Baroque Art
Definition, Styles, History.

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Samson and Delilah (1609-1610) by
Peter Paul Rubens, the great Flemish
Baroque painter.

Baroque Art (c.1600-1700)


Definition: What is Baroque Art?
History of Baroque Art
Famous Baroque Painters (and paintings)
Famous Baroque Sculptors (and sculptures)
Famous Baroque Architects (and building designs)


The Apotheosis of St Ignatius
(1694) San Ignazio, Rome, by Pozzo.
One of the Baroque's most inspiring
religious paintings ever created.

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. Thus it is almost synonymous with Catholic Counter-Reformation Art of the period.

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 parallel to the overall campaign of Catholic Christian art, pursued by the Vatican - 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 of the merchant and middle classes.



Styles/Types of Baroque Art

In 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 were developed to enhance atmosphere. Brushwork is creamy and broad, often resulting in thick impasto. However, the theatricality and melodrama of Baroque painting was not well received by later critics, like the influential John Ruskin (1819-1900), who considered it insincere. 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 designer, Bernini, one of the greatest Baroque architects, 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), by the trompe l'oeil illusionistic ceiling frescoes of Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669) - see his masterpiece Allegory of Divine Providence (1633-39) - and by the grandiose paintings of the Flemish master Rubens (1577-1640).

(2) Greater Realism
A new more life-like or naturalist style of figurative composition. This new approach was championed by Carravaggio (1571-1610), Francisco Ribalta (1565–1628), 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, a new form of movement and exuberance pioneered by Annibale Carracci, and a realistic form of rustic Biblical genre painting, complete with animals, evolved by Castiglione (1609-64) - all these elements were part of the new and dynamic style known as Baroque. See also: Classicism and Naturalism in Italian 17th Century Painting.

(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 new type of easel-art - a glossy form of genre-painting - 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, including the Protestant-inspired genre known as vanitas painting (flourished 1620-50). Different towns and areas had their own 'schools' or styles, such as Utrecht, Delft, Leiden, Amsterdam, Haarlem and Dordrecht. See: Dutch Realist Artists.

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).

NOTE: For other important historical stylistic trends like Baroque, see Art Movements, Periods, Schools (from about 100 BCE).

History of Baroque Art

Following 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 Biblical 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. The key figure in French Baroque art of the 17th century was Charles Le Brun (1619-90) who exerted an influence far beyond his own metier. See, for instance, the Gobelins tapestry factory, of which he was director. 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 the phenomenal quadratura known as Apotheosis of St Ignatius (1688-94, S. Ignazio, Rome), by the illusionist ceiling painter Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709). Surely one of the best Baroque paintings of the 17th century.

Naples, in 1600 the second largest city in Europe after Paris, was an important centre of Counter-Reformation Baroque art. The Neapolitan School was developed by Caravaggio, Ribera, Artemesia Gentileschi, Mattia Preti (1613-99) Luca Giordano (1634-1705), Francesco Solimena (1657-1747) and others. For more, see: Painting in Naples (1600-1700) and Caravaggio in Naples (1607, 1609-10). For the early 17th century, see: Neapolitan School of Painting (1600-56); for later developments see: Neapolitan Baroque Painting (c.1650-1700).

Note: It took longer for the Baroque style to reach Russia. Indeed, it wasn't until the period of Petrine art in St Petersburg under Peter the Great (1686-1725), that architects like Rastrelli, Domenico Trezzini, Andreas Schluter, Gottfried Schadel, Leblond, Michetti, and Matarnovi began designing in the style of Russian Baroque.

For details of the development of Baroque art outside Italy, see: Flemish Baroque (c.1600-80), Dutch Baroque (c.1600-80) and Spanish Baroque (1600-1700).

By the end of the 17th century the grand Baroque style was in decline, as was its principal sponsor, Italy. The coming European power was France, where a new and contrasting style of decorative art was beginning to emerge. This light-hearted style soon enveloped architecture, all forms of interior decoration, furniture, painting, sculpture and porcelain design. It was known as Rococo.

Famous Baroque Painters (and Paintings)

Here is a short list of the greatest Old Masters of the Baroque Period, together with some of their works:

Annibale Carracci (1560-1609) of the Bolognese School (1590-1630)
- Christ Wearing the Crown of Thorns (1585-7, Gemaldegalerie, Dresden)
- Farnese Gallery fresco paintings (1590s, Rome)
- Flight into Egypt (1604, Doria Gallery, Rome)

Together with his brother Agostino Carracci (1557-1602), and cousin Ludovico Carracci (1555-1619), Annibale founded an art academy called the Accademia dei Desiderosi, later renamed the Academy of the Progressives (Accademia degli Incamminati). This was the core of the Bolognese school of painting.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
- Descent from the Cross (Rubens) (1612-14) Cathedral, Antwerp.
- The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus (1618) Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
- Judgement of Paris (1632-5) National Gallery, London.

Carravaggio (1571-1610)
- The Calling of Saint Matthew (1600) Contarelli Chapel, Rome.
- The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew (1600) Contarelli Chapel, Rome.
- Conversion on the way to Damascus (1601) Cerasi Chapel, Rome.
- Supper at Emmaus (1601) National Gallery, London.
- Crucifixion of Saint Peter (1601) Cerasi Chapel, Rome.
- Death of the Virgin (1601-6) Louvre, Paris.
- The Entombment of Christ (1601-3) Vatican Museums, Rome.

Domenichino (1581-1641)
- The Last Communion of St Jerome (1614) Pinacoteca, Vatican.
- Scenes from the Life of St Andrew (1622-7) Frescoes, S. Andrea della Valle.

Simon Vouet (1590-1649)
- Psyche Watching Amor Sleep (1626) Musee des Beaux-Arts, Lyon
- Presentation in the Temple (1641) Louvre, Paris.

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656)
- Judith Beheading Holofernes (1620) Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)
- Abduction of the Sabine Women (1634-5) Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Et in Arcadia Ego (Arcadian Shepherds) (1637) Louvre, Paris.

Diego Velazquez (1599-1660)
- Waterseller of Seville (1618-22) Apsley House, London.
- Christ on the Cross (1632) Prado, Madrid.
- The Surrender of Breda (1634-5) Prado, Madrid.
- The Rokeby Venus (1647-51) National Gallery, London.
- Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650) Doria Pamphilj Gallery, Rome.
- Las Meninas (1656), Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Rembrandt (1606-69)
- The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632) Mauritshuis.
- The Night Watch (1642) Rijksmuseum.
- Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer (1653) Metropolitan Museum, NY.
- Bathsheba With King David's Letter (1654) Louvre.
- Jan Six (1654) The Six Collection, Amsterdam.
- The Syndics of the Clothmakers Guild (The Staalmeesters) (1662).
- The Suicide of Lucretia (c.1666) The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
- The Jewish Bride (c.1665-8) Rijksmuseum.

Carlo Maratta (Maratti) (1625-1713)
- Constantine ordering the Destruction of Pagan Idols (1648) Rome.
- Portrait of Pope Clement IX (1669) Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

Among other outstanding Baroque painters are: the portraitist Van Dyck (1599-1641), see also: Baroque Portraits - and the foremost still life and animal painter Frans Snyders (1579-1657). Among the great Catholic Baroque painters from Spain are the intense realist painter Jusepe Ribera (1591-1652), the pious chiaroscuro expert and tenebrist Francisco Zurbaran (1598-1664) and Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1618-82) of Seville, known for his idealized and sentimental religious pictures. In French Baroque art, the top caravaggesque painter was Georges de la Tour (1593-1652). In Italy, mention should be made of the Parma artist Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647), noted for his extreme foreshortening technique (di sotto in su), and the Genoese decorative artist Baciccio (1639-1709), noted for his cangianti technique of using vibrant colours to depict shade.

Exponents of Dutch Realism from the Baroque era include: the portraitists Frans Hals (1581-1666) - see his masterpiece The Laughing Cavalier (1624) by the great Dutch portraitist Frans Hals (1582-1666).and Rembrandt (1606-69); the genre painters Hendrik Terbrugghen (1588-1629), Jan Steen (1626-79) and Jan Vermeer (1632-75); the 'interiors' and 'perspective' artist Samuel van Hoogstraten; the still life painters Frans Snyders (1579-1657), Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606-84) and Willem Kalf (1619-93); the flower painter Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750); and the landscape artists Salomon van Ruysdael (1600-70), Aelbert Cuyp (1620-91), Jacob van Ruisdael (1628-82) and Meyndert Hobbema (1638-1709).

For other painters and sculptors, see: Italian Baroque Artists; and French Baroque Artists. See also: Spanish Baroque Artists. For Baroque in Germany, see: German Baroque Artists.


Famous Baroque Sculptors (and Sculptures)

Giovanni Bernini
The greatest Baroque sculptor, noted for:
The Rape of Proserpine
(1621-22) Galleria Borghese, Rome.
Apollo and Daphne (1622-25), Galleria Borghese, Rome.
Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1647-52), Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria.

Juan Martines Montanes (1568-1649)
Spanish virtuoso wood-carver, noted for:
The Merciful Christ (The Christ of Clemency) (1603) Seville Cathedral
The Santiponce Altarpiece (1613).

Jorg Zurn (1583-1638)
German master carver, famous for:
High Altar of the Virgin Mary (1613-16), Church of Saint Nicholas, Uberlingen.

Francois Duquesnoy (1597-1643)
Classical style, sculpted in marble, stone, bronze, and noted for the statues:
St Andrew (1629-33) Basilica di San Pietro, Vatican
St Susanna (1630-33) Santa Maria di Loreto, Rome

Alessandro Algardi (1598-1654)
High Baroque classicist, noted for:
Tomb of Pope Leo XI (1634-44) St Peter's Rome
Ecstasy of Saint Philip Neri (1638) Santa Maria in Vallicella, Rome
Pope Leo Driving Attila from the Gates of Rome (1646-53) St Peter's Rome

Alonzo Cano (Granada, 1601-1667)
Known as the "Spanish Michelangelo", noted for:
The Immaculate Conception (1655, Granada Cathedral) and paintings.

Pierre Puget (1622-1694)
The greatest Baroque sculptor in 17th century France, noted for:
Milo of Crotona (1671-82)

Francois Girardon (1628-1715)
Classical Baroque sculptor, popular with Louis XIV, noted for:
Apollo Tended by the Nymphs (1666-75)
Monument of Richelieu (1675-94)
The Abduction of Proserpine (1677-99)

Antoine Coysevox (1640-1720)
Sculpted in the manner of Bernini; noted for portrait busts.
Charles Lebrun (1676)
Louis XIV (1686).

Andreas Schluter (1664-1714)
Berlin sculptor/architect; noted for his statues of Frederick III, including:
Equestrian Statue of Frederick William the Great (1689-1703).
See also: German Baroque Art (1550-1750).

Guillaume Coustou (1677-1746)
French Baroque artist best known for his equestrian statues.
Horse restrained by a Groom ("Marly Horses") (1739-45).

Other, late Baroque sculptors include: Balthasar Permoser (1651-1732) and Louis-Francois Roubiliac (1695-1762). Also, for biographical details of one of the greatest wood-carvers of the period, see Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721).

For more 17th century sculpture, see: Baroque Sculptors.

Famous Baroque Architects (and building designs)

Pietro Berrettini da Cortona (1596-1669)
Architect to Pope Urban VIII
- SS. Luca e Martina (1635-64, Rome)
- St Maria della Pace, facade (1656-7, Rome)
- St Maria in Via Lata (1658-62, Rome)
Bernini (1598-1680)
The greatest of all Baroque architects and sculptors.
- Palazzo Barberini (1628-32, Rome)
- St Peter's Square (1656-67)
- St Andrea al Quirinale (1658-71, Rome)
Francesco Borromini (1599-1667)
A lifelong rival of Bernini
- St Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (1634-68, Rome)
- Palazzo Sapienza and St Ivo alla Sapienza, dome/facade (1640-60, Rome)
- St Agnese in Agone (1653, Rome)
Louis Le Vau (1612-70)
Main co-architect of the Palace of Versailles.
- Hotel Lambert (1642-4, Paris)
- Saint-Sulpice (1646, Paris)
- Marble Court (1669, Palace of Versailles)
Jules Hardouin Mansart (1646-1708)
Main co-architect of the Palace of Versailles & dome of Les Invalides in Paris
- Chateau de Marly (1679-86, Marly-le-Roi)
- Dome of Les Invalides (1679-91, Paris)
- Grand Trianon (1687-8, Palace of Versailles)
Christopher Wren (1632-1723)
Dominant church architect in London.
- St Paul's Cathedral (1674-1710)
John Vanbrugh (1664-1726)
Leader of the English Baroque movement
- Castle Howard (1702-12)
- Blenheim Palace (1705-24)
Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (1656-1723)
Eminent Austrian Baroque architect, brough Italian styles to central Europe.
- Kollegienkirche (1694-1707, Salzburg)
- Stadtpalais (1695-8, Vienna)
- Church of St Charles (1716-30, Vienna)
Balthasar Neumann (1687-1753)
Leading German Late Baroque designer, Royal architect to Schonborn family.
- Wallfahrtskirche (1730-9, Gossweinstein)
- Staircase for Wurzburg Residenz (1737)
- Staircase for Augustusburg Palace (1743-8, Bruhl)
Bartolomeo Rastrelli
Responsible for Russian Baroque.
- Smoly Cathedral (1748-57, St Petersburg)
- Winter Palace (1754-62, St Petersburg)
- Redesign of Catherine's Palace (1756, near St Petersburg)

• For other art movements and periods, see: History of Art.
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