty space. Further blurring the lines between art and reality.
- Baroque pieces are emotional and dramatic, meant to dazzle and surprise viewers. Its realism in paintings gives the impression of looking in on a scene that is happening.
- Compositions are made thoughtfully to give the maximum dramatic effect and aim to blur the lines between reality, art and spirituality.
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The Most Well Known Baroque Artists
Michelangelo Merisi was born in Caravaggio, a town in Northern Italy. He moved to Rome to follow his passion for painting and after selling his art on the streets for a few years. His talent was finally rewarded when he gained his first patrons. After which he gained fame quickly and painted for highly esteemed patrons.
Well known for using the chiaroscuro (light and dark) technique to add drama to his images. Caravaggio's work was as dramatic as his life story, which is one of fame, riches, fighting, jail, murder, knighthood, and evading the law. He died aged 38 from fever.
Top Artworks: Bacchus, Supper at Emmaus (Caravaggio), London, The Calling of St Matthew, Medusa,
Birthplace: Milan, Italy
Lifeline: 1571 - 1610
Art Style: Baroque
Art Forms: Painting
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born in the Netherlands and came from humble beginnings but with a wise father who sent him to a very good school. After finding a passion for the arts, Rembrandt quit school and became an apprentice for a few local artists. After which he opened his own studio painting and studying Italian art. He found his style shortly after with a Caravaggio like focus on light and dark.
Rembrandt is known as a master of art mastering painting drawing and print in equal measure.
Top Artworks: The night watch, the Jewish bride, the return of the prodigal son
Lifeline: 1606 - 1669
Art Style: Baroque
Art Forms: Painting and printmaker
Johannes Vermeer was largely self-taught and little is know about how he decided to become an artist and a painter or about his path to doing so. But the masters of the period would have inspired his works. The expressiveness of Caravaggio, the intensity of Rembrandt the style of the Utrecht school, can all be seen in Vermeer large scale paintings.
Vermeer is well known for his works depicting the daily life in Delft where he lived. He also excelled and defined luminous interiors scenes with women sitting by windows. The painter's work was full of colour, vibrancy and like many baroque paintings feels like you are voyeuristically looking in on a private scene.
Top Artworks: Girl with a pearl earring, the art of painting, the milkmaid, Diana and her nymphs
Lifeline: 1632 - 1675
Art Style: Baroque
Art Forms: Painting
A Well Known Piece Of Baroque Art
Supper at Emmaus
The Supper at Emmaus was painted in 1601, it is true to life painting, meaning the figures are life-sized. Immediately you are invited into the image with incredibly clever composition. The space at the edge of the table is where you stand as you have been invited to dine.
The story is that Christ has been crucified and his disciples are walking along the road they are joined by another man. They all sit down to eat when the man who had joined them, breaks the bread and is revealed to be Christ resurrected. The painting shows this point of surprise and drama, the entire painting draws you in with the hands of Christ and the disciple reaching out to us, the fruit bowl hangs on the corner of the table bursting into out reality. Also, the light highlights our face and guide us where our eyes need to focus.
Date Painted: 1601
Size: 55 x 77 inches
Medium: Oil on canvas
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Other Well-Known Pieces
- The palace of Versailles, France
- Saint Peters Basilica, Vatican City
- A fantastic cave with Odysseus and calypso by Jan Brueghel the elder
- The garden of love by Rubens
- The girl at a window by Rembrandt
- Bacchus by Caravaggio
- Fountain of the four rivers, Italy
- The calling of St Matthew by Caravaggio
- David Victorious over Goliath by Caravaggio
- Mary Magdalen with the smoking flame by Georges de La Tour
The Baroque art movement doesn't just present us with pieces of art; it also tells a story about the history of the era, religious dominance, cultural dogma and religious tensions. Whether you like Baroque art or not, it is hard to deny its beauty and twisted perfection. Albeit that the purpose of the movement was fundamentally Catholic propaganda to establish power over the protestants.
Looking at some of the pieces discussed above, you can see their power to tell a story. To evoke emotion, communicate a message and draw you into a different way of seeing things. Ostentatious or beautiful? That is in the eye of the beholder.