The baroque style appeals to the public through the use of theatrical, dramatic images and forms. Baroque artists are mostly known for their realistic, meticulous portrayals of biblical and mythical scenes. The style emerged in the 17th century when the Catholic church commissioned famous artists to create artworks, which would change the image of Rome. Northern Baroque art developed in the Netherlands and was more secular, which could be explained by the differences in Protestant and Catholic societies.
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Baroque architecture was monumental and dramatic as it symbolized the power of the Vatican. Bernini, Borromini, and Cortona were among the most notable architects of the time (Sorabella para. 3). Bernini modified architectural elements in the modest Cornaro chapel to create an epic theatrical setting for his Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (Sorabella para. 5). His design of the colonnade of St. Peter’s in Rome is an allegory of the church, embracing its followers (White para. 6). In France, Versailles palace is the best-known example of Baroque architecture. It was built for Louis XIV, who wanted architects Le Vau and Le Notre to design the most spectacular royal residence in Europe (Versailles: The Dream of a King, 00:22:20-00:22:32). Like other monarchs of the time, Louis XIV believed himself to be appointed by God (Versailles: The Dream of a King, 00:06:22-00:06:28). Essentially, Versailles served the same purpose as the cathedrals and churches in Rome – it symbolized the absolute power of God’s representative on Earth.
Bernini was not only a talented architect but also the most influential sculptor of the Baroque era. His most notable works include David and Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (White para. 3-4). Bernini’s style is best reflected in the dynamic sculptures, such as Apollo and Daphne (Sister Wendy’s Grand Tour: Rome, 00:00:20-00:00:27). His innovative techniques and ideas inspired numerous successors (White para. 1). Overall, Bernini’s influence on the Baroque style can not be overestimated.
Italian Baroque painters created dramatic works that were meant to enrich religious experiences and used the environment to their advantage. For example, the direction of light in Caravaggio’s paintings of Saint Matthew matched the actual illumination in the church (Sorabella para. 6). Overall, most of Caravaggio’s religious works, including Beheading of Saint John the Baptist and Death of the Virgin, are very realistic and intense (Christiansen para. 4). The paintings of Northern Baroque artists, such as Rubens, Vermeer, and Rembrandt, display similar realistic tendencies. For example, small details in Rembrandt’s Susanna make the viewer feel embarrassed about looking at the naked woman (Schama on Rembrandt: Masterpieces of the Last Years, 00:43:13-00:45:10). The realism of Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and Velasquez had a significant influence on the development of art in the later centuries.
For me, Caravaggio and Rembrandt are the most influential artists of the Baroque era. Caravaggio’s use of light and shades was revolutionary; he created a unique, distinct style, which many tried to copy (Christiansen para. 3). Many centuries later, most of his paintings still look incredibly realistic. However, what made him truly outstanding was his ability to create immense psychological tension in his works that none of his successors could reproduce.
Rembrandt remained loyal to his style even when more refined, Neoclassical art became popular, and created some of his most important works during that time. The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis, in particular, is an example of provocative topical art and a powerful statement, which remains inspirational today (Schama on Rembrandt: Masterpieces of the Last Years, 00:30:20-00:33:28). Much like Caravaggio, Rembrandt created works that appealed to the public not only because they were aesthetically pleasing, but because they showed his incredible understanding of human psychology.
Neoclassicism, much like Baroque, emerged as a response to the changing sociopolitical environment. Works of one of the founders of Neoclassicism, Jacques Louis David, were an integral part of Napoleon’s propaganda in the same way Baroque art served the interests of the Catholic establishment (Galitz, “The Legacy of Jacques Louis David” para. 3). This style, however, is very different from Baroque in many ways. Polished surfaces and simple, elegant forms are typical for neoclassicism (Galitz, “The Legacy of Jacques Louis David” para. 1). Many neoclassicists found inspiration in the simplicity of Greek and Roman art, as well as in the works of early Renaissance painters (Galitz para 3). Rembrandt, one of the most significant Baroque painters, lost almost all his clientele because wealthy and powerful ones wanted painters to create idealistic, refined images of them and their families (Schama on Rembrandt: Masterpieces of the Last Years, 00:09:52-00:10:08). While Baroque artists like Caravaggio and Bernini used innovative techniques to engage the viewers, Neoclassic painters largely focused on reviving the standards of earlier epochs.
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Many Romantics were the students of David, but they abandoned the values of Neoclassicism in favor of a more individual style. Romanticism reflected the disillusionment of French society with the ideas of the French Revolution (Galitz, “Romanticism” para. 1). The new movement emphasized the importance of emotion, imagination, and originality of the artist (Galitz, “Romanticism” para. 1). Romanticism does not have much in common with Baroque art either. Romantic artists were inspired by nature, exotic cultures, and their own imagination, rather than by religion and myth (Galitz, “Romanticism” para. 1-2, 6). Their paintings were manifests of their subjective vision, and some of those had little connection to reality. On the other hand, one can argue that portraits in the Romantic era have more in common with Rembrandt’s works than with the Neoclassical paintings. Painters became more interested in capturing people’s emotions and psychological traits rather than in creating idealistic, polished images (Galitz, “Romanticism” para. 4). This tendency is particularly noticeable in the works of Delacroix and Gericault.
Goya is one of the most significant artists of the Neoclassic and Romantic eras. Like Caravaggio or Rembrandt, he created works that were well ahead of his time. Interestingly, Baroque art has played an essential role in his development as an artist. His first commissions were tapestries in the Rococo style, and the composition of his portraits of the Spanish royal family was inspired by Velazquez (Voorhies para. 2, 5). Goya’s graphic work also bears visual similarities to Baroque artists such as Tiepolo and Rembrandt (Voorhies para. 8). However, no one before Goya managed to capture the horrors of war in the way he did in The Disasters of War. In fact, he made such a powerful statement with this work that the government prohibited publishing it (Voorhies para. 8). Another cycle considered to be well ahead of its time, Caprichos, is an iconic collection of prints in which the artist showed the flaws of contemporary society. While Goya was like many others, a court painter, who worked on commissions, his bold experiments made him stand out and become one of the major artists of his generation.
Christiansen, Keith. Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi) (1571–1610) and His Followers. Met Museum, 2003, Web.
Galitz, Cathryn Calley. Romanticism. Met Museum, 2004, Web.
Galitz, Cathryn Calley. The Legacy of Jacques Louis David (1748–1825). Met Museum, 2004, Web.
Schama on Rembrandt: Masterpieces of the Last Years. Directed by Francis Hanly, BBC, 2014.
Sister Wendy’s Grand Tour: Rome. Directed by John Hooper, BBC, 1994.
Sorabella, Jean. Baroque Rome. Met Museum, 2003, Web.
Versailles: The Dream of a King. Directed by Thierry Binisti, Les Films d’Ici, 2008.
Voorhies, James. Francisco de Goya (1746–1828) and the Spanish Enlightenment. Met Museum, 2003, Web.
White, Veronica. Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680). Met Museum, 2003, Web.