Survey of Western Art
The baroque style roughly began at the close of the 16th c., 1600, and lasted
in some areas until 1750.
The religious conflicts which had begun in the Renaissance with the Reformation
and Counter Reformation continue well into the 17th c. The battle between the
Catholic and Protestants launched wars, and separated a country - the Netherlands,
became Catholic Flanders (modern day Belgium) and Protestant Holland.
A great demand for art emerged because of the rise of absolute monarchies, and
thus grand courts, serving as propaganda and a statement of authority and power.
- The conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants had a great effect
- The Catholics, through the efforts of the Counter-Reformation launched great
building campaigns for churches, and their furnishings and decorations, especially
in countries like Italy, Spain and Germany, and Flanders.
- There is a large number of rising European capitals, such as Amsterdam and
London, thus there is much activity in architect and its decoration.
- The emergence of an urban middle class with disposable income, particularly
in Holland. A middle class used art as an investment wanted art to be produced
in general subjects, such as landscapes and flowers, thus the emergence of
The Art World
We have a variety of patrons :
Artist basically worked for one patron at a time, usually a single man, rather
than an entire court, although exceptions. The patron had great control over the
artist in the first half of the 17th c., however this began to change by the second
half of the century. This dissolution of the artist/patron relationship
also stimulated linked professions, such as the art dealer, auctioneer, and
critic, all new phenomenons in the late17th c. In essence, we have the
beginnings of the organization of the modern art world at the end of the 17th
- The Church.
- The Courts.
- The secular governments, and the middle class. This had a tremendous
impact on the arts.
- The artists became versatile, using different stylistic approaches for various
groups of patrons.
- This all leads to demand the artist to specialize, no longer the universal
man of the Renaissance, but concentrating on a particular medium.
The center of art moved from Rome by the middle of the 17thc. and moved
to Paris, where it would remain until the 20th c.
- 1615 marked the first registered dealer in the Netherlands.
- As the artist began to specialize even further, i.e. painting primarily
landscapes, his need for a dealer increased, to find a market for his work.
The term Baroque is applied to various styles. In French, "Baroque" means
irregular, and consequently, flawed pearl. Baroque painting and sculpture had
a tendency to be :
This time frame is a period of expansion after the age of discovery in the Renaissance.
New concepts of physics and astronomy are introduced by Galileo and Newton which
increased man's awareness of space, a obsession with Baroque artists. Also,
it is the time of the great French philosopher, Descartes and his famous phrase,
I think therefore I am, redefining space as an attribute of being. Scientists
have redefined nature as matter in motion through space and time. Light
has been demystified through Pascal's discovery of the materiality of light,
refracted into color by a prism.. Thus space, light and motion, the preoccupation
of the scientists and philosophers, is also the preoccupation of the artists during
- exceedingly emotional
- more dynamic than earlier styles. The period is identified as encompassing
an art of passion and theatrical displays
- more dynamic than earlier styles. The period is identified as encompassing
an art of passion and theatrical displays. It is :
- Bursting with energy
While Baroque art introduces a new dynamic, theatrical quality to its arts,
it continues classicism of the Renaissance. Baroque art is actually a conflict
between the reason of classicism with passion.
The first Baroque artist we are going to look at is Bernini (1598-1680).
Bernini is similar to his Italian Renaissance predecessors in that he practiced
architecture and sculpture, painting, stage design, and playwright. He is the
last of the dazzling universal geniuses. He is a prodigy, his first works date
from his eighth birthday. He had his first commission from the papal family when
he was only 11.
The first work of Bernini's that we are going to look at is his David, sculpted
for Cardinal Borghese in only 7 months. It is strikingly different than its Renaissance
predecessors. By comparing it to Michelangelo's David,
we can immediately ascertain the differences between the Renaissance and the Baroque
The essence of Baroque art is displayed in Bernini's David. Bernini chose the
most dramatic moment to convey the event, which in turn created a dynamic, theatrical
energized work which occupies our space.
Bernini's theatrical masterpiece is his work in the Cornaro Chapel in Rome.
We no longer are speaking of sculpture in the conventional sense but of a pictorial
scene framed by architecture that includes us as worshippers in a religious dram
that is not so much acted as revealed. Bernini used painting, sculpture,
architecture, and added the natural source of light to create a hallucinatory
- Here Bernini not only designed a theatrical altarpiece, with the sculpture
of St. Teresa, but provided the sculpted audience as well, he sculpted members
of the Cornaro family, and six Cornaro Cardinals of the preceding century
to witness (or view) the ecstasy of St. Teresa.
- Teresa of Avila is one of the great saints of the Counter Reformation, how
claimed an angel pierced her heart with a flaming golden arrow.
- The group of St. Teresa and the Angel is revealed in celestial light within
a richly articulated niche over the altar. Again Bernini chooses the most
dramatic moment, the transport of ecstasy. The angel prepares to pierce
St. Teresa as he gently pulls aside her drapery. St. Teresa is leaning back
with closed eyes and slightly opened mouth.
- The diagonal composition adds to the drama.
- The gilded rays of light add to the drama, but also, a mysterious
light falls on the group, which comes from a hidden window, obstructed from
the viewer's view.
- This mysterious light from heaven adds to the already heightened drama.
This same emphasis on the moment, theater, and action is seen in the paintings
of Caravaggio, particularly :
Caravaggio (1571-1610) felt a great distaste for classical masters of the Renaissance.
He was an outcast in his society, because of his own actions and the lack of propriety
and reverence for religious subjects in his own paintings.
Caravaggio was a violent man, arrested numerous times for varying offenses ranging
from assault to murdering a man in a heated argument in a piazzo in Rome. He was
always on the run from the authorities. This tumultuous, decadent life led to
an early demise at the age of 37, but not before he influenced many artists, forming
a Caravaggiesque school, his followers included both Italian and northern artists.
This background and his association with lowlives, explains his unglorified
views of venerated religious themes, such as Saul's conversion.
Caravaggio has reduced the sacred passage of the Conversion of St. Paul to human
Caravaggio had a knack for naturalism that intrigued and influenced many northern
- The figures are no longer as grand and dignified as in the ideal beauty
of the Renaissance figures.
- The horse actually has a more prominent position in the painting than St.
- Not to mention that the backside of a horse is not entirely idealization
Caravaggio was said to have "abandoned beauty and was interested in depicting
- Caravaggio chose to illustrate the moment after Saul came in contact with
the light of God, and, in shock, fell form his horse, blinded. Strong diagonal
lines intensify the drama.
- The use of stark contrast of light and dark which is called tenebrism- dark
manner, also create great theatrical drama.
- Saul emerges out of the background into the foreground and towards the viewer.
Like Bernini, Caravaggio illusionistically makes his characters enter into
the viewers space. create great theatrical drama.
- Caravaggio does this through his manipulation of space, his use of perspective,
and his use of chiaroscuro and tenebrism.
- His figures emerge dramatically from the background. Again we have an
action packed drama unfolding before us.
Baroque Art in The Netherlands
As we reviewed in the introduction, the Netherlands was the birth of the modern
art market. Where the Pope and upper class were still the major patrons in Italy,
in Flanders and Holland the development of free commercial art market and a bourgeois
economy resulted in a significant change in the kind of art produced. A new crop
of painting developed such a portraiture, still life, genre, or landscape.
The Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was one of the most entrepreneurial
of the seventeenth century. He made a abundant number of paintings covering a
wide range of subjects, and his patronage was as varied as his subject matter.
He worked for the Church, the courts of France, Spain, and Flanders, and for private
citizens, and for himself. He set up a workshop with many apprentices, not unlike
today's modern artist. Some of you saw Promethius Bound in the Philadelphia
Museum of Art, Rubens painted this but left the Eagle for one of his apprentices
who specialized in animal art. Rubens also dealt shrewdly in the art market, and
served as a diplomat for Flanders.
Like the Italian artists, artists of the north, including Rubens were interested
in the drama, emphasis on the moment, and an interest in light and diagonal lines.
In the Elevation of the Cross, the figure of Christ is violently straining,
countered by the straining figures in the foreground. One figure in the foreground
is entering our space.
- The scene is again a frozen moment of tremendous action and
- The energy and motion in this work is enhanced through Rubens' use of the
diagonal line, and the theatrical lighting.
- Rubens was influenced by Caravaggio's use of tenebrism and chiaroscuro.
Christ, while agonizing, looks upward, towards heaven and ultimate peace. The
gruesome depiction of the crucifixion follows the Counter-Reformation demand that
the viewer be encouraged to identify with Christian suffering and ultimate salvation.
The patron in this case was a wealthy merchant and art collector, Cornelius von
In Holland (the Protestant Netherlands) we have another master of the Baroque
period named Rembrandt wan Rijn (1606-1669). Rembrandt was a member of the reformed
church, and had strong ties to the Calvinist sect, the Mennonites.
In his Return of The Prodigal Son, Rembrandt exhibits the Baroque interest in
- Light is the controlling element of the composition, illuminating the father
and son, while putting three observers in shadow, reinforcing the focus of
this biblical passage. Rembrandt, as opposed to Caravaggio, conveys a majestic
spiritual quality in his painting and the subject matter.
- The contrasting light and shade creates a mood of tranquility and silence.
- While Rembrandt employs the theatrical light in common with the Baroque
period, his product is different, instead of a violent or energized composition,
we have here a calm, religious theme.
The theme of the Prodigal Son is popular in Protestant churches, because it is
symbolic of the direct forgiveness of Christ to man WITHOUT any interceder, or
intervening figures like Catholic priests through confession. Thus the direct
forgiveness of sins without penance is a Protestant theme. The biblical story
is after the son went away and did wrongful things, he came back to his father
to ask forgiveness. To other's dismay, the father forgave the son, taking his
completely back into his house, fully restored privileges.