Baroque is a style in art. It was between the styles (or epochs) of Renaissance and Neoclassicism. This means it lasted from about 1575 to about 1770. At that time, there were absolutist monarchs in Europe. Baroque art is usually very playful and has many ornaments.

The movement started in Italy. It then spread to the Catholic countries in Europe. Finally, it also spread to the Protestant ones.

The word Baroque comes from Portuguese. There, barocco means something like strange. In Portuguese, it was first used for irregularly-shaped pearls. It was first used in France to mean works of art that did not follow the current trend. The baroque period was from 1600s to the 1750s. Famous composers in the baroque era were Alessandro Scarlatti and Handel.

Periods

The Baroque era is sometimes divided into three approximate phases for convenience:

  • Early Baroque, c. 1590 – c. 1625
  • High Baroque, c. 1625 – c. 1660
  • Late Baroque, c. 1660 – c. 1725

The term "Late Baroque" is also sometimes used synonymously with the succeeding Rococo movement.

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 (now at the Louvre), in which a Catholic painter satisfied a Catholic patron: Baroque-era conceptions of monarchy, iconography, handling of paint, and compositions as well as the depiction of space and movement.

Baroque style featured "exaggerated lighting, intense emotions, release from restraint, and even a kind of artistic sensationalism". Baroque art did not really depict the life style of the people at that time; however, "closely tied to the Counter-Reformation, this style melodramatically reaffirmed the emotional depths of the Catholic faith and glorified both church and monarchy" of their power and influence.

There were highly diverse strands of Italian baroque painting, from Caravaggio to Cortona; both approaching emotive dynamism with different styles. The most prominent Spanish painter of the Baroque was Diego Velázquez.

JosefaObidos4
Still-life, by Josefa de Óbidos, c. 1679, Santarém, Portugal, Municipal Library

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 conceit.

The later Baroque style gradually gave way to a more decorative Rococo.

A rather different art developed out of northern realist traditions in 17th century Dutch Golden Age painting, which had very little religious art, and little history painting, instead playing a crucial part in developing secular genres such as still life, genre paintings of everyday scenes, and landscape painting. While the Baroque nature of Rembrandt's art is clear, the label is less often used for Vermeer and many other Dutch artists. Flemish Baroque painting shared a part in this trend, while also continuing to produce the traditional categories.

In a similar way the French classical style of painting exemplified by Poussin is often classed as Baroque, and does share many qualities of the Italian painting of the same period, although the poise and restraint derived from following classical ideas typically give it a very different overall mood.

Sculpture

In Baroque sculpture, groups of figures assumed new importance and there was a dynamic movement and energy of human forms—they spiraled around an empty central vortex, or reached outwards into the surrounding space. For the first time, Baroque sculpture often had multiple ideal viewing angles. The characteristic Baroque sculpture added extra-sculptural elements, for example, concealed lighting, or water fountains. Aleijadinho in Brazil was also one of the great names of baroque sculpture, and his master work is the set of statues of the Santuário de Bom Jesus de Matosinhos in Congonhas. The soapstone sculptures of old testament prophets around the terrace are considered amongst his finest work.

The architecture, sculpture and fountains of Bernini (1598–1680) give highly charged characteristics of Baroque style. Bernini was undoubtedly the most important sculptor of the Baroque period. He approached Michelangelo in his omnicompetence: Bernini sculpted, worked as an architect, painted, wrote plays, and staged spectacles. In the late 20th century Bernini was most valued for his sculpture, both for his virtuosity in carving marble and his ability to create figures that combine the physical and the spiritual. He was also a fine sculptor of bust portraits in high demand among the powerful.

Bernini's Cornaro chapel

A good example of Bernini's Baroque work is his Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1645–52), created for the Cornaro Chapel of the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome. Bernini designed the entire chapel, a subsidiary space along the side of the church, for the Cornaro family.

Estasi di Santa Teresa
Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa

Saint Teresa, the focal point of the chapel, is a soft white marble statue surrounded by a polychromatic marble architectural framing. This structure conceals a window which lights the statue from above. Figure-groups of the Cornaro family sculpted in shallow relief inhabit opera boxes on the two side walls of the chapel. The setting places the viewer as a spectator in front of the statue with the Cornaro family leaning out of their box seats and craning forward to see the mystical ecstasy of the saint.

St. Theresa is highly idealised and in an imaginary setting. She was a popular saint of the Catholic Reformation. She wrote of her mystical experiences for an audience of the nuns of her Carmelite Order; these writings had become popular reading among lay people interested in spirituality. In her writings, she described the love of God as piercing her heart like a burning arrow. Bernini materialises this by placing St. Theresa on a butt while a Cupid figure holds a golden arrow made of metal and smiles down at her. The angelic figure is not preparing to plunge the arrow into her heart—rather, he has withdrawn it. St. Theresa's face reflects not the anticipation of ecstasy, but her current fulfillment.

This work is widely considered a masterpiece of the Baroque, although the mix of religious and erotic imagery (faithful to St Teresa's own written account) may raise modern eyebrows. However, Bernini was a devout Catholic and was not attempting to satirize the experience of a chaste nun. Rather, he aimed to portray religious experience as an intensely physical one. Theresa described her bodily reaction to spiritual enlightenment in a language of ecstasy used by many mystics, and Bernini's depiction is earnest.

The Cornaro family promotes itself discreetly in this chapel; they are represented visually, but are placed on the sides of the chapel, witnessing the event from balconies. As in an opera house, the Cornaro have a privileged position in respect to the viewer, in their private reserve, closer to the saint; the viewer, however, has a better view from the front. They attach their name to the chapel, but St. Theresa is the focus. It is a private chapel in the sense that no one could say mass on the altar beneath the statue (in the 17th century and probably through the 19th) without permission from the family, but the only thing that divides the viewer from the image is the altar rail. The spectacle functions both as a demonstration of mysticism and as a piece of family pride.

Architecture

Hauptaltar der St. John’s Co-Cathedral
The main altar of St. John's Co-Cathedral, Malta

In Baroque architecture, new emphasis was placed on bold massing, colonnades, domes, light-and-shade (chiaroscuro), 'painterly' colour effects, and the bold play of volume and void. In interiors, Baroque movement around and through a void informed monumental staircases that had no parallel in previous architecture. The other Baroque innovation in worldly interiors was the state apartment, a sequence of increasingly rich interiors that culminated in a presence chamber or throne room or a state bedroom. The sequence of monumental stairs followed by a state apartment was copied in smaller scale everywhere in aristocratic dwellings of any pretensions.

Baroque architecture was taken up with enthusiasm in central Germany (see, e.g., Ludwigsburg Palace and Zwinger, Dresden), Austria and Russia (see, e.g., Peterhof). In England the culmination of Baroque architecture was embodied in work by Sir Christopher Wren, Sir John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor, from ca. 1660 to ca. 1725. Many examples of Baroque architecture and town planning are found in other European towns, and in Latin America. Town planning of this period featured radiating avenues intersecting in squares, which took cues from Baroque garden plans. In Sicily, Baroque developed new shapes and themes as in Noto, Ragusa and Acireale "Basilica di San Sebastiano".

Another example of Baroque architecture is the Cathedral of Morelia, in Michoacán, Mexico. Built in the 17th century by Vincenzo Barrochio, it is one of the many Baroque cathedrals in Mexico. Baroque churches built during the Spanish period are also seen in other former colonies of Spain.

Francis Ching described Baroque architecture as "a style of architecture originating in Italy in the early 17th century and variously prevalent in Europe and the New World for a century and a half, characterised by free and sculptural use of the classical orders and ornament, dynamic opposition and interpenetration of spaces, and the dramatic combined effects of architecture, sculpture, painting, and the decorative arts."

Theatre

Pietro Domenico Oliviero - The Royal Theater in Turin
18th-century painting of the Royal Theatre of Turin

In theatre, the elaborate conceits, multiplicity of plot turns and a variety of situations characteristic of Mannerism, in Shakespeare's tragedies for instance, were superseded by opera, which drew together all the arts into a unified whole.

Theatre evolved in the Baroque era and became a multimedia experience, starting with the actual architectural space. In fact, much of the technology used in current Broadway or commercial plays was invented and developed during this era. The stage could change from a romantic garden to the interior of a palace in a matter of seconds. The entire space became a framed selected area that only allows the users to see a specific action, hiding all the machinery and technology – mostly ropes and pulleys.

This technology affected the content of the narrated or performed pieces, practicing at its best the Deus ex Machina solution. Gods were finally able to come down – literally – from the heavens and rescue the hero in the most extreme and dangerous, even absurd situations.

The term Theatrum Mundi – the world is a stage – was also created. The social and political realm in the real world is manipulated in exactly the same way the actor and the machines are presenting and limiting what is being presented on stage, hiding selectively all the machinery that makes the actions happen.

England

The influence of the Renaissance was also very late in England, and Baroque theatre is only partly a useful concept here, for example in discussing Restoration comedy. There was an 18-year break when the London theatres were closed during the English Civil War and English Commonwealth until the Restoration of Charles II in 1660.

Germany

German theatre in the 17th century lacked major contributions. The best known playwright was Andreas Gryphius, who used the Jesuit model of the Dutch Joost van den Vondel and Pierre Corneille. There was also Johannes Velten who combined the traditions of the English comedians and the commedia del'arte with the classic theatre of Corneille and Molière. His touring company was perhaps the most significant and important of the 17th century.

Spain

The Baroque had a Catholic and conservative character in Spain, following an Italian literary models during the Renaissance. The Hispanic Baroque theatre aimed for a public content with an ideal reality that manifested fundamental three sentiments: Catholic religion, monarchist and national pride and honour originating from the chivalric, knightly world.

Lope de Vega introduced through his Arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo (1609) the new comedy. He established a new dramatic formula that broke the three Aristotle unities of the Italian school of poetry (action, time and place) and a fourth unity of Aristotle which is about style, mixing of tragic and comic elements showing different types of verses and stanzas upon what is represented. Although Lope has a great knowledge of the plastic arts, he did not use it during the major part of his career nor in theatre or scenography. The Lope's comedy granted a second role to the visual aspects of the theatrical representation.

Literature

The most important English authors of the 17th century were playwright William Shakespeare and epic poet John Milton.

In France it was a brilliant period known as Grand Siècle. Molière, Pierre Corneille and Jean Racine wrote famous plays while Jean de La Fontaine and Charles Perrault – fables.

Baroque was the greatest era in the history of Spanish literature which is called Siglo de Oro with playwrights Pedro Calderon de la Barca and Lope de Vega, poet Juana Inés de la Cruz as well as Miguel de Cervantes who is regarded as the first novelist.

Philosophy

René Descartes, John Locke, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Baruch Spinoza, Thomas Hobbes, Francis Bacon, Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton are the most appreciated thinkers of the 17th century. This period was characterised by mixing new ideas with religious tradition. Neostoicism of Justus Lipsius, scholasticism of Francisco Suárez and casuistry of Jesuits were predominant.

Music

The term Baroque is also used to designate the style of music composed during a period that overlaps with that of Baroque art, but usually encompasses a slightly later period.

It is a still-debated question as to what extent Baroque music shares aesthetic principles with the visual and literary arts of the Baroque period. A fairly clear, shared element is a love of ornamentation, and it is perhaps significant that the role of ornament was greatly diminished in both music and architecture as the Baroque gave way to the Classical period.

The application of the term "Baroque" to music is a relatively recent development, although it has recently been pointed out that the first use of the word "baroque" in criticism of any of the arts related to music, in an anonymous, satirical review of the première in October 1733 of Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie, printed in the Mercure de France in May 1734. The critic implied that the novelty in this opera was "du barocque," complaining that the music lacked coherent melody, was filled with unremitting dissonances, constantly changed key and meter, and speedily ran through every compositional device.

However this was an isolated reference, and consistent use of the term as a period designator was only begun in 1919, by Curt Sachs, and it was not until 1940 that it was first used in English (in an article published by Manfred Bukofzer).

Many musical forms were born in that era, like the concerto and sinfonia. Forms such as the sonata, cantata and oratorio flourished. Also, opera was born out of the experimentation of the Florentine Camerata, the creators of monody, who attempted to recreate the theatrical arts of the Ancient Greeks. An important technique used in baroque music was the use of ground bass, a repeated bass line. Dido's Lament by Henry Purcell is a famous example of this technique.

Composers and examples

Gallery


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