Allegory of Divine Providence, 1633-1639, Baroque Art
Art,  English

Baroque: A taste for movement, dramatisation and decorative exuberance

The text below is the excerpt of the book Baroque Art (ISBN: 9781783103843), written by Klaus H. Carl and Victoria Charles, published by Parkstone International.

Baroque art (derived from the Portuguese word ‘Barrocco’ meaning rough or imperfect pearl) originated in Italy and a few other countries as an imperceptible passage from the late Renaissance which ended about 1600. It was occasionally seen as a variation and brutalization of the Renaissance style and sometimes conversely as a higher form of its development, and remained dominant until approximately the middle of the eighteenth century. Conventionally, the Baroque style is not emphasized in the global history of art, because the time period when it flourished — between 1550 and 1750 — is correctly viewed as an enclosed time period in which various directions of style were expressed.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Baldachin, ordered in 1624, Baroque Art
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Baldachin, ordered in 1624 by Urban VIII. St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican.

For some specialists, the Baroque style, because it adapted to the strict forms of the Renaissance, was strictly nothing other than a branch or a variant of the Renaissance art from which it arose. This is how it was for all changes of style in the history of art: each new direction built on the foundations of the previous one. The Gothic style followed from the Romantic which adapted from the Old Christian, and so on. Since the time when Hellenic art ruled the world, it served as a measure and foundation for the subsequent style developments, which only more or less distance themselves from it or else imitate it.

However, the Baroque style distanced itself from the strict principles and theories of the Antique so much that the Antique fundamentals were hardly recognizable. It is difficult to draw a distinctive line between the Renaissance and the Baroque, as both schools merge into each other. However, the Baroque cannot simply be limited to a specific timeline or location. Moreover, one can only strictly speak of a proper Baroque style in the fields of architecture and perhaps sculpture.

Georges de La Tour, Magdalene of the Night Light, c. 1640-1645, Baroque Art
Georges de La Tour, Magdalene of the Night Light, c. 1640-1645. Oil on canvas, 128 x 94 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

The Baroque period occurred during an era of deep religious, cultural and social unrest. Wars, the Reformation and other confusions resulted in a new political order and complicated spiritual and cultural development. The medieval system of government slowly dissolved between 1520 and 1530, and the Reformation had its indelible effect on the people as the imperial princes became more and more powerful.

The German imperial crown hardly played a legal role; it only possessed a more or less representative function gladly carried out by the House of Habsburg. In Austria the Habsburgs had occupied the area of Krain (current Slovenia), Kärnten (Carinthia) and Tyrol and, after long internal strife from the end of the fifteenth century into the 1690s, combined them into a single state to withstand the onslaught of the Ottomans. It was only the famous Prince Eugene of Savoy who succeeded in defeating the “Turks” at the battle of Zenta in 1697. This victory was memorialized by Ferdinand Freiligrath in a poem later set to music by Johann Gottfried Loewe: “Prinz Eugen, der edle Ritter, / hei das klingt wie Ungewitter / Weit ins Türkenlager hin. …”

Annibale Carracci, Madonna in Glory with Child, St. Louis, St. John the Baptist, St. Alexius, St. Catherine, St. Francis and St. Clare, c. 1587-1588, Baroque Art
Annibale Carracci, Madonna in Glory with Child, St. Louis, St. John the Baptist, St. Alexius, St. Catherine, St. Francis and St. Clare, c. 1587-1588. Oil on canvas, 278 x 173 cm. Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, Bologna.

From a historical point of view, the seventeenth century began with the end of the glorious reign of the English Queen Elizabeth I and the civil wars in France by Henry IV. In Italian art, Caravaggio created a new style; in Spain, Miguel de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote; and in England, Shakespeare became world-famous with his dramas.

The Thirty Years’ War raged in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and laid waste to half of Europe. Among the decisive personalities in this war were the Swedish King Gustav II, who fell during the war, and the most important army leader, Albrecht von Wallenstein, who was murdered in 1694 in Eger. Cardinal Richelieu, under Louis XIII, secured the supremacy of France in Europe, and Oliver Cromwell ruled the Republic in England. In Flanders, Rubens and Rembrandt were making their marks on the art world, in France Molière wrote his comedies, and in Italy Bernini defined new paths in sculpture and architecture. It was a very eventful and turbulent century.

Egid Quirin Asam and Cosmas Damian Asam, The Assumption of the Virgin, 1722-1723, Baroque Art
Egid Quirin Asam and Cosmas Damian Asam, The Assumption of the Virgin, 1722-1723. Marble, stucco and gilding. Church of the Assumption, Rohr, Bavaria.

The very influential classes of society, with their special political rights, lost their influence and privileges during the war. Only the princes governed their respective areas with unlimited power. The situation of the arts and culture in their lands changed according to the personalities, the wisdom and the farsightedness of the respective princes…

If you want to know more about Baroque Art, you can read our article Rococo Art.

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