Anatoly’s Art History: Baroque

Baroque 1600-1725

In 1517, Martin Luther started the Reformation Movement by criticizing the church with his 95 Theses. This historic act of defiance against the church spawned Baroque art was supported by the Catholic Church as a way to teach christianity to the uneducated, and to counter the sentiments of the Reformation. The Council of Trent, a council formed in the mid-1500s to discuss the actions needed to quiet the Reformation, and decided that art should be related to huge milestones of the Christian Church, and used as a way to illustrate Catholic dogma to everyone. The Baroque time period embraced paintings, sculptures, and architecture of this time period is intricately detailed, religious based, and dramatic to get their point across in meaningful way. The time period began around 1600 in Italy, spreading to the rest of Europe in the following years.

The word “Baroque” is derived from the Italian word “barocco,” meaning “bizarre” and the Spanish word “barrueco,” meaning “imperfect pearl.” The term baroque was initially used in a negative sense to describe the movement because the exaggerated scenes in Baroque art were such a stark contrast from the rational and realistic artwork that was created during the renaissance.

Baroque art would eventually move to Rococo movement or “Late Baroque,” which is described as being more jovial and less dramatic in subject matter, but still ornate and detailed. It may have started as a movement for the Catholic Church, but it certainly didn’t stay that way for long. By the mid 1600s, baroque began moving further away from the church and closer to secular themes.


Prominent artists during this period focused around scenes that had exaggerated, dramatic qualities, deep colors, and intense dark shadows and highlights. One of the techniques they used in order to achieve this was chiaroscuro. Originating during the Renaissance, the chiaroscuro technique was all about using strong contrasts between light and dark to give 3 dimensional shape to subjects. While it may have started in the Renaissance, artists employed this technique on a whole other level, adding drama to the piece as well as dimension. The paintings are extremely detailed and realistic, and since they were first supported by the Catholic Church, most have a religious focus and showcase a moment in time that has energy and sense of urgency.


In the Baroque era, sculptures were similar to the paintings, being elegant and ornate, but also having a certain energy behind it. Sculptures often seem to extend past the actual scene, as many of the subjects are reaching outward or pointing to the heavens. A common theme for sculptors was to show the moment when a human being would encounter angels and other heavenly beings. Like Baroque paintings, sculptors focused on intricate details and exaggerated  features.


Although the Baroque period tapered off and moved toward Rococo style in the mid-1700s, the idealistic Baroque architecture was still an influential means of design. The paintings and sculptures of this time were ornate, and the architecture is no different. Like the paintings, architecture during this time also used the chiaroscuro technique, using a contrast of shaded areas and lit areas. Saint Peter’s Basilica is considered to be a precursor to Baroque architecture with a mixture of Renaissance and Baroque techniques. Buildings that followed had similar characteristics with large scale frescoes on the ceilings, ornate paintings and decorations throughout, and complex architectural components on the exterior of the buildings.


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