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What is Baroque Art?

The Baroque movement swept across Europe during the 17th Century. Certain artistic styles changed dependent on country but overall the Baroque movement originated as the Catholic church’s response to Protestant Reformation. The Church embarked on a counter-reformation that used art to elevate Christianity in hopes of winning back parishioners lost to Protestantism. Baroque art is characterized by highly dramatic religious scenes that depict the majesty and fierceness of God. Later the Baroque style, still theatrical and majestic, was employed to glorify the “Sun King,” Louis XIV of France.

In Rome, the two leading Baroque artists were Gianlorenzo Bernini and Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Bernini created mostly sculptures of religious figures in moments of drama. With his sculpture, St Teresa in Ecstasy, Bernini depicts St Teresa having an intense vision from God, making her faint over her seat. The sculpture, located prominently in a chapel, is situated around architectural ornamentation that dramatizes the scene— creating a sense of awe and wonder for viewers. Caravaggio captured the same sense of theatrics in his paintings. Stylistically, Caravaggio is known for his dark paintings with only one light source illuminating a religious scene. His ability to use light became almost a standard for all future Baroque artists because it added an intense energy to his paintings.

When Louis XIV became king in France, he took the aesthetic qualities of Baroque art coming from Rome and reimagined them to glorify the grandeur of his royal court and French society. Through architecture, sculpture, and painting, Baroque art in France was truly regal—highly ornate, dazzled with gold, and idealized. Every aspect of art was to glorify France and its rising influence in politics and culture. Painters like Peter Paul Rubens and Nicolas Poussin, both masters in their own style, created art that promoted idealized beauty. Rubens became the official artist of the French court and produced a series of portraits rich with mythological and religious allegory. He is known for his fleshy bodies and lavish costumes. Though he does not use light in the same way as Caravaggio, his paintings are energized with soft and swirling lines, intense colors, and twisted movement. Poussin’s paintings are a bit more reserved, but still possess a sense of drama. His subject matter dealt mostly with Classical history and mythology set in fantastically imagined landscapes. His work is the epitome of beauty and implies the link between France and the Classical world.

Baroque art is characteristically larger-than-life. Whether via lavish ornamentation, theatrical lighting, or an idealized representation of the human form, there is a majestic quality to all Baroque art. The excessiveness of Baroque art would directly influence the Rococo movement during the 18th Century. Over time, many artists became disgusted by the frivolity that Baroque art initiated and shifted focus to more modest styles.

Notable Works:

Caravaggio, Portrait of St. Augustine of Hippo. 1610-1620. Oil on Canvas.

Gianlorenzo Bernini, Italy, Rome, Church of Santa Maria Della Vittoria, Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila. 1647-1652.

Peter Paul Rubens, The Feast of Venus. c. 1635. Oil on Canvas.

Peter Paul Rubens, Saint Sebastian, c. 1618. Oil on Canvas.

Nicolas Poussin, Landscape During a Thunderstorm with Pyramus and Thisbe. 1651. Oil on Canvas.

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By: Get Inspired