Peter Paul Rubens: St. George and the Dragon

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Peter Paul Rubens perfectly represents artistic traditions and philosophical beliefs of the Baroque period because of Ruben’s techniques and subject matter. These techniques include the strong contrast between light and dark, the usage of rich, flamboyant colors which is offset by a dark background, the depiction of motion and facial expressions, the rendering of high detail, the naturalistic rather than ideal figures, the enlarges sense of space, the aim to create a dramatic effect, the theme of religion, the display of power and dramatic intensity, and the appealing to the spirit through the senses. The subject matter of the Baroque Era was often of religious scenes. The term Baroque originally meant overdone – too many notes in music, too much color in painting, and too grand in architecture. Eventually, Baroque has come to become characterized by elaborate ornamentation, the aim to create a dramatic effect, the appealing of the spirit through the senses, enlarged space, heightened sensuality and spirituality, and highly ornate. Baroque art started in the Catholic countries as a reaction to the Protestant reformation as a way to bring people back into the Catholic Church. For this reason, Rubens was often commissioned by the church to paint various pieces. Through his paintings he created a vivid, dramatic mode of expression that was later called Baroque. The unique qualities of his invention is strongly characterized by the piece St. George and the Dragon which depicts the patron saint slaying the dragon Ascalon to save the princess of Seline. The princess is stiffly posed, but painted in a highly detailed manner, a characteristic that was prevalent in Ruben’s predecessors. The heroic figure of the knight shows brilliant colors and animated gestures to demonstrate Ruben’s interest in portraying motion. His flamboyant Baroque style is often characterized by large heavy figures in active motion and an exited emotional atmosphere. Strong contrasts of light, shadow, and rich colors infuse energy into his paintings. His works were largely influenced by the artist of the High Renaissance including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael. He was also influenced by the recent, highly naturalistic paintings of Caravaggio who utilized the trademarks of Baroque art. He too painted using a strong contrast of light and dark, rich colors, and the depiction of motion and human expression. An example of his work is the painting The Crucifixion of St. Peter. It depicts the martyr St. Peter asks for his cross to be inverted upon his crucifixion so he would not imitate Christ. He is depicted in the picture hanging upside-down, his facial expression clearly portrayed. The picture displays the strong contrast of dark and light through the dark background which is overlaid by the subjects who are painted in rich, flamboyant colors. The depiction of motion is shown as the Romans prepare to erect the cross, struggling due to the weight as if their crime already weighs them down. Although a great amount of detail is used, it hardly reaches the extent of detail in Ruben’s work. Despite the fact, the basic defining factors of Baroque art are still present- the depiction of motion, the strong colors, the naturalistic rather than ideal portrayal, the result of a dramatic effect, and the ornamentation of the painting. Another example of Baroque art is the piece Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi. The painting depicts a scene for the Old Testament. In this scene, Holofernes has been seduced by Judith who, assisted by her maidservant, beheads the drunken general after he has fallen asleep. Although absent of elaborate ornamentation, the painting still exhibits the traditional characteristics of the Baroque era. This painting is a prime example of the depiction of motion and facial expressions. A struggle is clearly depicted as the blood is shown dripping down from the body of the partially beheaded Holofernes who, in desperation,...
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