During the Baroque painting era, Europe is plunged into continuous wars, the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, which will not end until the independence of Holland, and the consolidation of monarchical absolutism, especially in the centre of the continent. Art will be the propaganda vehicle of both the Church of the Counter-Reformation, and of the absolutist states or of the Protestant bourgeoisie. It is a seductive art that appeals to the imagination, the sensuality and the dynamism, for which it uses of the compositional theatricality is depicted.
In the Baroque the human figure stands as a decisive object of art, but not in its idealized form, rather in any aspect, whether beautiful or ugly, sublime or every day. In addition, there are also other more banal subjects, which take objects from nature, which are placed in the foreground of the composition, such as animals, inanimate, hunting, still life’s, works, etc.
In the baroque there are three periods:
A) Early or primitive, from 1580 to 1630,
B) Plenary, from 1630 to 1680, and
C) Late or Rococo, from 1680 to 1750. In its last stage, the rococo takes to art the triumph of pure aesthetics and inconsequential beauty.
The artistic Baroque contrasts openly with the ideal of harmony, proportion and measure advocated by the Renaissance.
The main characteristics of Baroque paintings are:
· Dynamism – The baroque artist wants to create a constant sensation of movement. Faced with the predominance of straight lines in Renaissance art, the Baroque is mainly based on the curved line.
· Theatricality – The artist tries to emotionally shock the viewer and for this he resorts to hyperrealistic procedures. This intentionality can be seen, for example, in the representation of Christ lying and in all sacred imagery.
· Decorativism and sumptuousness – The Baroque artist attends equally to the essential and the accidental. Hence his thoroughness in the composition of small details and his taste for ornamentation.
· Contrast – The Baroque artist manifests himself contrary to the balance and uniformity of the Renaissance. Its ideal is to welcome in a same composition different, and even antagonistic, visions of the same theme. In the mythological subject boxes, for example, the gods appear amongst normal people’s characters.
The language of Baroque painting
The persuasive interest of the church and the monarchy and the valuation of the Protestant bourgeoisie of the individual and the daily happenings determine the main quality of Baroque painting: its relation to reality, which is also a consequence of a stylistic evolution. Since when in the last years of the sixteenth century the purely aesthetic justification and the conscious antinaturalism of Mannerism exhaust their expressive channels, Baroque artists use the formal novelty, embodying in their works what Mannerism rejected: reality and nature.
What characterises a Baroque painting
Realism – They seek the models of nature, without proceeding to its idealisation, even reaching naturalism, concern for the representation of psychological state, feelings (pain, joy), etc. On many occasions, light is put at the service of realism. Predominance of the colour in the painting. In the great masters the stains are the definitors of the forms (Velázquez or Rembrandt). Things are painted as seen in reality, with spots of colour and light, missing the details and with the outline not specified. Continuous Depth – In the baroque the rigor of the linear perspective is abandoned, in order to obtain the sensation of depth, the procedures used can be convergent lines, series of foreshortenings, a disproportionate first term, a first dark term, light plays, and atmospheric effects.
Hegemony of light – Leonardo’s sneer is abandoned, he moves to planes of light and shadows where the shapes are painted with great precision.
The baroque is the art of pictorially shaping the light and in correlation, the shadow plays a previously unpublished role, especially in the first essays of the style that have come to be called Tenebrismo. In the Baroque the form is subordinated to the light, and in some cases the forms can fade by weakness or intensity of the luminous twinkle.
Composition in Baroque paintings
Freedom in composition, ie asymmetric and athectonic composition. The instinctive tendency to place the main figure in the middle and to paint two halves of similar fabrics (symmetry) is lost, just as the horizontal and vertical mesh of classical art (tectonic composition) is discarded. Anything that shows imbalance or suggests that the scene continues beyond the boundaries of the frame is preferred. This atectónica composition is obtained by the diagonal lines that substitute to the pyramidal compositions of the previous century; Sometimes broken shapes are used that indicate that everything does not fit on the canvas.
Shaping in Baroque paintings
Baroque painting is the painting of life and thus can not be represented in static forms. Turbulence precedes quietude; The figures are unstable and the foreshortenings and undulations multiply. Sometimes this movement does not exist and the excess of quietude and austerity must be related to the desire to link the work with religious transcendence.
Techniques in Baroque paintings
The importance of colour and the desire to show it in all its brilliance makes one abandon the temper and generalise the oil and the use of the canvas, sometimes of great proportions and the painting on board almost abandoned. The fresco technique is still used for the decorative painting of the walls.
Themes in Baroque paintings
This is where the multiplicity of schools provoke an absolute variety in the subjects. As for the religious themes, there are many representations of the Virgin, such as the Immaculate Conception, Piety, the most relevant evangelical passages, charity, sacraments (especially penance and Eucharist), series on the life of saints and their Religious experiences, the vision of death.
The Schools of Baroque Painting:
A) The Italian school:
Concerned enormously by the problems of the light in the pictorial work, Caravaggio works the chiaroscuro, with marked contrasts between the zones of shadow and those of light within the painting (Tenebrismo) that perfectly mark the volumes of the figures and objects represented. On the other hand, he tries to give his figures the maximum possible realism, without any hint of idealisation, which sometimes led him to work directly from the natural. Over the years, this initial realism will eventually become a real drama, for which he resorts to increasingly complicated compositions.
B) The Flemish and Dutch school:
The pictorial tradition of Flanders is well-known. It focuses on bourgeois taste for everyday and details, and the exaltation of their way of life. In these moments of religious convulsions in Europe, Flanders is an advocate of Catholicism, while Holland is one of Protestantism. However, painting is decorative, opulent and hedonistic.
In the seventeenth century Holland was placed among the great schools of painting with a marked national character, thanks to the development of the bourgeoisie, which demanded a large number of paintings showing their way of life. Pay attention to the drawing. The colors are cold, and the result is more realistic than efectista. In fact, the style is far from the baroque, except in the case of Rembrandt. The favorite subject of the Dutch will be the portrait, above all the collective portrait, in which appeared the members of the corporations of honest men. It uses themes of the real and daily life, scenes of interior, still lifes, landscapes and portraits, individual and collective. The most banal events deserve the attention of the painter.
Women who read letters, women who make music, who weigh gold, who pose for a painter, who converse gallantly with gentlemen; Women who write, play the lute, make-up, take care of children, spin, make lace bobbin … They are common themes of Dutch painting of the seventeenth century and are protagonists of most of the works of Johannes Vermeer of Delft , A slow and meticulous work artist who spent his whole life in his hometown of Delft in the Netherlands.
His paintings (of which a little more than thirty are preserved) are usually of small size, presenting us with a palette of scarce colors, but very bright and clear, with which he manages to reflect like no one the light on the objects. Moreover, the theme is also enormously interesting: it attracted him to represent mainly interiors, in which frequently appear female characters. Many times these women in Vermeer’s paintings are alone or, rather, accompanied by the light that enters through a window (always to the left) and places them in the picture, capturing them in relation to the task in which they are occupied.
C) The Spanish school:
Baroque is for Spain the golden age of painting. The main theme is religious, since Spain is the champion of Tridentine values. The Church is the great patron of artists, along with the Court, so that religious subjects dominate over all. Spanish painters know European art more than travel because many of the great artists work at some point in Spain.
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