THE BAROQUE ERA c.16001700HISTORY OF VISUAL ARTS
Definition: What is Baroque Art?In fine art, the term Baroque (derived from the Portuguese 'barocco' meaning, 'irregular pearl or stone') describes a fairly complex idiom, originating in Rome, which flowered during the period c.1590-1720, and which embraced painting, and sculpture as well as architecture. After the idealism of the Renaissance (c.1400-1530), and the slightly 'forced' nature of Mannerism (c.1530-1600),Baroque art above all reflected the religious tensions of the age - notably the desire of the Catholic Church in Rome (as annunciated at the Council of Trent, 1545-63) to reassert itself in the wake of the Protestant Reformation. Many Catholic Emperors and monarchs across Europe had an important stake in the Catholic Church's success, hence a large number of architectural designs, paintings and sculptures were commissioned by the Royal Courts of Spain, France, and elsewhere, in order to glorify their own divine grandeur, and in the process strengthen their political position. By comparison, Baroque art in Protestant areas like Holland had far less religious content, and instead was designed essentially to appeal to the growing aspirations and financial strength of the merchant and middle classes
Styles/Types of Baroque ArtIn order to fulfill its propagandist role, Catholic-inspired Baroque art tended to be large-scale works of public art, such as monumental wall-paintings and huge frescoes for the ceilings and vaults of palaces and churches. Baroque painting illustrated key elements of Catholic dogma, either directly in Biblical works or indirectly in mythological or allegorical compositions. Along with this monumental, high-minded approach, painters typically portrayed a strong sense of movement, using swirling spirals and upward diagonals, and strong sumptuous colour schemes, in order to dazzle and surprise. New techniques of tenebrism and chiaroscuro (1) were developed to enhance atmosphere. Brushwork is creamy and broad, often resulting in1
thick impasto. Baroque sculpture, typically larger-than-life size, is marked by a similar sense of dynamic movement, along with an active use of space. Baroque architecture was designed to create spectacle and illusion. Thus the straight lines of the Renaissance were replaced with flowing curves, while domes/roofs were enlarged, and interiors carefully constructed to produce spectacular effects of light and shade. It was an emotional style, which, wherever possible, exploited the theatrical potential of the urban landscape - as illustrated by St Peter's Square (1656-67) in Rome, leading up to St Peter's Basilica. Its architect, Bernini, ringed the square with colonnades, to convey the impression to visitors that they are being embraced by the arms of the Catholic Church. As is evident, although most of the architecture, painting and sculpture produced during the 17th century is known as Baroque, it is by no means a monolithic style. There are at least three different strands of Baroque, as follows: (1) Religious Grandeur A triumphant, extravagant, almost theatrical (and at times) melodramatic style of religious art, commissioned by the Catholic Counter Reformation and the courts of the absolute monarchies of Europe. This type of Baroque art is exemplified by the bold visionary sculpture and architecture of Bernini (1598-1680), and by the large-scale grandiose set-piece paintings of the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). (2) Greater Realism A new more life-like or naturalist style of figurative composition. This new approach was championed by Michelangelo Merisi da Carravaggio (1571-1610), Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez (1599-1660) and Annibale Carracci (1560-1609). The boldness and physical presence of Caravaggio's figures, the life-like approach to religious painting adopted by Velazquez, and a new form of movement and exuberance pioneered by Annibale Carracci - all these elements were part of the new and dynamic style known as Baroque. (3) Easel Art Unlike the large-scale, public, religious works of Baroque artists in Catholic countries, Baroque art in Protestant Holland (often referred to as the Dutch Golden Age) was exemplified by a new2
type of easel-art - a glossy form of genre-painting (2)- aimed at the prosperous bourgeois householder. This new Dutch Realist School of genre painting also led to enhanced realism in portrait art and landscape painting, flower pictures, animal compositions and, in particular, to new forms of still life painting(2), including vanitas religious works. Different towns and areas had their own 'schools' or styles, such as Utrecht, Delft, Leiden, Amsterdam, Haarlem and Dordrecht.. In addition, to complicate matters further, Rome - the very centre of the movement - was also home to a "classical" style, as exemplified in the paintings of the history painter Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) and the Arcadian landscape artist Claude Lorrain (1600-82).
History of Baroque ArtFollowing the pronouncements made by the Council of Trent on how art might serve religion, together with the upsurge in confidence in the Roman Catholic Church, it became clear that a new style of art was necessary in order to support the Catholic Counter Reformation and fully convey the miracles and sufferings of the Saints to the congregation of Europe. This style had to be more forceful, more emotional and imbued with a greater realism. Strongly influenced by the views of the Jesuits (the Baroque is sometimes referred to as 'the Jesuit Style'), architecture, painting and sculpture were to work together to create a unified effect. The initial impetus came from the arrival in Rome during the 1590s of Annibale Carracci and Carravaggio (1571-1610). Their presence sparked a new interest in realism as well as antique forms, both of which were taken up and developed (in sculpture) by Alessandro Algardi (in sculpture) and Bernini (in sculpture and architecture). Peter Paul Rubens, who remained in Rome until 1608, was the only great Catholic painter in the Baroque idiom, although Rembrandt and other Dutch artists were influenced by both Caravaggism and Bernini. France had its own (more secular) relationship with the Baroque, which was closest in architecture, notably the Palace of Versailles. Spain and Portugal embraced it more enthusiastically, as did the Catholic areas of Germany, Austria, Hungary and the Spanish Netherlands. The culmination of the movement was the High Baroque (c.1625-75), while the apogee of the movement's grandiosity was marked by the3
phenomenal quadratura known as Allegory of the Missionary Work of the Jesuits (1688-94, S. Ignazio, Rome), by the illusionist ceiling painter Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709). The developments of Baroque art outside Italy are Flemish Baroque (c.1600-80), Dutch Baroque (c.1600-80) and Spanish Baroque (1600-1700).
Flemish Baroque PaintingThe story of Baroque art in Flanders during the 17th century reflects the gradual decline of the country itself. Occupying the southern part of the Low Countries or Netherlands, it was ruled along with the northern part of the Low Countries, known as Holland - by the unpopular Spanish Hapsburgs, who had taken over from the French Dukes of Burgundy. Its once powerful commercial and cultural centres, such as Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp, were weakened by religious and political disputes between the Catholic Hapsburg authorities and Protestant Dutch merchants. Thus as Dutch Baroque art flourished as never before, Flemish Baroque depended on a handful of artists, mostly active in Antwerp During the 15th century - the early days of the Italian Renaissance - Flemish painters had exported the technique of oil painting to artists in Florence, Rome and Venice. Now, at the beginning of the 17th century, with the spread of Italian Caravaggism, Flemish painters combined their own tradition with the tenebrist tradition arriving from Italy. This development was exemplified by the Antwerp artist Rubens (1577-1640). Since the High Renaissance, Flemish painting had been in transition between Northern and Italian influences; it was Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) who made the first real attempt to digest, absorb and fuse the two schools, creating a new style, which was to have a powerful impact on all painting north of the Alps. Peter Paul Rubens His style of Baroque painting was vigorous, confident, sensual, decorative, theatrical, energetically magnificent. It is not without significance that when the young Rubens - the promising painter from Antwerp - arrived to study in Italy (where he remained for eight years) he devoted most attention to the Venetians, the most colourful and decorative Italian school. When he returned to his native city he opened a workshop where he was soon employing two hundred assistants, many of whom were outstanding painters, each with his own speciality: the painting4
of animals, of fabrics, of still life, and so on. He himself specialized in the human body - notably female nudes - which he depicted with an abundance of rosy flesh, with broad, strong gestures a continuous play of curves each one drawing the eye to another, the sum of which determined the general scheme of the painting - as a lozenge, a circle, an S, and so on. These robust figures, who move as expansively as though they were on a stage, are the immediately recognizable feature of his art, an art which is joyous, robust, and almost unbelievably prolific. After 1611, Rubens set foot on the first steps of the 'High Baroque', to become its chief representative in northern Europe. His religious art and other forms of history painting had already placed him at the head of the Catholic Baroque; he now achieved a consistency and comprehensiveness which have made his pictures known to all the world. A period of incomparable fertility followed: with his delight in portraiture, he immortalized his relat