Baroque Main Page

The Early and High Baroque In Italy

Baroque Architecture


Baroque Paintings

The Baroque Era In The Arts

Various Authors

Edited By: R. A. Guisepi


Cultural Expressions Of The Age


     After 1600, European culture generated a new artisitic style, known as

the Baroque. Taken literally, the term means "irregular" and is applied

generally to the dynamic and undisciplined artistic creativity of the

seventeenth century. At first, the Baroque style grew out of the Catholic pomp

and confidence accompanying the Counter-Reformation. Later, as the style

spread north, it became popular at royal courts, where it symbolized the

emerging power of the new monarchies. Wherever it showed itself, the Baroque approach was likely to exhibit some combination of power, massiveness, or dramatic intensity, embellished with pageantry, color, and theatrical adventure. Without the restraints of the High Renaissance or the subjectiveness of Manneristic painting, the Baroque sought to overawe by its grandeur.



















     Baroque painting originated in Italy and spread north. One of its Italian

creators was Michelangelo da Caravaggio (1565-1609), whose bold and

light-bathed naturalism impressed many northern artists. The Italian influence

was evident in the works of Peter Paul Rubens (1557-1640), a well-known

Flemish artist who chose themes from pagan and Christian literature,

illustrating them with human figures involved in dramatic physical action.

Ruben also did portraits of Marie de Medicis and Queen Anne, at the French

court of Louis XIII. Another famous Baroque court painter was Diego Velasquez

(1599-1660), whose canvases depict the haughty formality and opulence of the

Spanish royal household. A number of Italian women were successful Baroque

painters, including Livonia Fontana (1552-1614), who produced pictures of

monumental buildings, and Artemesia Gentileschi (1593-1652), a follower of



     While the Baroque style profoundly affected the rest of Europe, the Dutch

perfected their own characteristic style, which grew directly from their pride

in political and commerical accomplishments and emphasized the beauty of local

nature and the solidity of middle class life. Dutch painting was sober,

detailed, and warmly soft in the use of colors, particularly yellows and

browns. Almost every town in Holland supported its own school of painters who

helped perpetuate local traditions. Consequently a horde of competent artists

arose to meet the demand for this republican art.


     Only a few among hundreds can be cited here. The robust Frans Hals

(1580-1666) employed a vigorous style that enabled him to catch the

spontaneous and fleeting expression of his portrait subjects. He left

posterity a gallery of types - from cavaliers to fishwives and tavern

loungers. His most successful follower, whose works have often been confused

with those of Hals, was Judith Leyster (1609-1660), a member of the Haarlem

painter's guild with pupils of her own. Somewhat in contrast, Jan Vermeer

(1632-1675) exhibited a subtle delicacy. His way of treating the fall of

subdued sunlight upon interior scenes has never been equaled.


     Towering above all the Dutch artists - and ranking with the outstanding

painters of all time - was Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669). While reflecting

the common characteristics of his school, he produced works so universally

human that they not only expressed Dutch cultural values but also transcended

them. His canvasses show tremendous sensitivity, depicting almost every human

emotion except pure joy. This omission arose partially from his own troubled

consciousness and partially from his republican, Calvinist environment.

Nevertheless, his work furnished profound insights into the human enigma. He

has been called the "Dutch Baroque version of da Vinci."


     Baroque architecture, like painting, was centered in Italy, from whence

it permeated western Europe. The most renowned architect of the school in the

seventeenth century was Giovanni Bernini (1598-1660). He designed the

colonnades outside St. Peter's Basilica, where his plan illustrates the

Baroque style in the use of vast spaces and curving lines. Hundreds of

churches and public buildings all over Europe displayed the elaborate Baroque

decorativeness in colored marble, intricate designs, twisted columns,

scattered cupolas, imposing facades, and unbalanced extensions or bulges.

Stone and mortar were often blended with statuary and painting; indeed it was

difficult to see where one art left off and the other began.


     The seventeenth century also brought Baroque innovations in music. New

forms of expression moved away from the exalted calmness of Palestrina and

emphasized melody supported by harmony. Instrumental music - particularly for

organ and violin - gained equal popularity, for the first time, with song.

Outstanding among Baroque innovations was opera, which originated in Italy at

the beginning of the century and quickly conquered Europe. The new form

utilized many arts, integrating literature, drama, music and painting of the

elaborate stage settings.


     The literature of the Baroque age before 1650 showed a marked decline

from the exalted heights of the northern Renaissance. Even before 1600,

however, Puritanism and the Counter-Reformation inclined many writers toward

religious subjects. In England, this trend continued in the next century and

was augmented by a flood of political tracts during the civil war. Religious

concerns were typical of the two most prominent English poets, John Donne

(1573-1631) and John Milton (1608-1674). Milton's magnificent poetic epic,

Paradise Lost was planned in his youth but not completed until 1667. French

literature during the early 1600s was much less memorable. The major advance

came in heroic adventure novels, pioneered by Madeleine Scudery (1608-1701).

Most other French writers, influenced by the newly formed French Academy, were

increasingly active in salon discussions but more concerned with form than

with substance.


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