Characteristics of Protestant & Catholic Baroque Art

Written by michael e carpenter
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The term Baroque is used to define the art produced in Europe after the Renaissance from between 1600 and 1750. It was in the Reformation of the church which split Europe into two separate religious sects, the Catholics and the Protestants. The art created during the Baroque period has similarities and differences differing from country to country in Europe.

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Religious Themes

One of the most significant differences between the Catholic and Protestant art of the Baroque period is the use of religious themes. Catholic countries, which included Italy, Spain and France, produced works of art that had only religious themes. Protestants, countries such as England, Germany and the Netherlands, followed the ideas of John Calvin and the Calvinist doctrine did not allow for religious figures to be used within works of art. These countries works of art focused on everyday life, portraits and landscapes.


The works of art created during the Baroque period were naturalistic, opposed to the idealised art of the Renaissance according to Saint Michael's College. For example, "David" the sculpture by Gianlorenzo Bernini, features real muscular definition and a serious looking face. Baroque painting was very detailed and in fact, the term Baroque was actually first a derogatory term focusing on too many details and the art work being too noisy according to Buffalo Architecture and History.


Baroque art of both the Catholic and Protestant artists have more open space in the work that in previous periods. The works also commonly displayed movement and focused the eye using diagonal or circular arrangements in the art. An example of the diagonal is Gentileschi's "La Pittura" which is a self portrait of her painting. The arm is raised at an angle making the diagonal line very clear within the painting.


Catholic baroque artwork, which focused on religious images, was a counter reformation aimed at bringing individuals back into the church. An example is Caravaggio's "Entombment" which depicts John taking Jesus off the cross. The picture was created to stir sadness and sympathy, connecting the viewer back with the church. Protestant messages, which did not include religious images, were more moralistic. For example the Vermeer's "Kitchen Maid" displays a maid pouring water. On close examination, there is a mouse trap located on the floor in the painting. The painter was giving the message that if a person can afford a maid you were well off financially but questioned your spirituality.

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