Spanning the 17th century and the first half of the 18th century, the Baroque period saw the emergence of a distinctive kind of art in Europe that despite regional differences shared stylistic features across artists and nations. In the climate of scientific discoveries, world trade and colonisation, the art, sculpture and architecture of this era developed a vigorous, highly charged charisma.
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In response to the rise of Protestantism in Europe, the Roman Catholic Church sallied forth during the Counter-Reformation, imbuing religious motifs into art that were dramatic and full of grandeur to exemplify the stature of the church. This contrasted sharply with the plainer and starker styles of the Protestants in their architecture, particularly in the Netherlands. Pomp and circumstance in the royal courts of Louis XIV and Philip of Spain further called attention to the majesty of divine-right monarchies. Artists such as Gianlorenzo Bernini sought to capture infinite space in their paintings and sculptures through illusionist techniques.
Baroque art is characterised by a realism that depicted people as personalities with idiosyncrasies that were evident in such things as their clothes and facial expressions. Immediacy of human experience was a hallmark of the Baroque period, where the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens used intensely rich colours and curvy female forms in his painting series "The Life of Marie de Médicis." Dutch painter Frans Hals created military scenes known for their natural casualness. Another Dutch artist of the 17th century, Jan Vermeer, captured landscapes and domestic life using meticulous detail.
Concomitant with the spirit of grandeur, realism and sensuality, was the Baroque period's preoccupation with intense emotional elements in painting, sculpture and architecture. Conflict, tension and movement abound in Baroque art, such as in Bernini's sculpture "Abduction of Prosperpina" of 1621, while exuberance fairly bursts forth from Giovanni Lanfranco's "Assumption of the Virgin" fresco on the dome of the Sant' Andrea della Valle church in Rome, painted in the late 1620s. The early Baroque artist Caravaggio was highly influential outside of Italy, where his intense, harshly realistic yet sincere depictions of religious figures using everyday people as models was controversial for his time.
The Baroque period was not monolithic and can be said to be divided into several periods itself, namely an earlier period that was still influenced by the Renaissance and reactive against Mannerism, followed by what has been called the High Baroque, which surfaced around 1630, which is the period generally identified with the energy and splendour of the "Baroque." A subsequent period, known as the late Baroque, or the Rococo period, saw a change in the composition of artworks. The late Baroque frescoes of Mattia Preti in 1661 of the Palazzo Pamphili show a departure from the structural emphasis of the High Baroque, where scattered imagery, ornamentation and decoration are emphasised over a central locus.
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