Baroque Art and Architecture
Baroque Art and Architecture, the style dominating the art and architecture of Europe and certain European colonies in the Americas throughout the 1600s, and in some places, until 1750. A number of its characteristics continue in the art and architecture of the first half of the 18th century, although this period is generally termed rococo (see Rococo Style) and corresponds roughly with King Louis XV of France. Manifestations of baroque art appear in virtually every country in Europe, with other important centers in the Spanish and Portuguese settlements in the Americas and in other outposts. The term baroque also defines periods in literature and music.
The origins of the word baroque are not clear. It may have been derived from the Portuguese barocco or the Spanish barueco to indicate an irregularly shaped pearl. The word itself does not accurately define or even approximate the meaning of the style to which it refers. However, by the end of the 18th century baroque had entered the terminology of art criticism as an epithet leveled against 17th-century art, which many later critics regularly dismissed as too bizarre or strange to merit serious study. Writers such as the 19th-century Swiss cultural historian Jakob Burckhardt considered this style the decadent end of the Renaissance; his student Heinrich Wölfflin, in Principles of Art History (1915; translated 1932), first pointed out the fundamental differences between the art of the 16th and 17th centuries, stating that “baroque is neither a rise nor a decline from classic, but a totally different art.”
Baroque art encompasses vast regional distinctions. It may seem confusing, for example, to label two such different artists as Rembrandt and Gianlorenzo Bernini as baroque; yet despite differences, they shared certain baroque elements, such as a preoccupation with the dramatic potential of light.
Understanding the various forms of baroque art requires knowledge of its historical context. The 17th century could be called the first modern age. Human awareness of the world was continuously expanding. Many scientific discoveries influenced art; Galileo's investigations of the planets, for example, account for astronomical accuracy in many paintings of the time. The assertion of the Polish astronomer Copernicus that the planets did not revolve around the earth was written by 1530, published in 1543, and only fully accepted after 1600. The realization that the earth was not at the center of the universe coincided in art with the rise of pure landscape painting devoid of human figures. The active trade and colonization policies of many European nations accounted for numerous portrayals of places and peoples that were exotic to Europeans. Religion determined many aspects of baroque art. The Roman Catholic church was a highly influential patron, and its Counter Reformation, a movement to combat the spread of Protestantism, employed emotional, realistic, and dramatic art as a means of propagating the faith. The simplicity sought by Protestantism in countries such as the Netherlands and northern Germany likewise explains the severity of the architectural styles in those areas. Political situations also influenced art. The absolute monarchies of France and Spain prompted the creation of works that reflected in their size and splendor the majesty of their kings, Louis XIV and Philip IV.
Among the general characteristics of baroque art is a sense of movement, energy, and tension (whether real or implied). Strong contrasts of light and shadow enhance the dramatic effects of many paintings and sculptures. Even baroque buildings, with their undulating walls and decorative surface elements, imply motion. Intense spirituality is often present in works of baroque art; in the Roman Catholic countries, for example, scenes of ecstasies, martyrdoms, or...
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