Art Styles: Baroque Art


"The vision and ecstasy of Saint Teresa" by Baroque artist Gianlorenzo BerniniBeginning around the year 1600, the demands for new art resulted in what is now known as the Baroque Period. Baroque painters, sculptors, and architects sought to portray emotion, variety, and movement in their works by appealing to the senses. Other qualities include drama, grandeur, richness, vitality, movement, tension, exuberance, and a tendency to blur distinction between the various arts. Baroque Style was typified by strong contrasts in value and bold ornamentation that added action and drama to the art.

The roots of baroque styles are found in the art of Italy, and especially in that of Rome in the late 16th century. A desire for greater clarity and simplification inspired a number of artists in their reaction against the anticlassical Mannerist style, with its subjective emphasis on distortion, asymmetry, bizarre juxtapositions, and biting colors. Annibale Carracci and Michelangelo Merisi, called, were the two artists in the forefront of the early baroque.

Caravaggio's art is influenced by naturalism and the grand humanism of Michelangelo and the High Renaissance. His paintings often include types drawn from everyday life engaged in completely believable activities, as well as heroic and tender depictions of religious and mythological subjects. Caravaggio was commissioned, at age 24, to paint for the church of San Luigi dei Francesi. In its Chapel Caravaggio's realistic naturalism first fully appeared in three scenes he created of the life of St. Matthew. The execution of all three, in which Caravaggio substituted a dramatic contemporary realism for the traditional pictorial formulas used in depicting saints, provoked public astonishment.

Caravaggio shows his classic baroque style in his painting in 1606 "Ecce Homo"Carracci, on the other hand, attempted to rid art of its mannered complications by returning to the High Renaissance principles of clarity, monumentality, and balance. This baroque classicism remained important throughout the century. A third baroque style developed in Rome about 1630, the so-called high baroque. It is generally considered the most characteristic mode of 17th-century art, with its exuberance, emotionalism, theatricality, and unrestrained energy.

The pinnacle of Baroque art was Gianlorenzo Bernini, who dominated the High Baroque Period with his energetic and virtuous paintings. Bernini was a sculptor, painter and architect and a formative influence as an outstanding exponent of the Italian Baroque. He was an exceptional portrait artist and owes to his father his accomplished techniques in the handling of marble.

Bernini originally worked in the Late Mannerist tradition but rejected the contrived tendencies of this style. By 1624 he had adopted an expression that was passionate and full of emotional and psychological energy. His figures are caught in a transient moment from a single viewpoint, bursting into the spectator's space. In 1644 such interpretation reaches maturity in his rendition of the vision and Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. (shown here).

The Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens is considered the most important artist of the 17th century, whose style became an international definition of the animated, exuberantly sensuous aspects of Baroque painting. A defining statement of what Baroque signifies in painting is provided by the series of paintings executed by Peter Paul Rubens for Marie de Medici at the Luxembourg Palace in Paris. Rubens was a prolific  painter, and a proponent of an exuberant Baroque style that emphasized movement, color, and sensuality. He is well-known for his Counter-Reformation altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects.

There were highly diverse strands of Italian baroque painting, from Caravaggio to Cortona; both approaching emotive dynamism with different styles. Another frequently cited work of Baroque art is Bernini's Saint Theresa in Ecstasy for the Cornaro chapel in Saint Maria della Vittoria, which brings together architecture, sculpture, and theatre into one grand motif.
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