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.

Economically :

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 c.
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.

Stylistic Definition

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 this time.

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.

Baroque Art

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.

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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 periods.

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.

Smallter.jpg - 20.0 K 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 revelation.

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 drama : Caravaggio had a knack for naturalism that intrigued and influenced many northern artists
Caravaggio was said to have "abandoned beauty and was interested in depicting reality."

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.

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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 der Heist.

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 theatrical light. Smallrem.jpg - 21.9 K

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.