Italian Baroque Term Paper

Pages: 6 (2013 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  Level: College Sophomore  ·  Topic: Art  (general)

Italian Baroque

Art is the expression of artistic vision that carries the sign of the period of time when it was created. Baroque was born Italy from where it spread to France, Germany, Netherlands and Spain. The term "Baroque" was coined by 19th century critics, and refers to the period that started in late 16th century and ended towards the late 1700s. The Baroque style, used in architecture, sculpture, painting embodied the scientific developments - such as advances in astronomy for example - that determined a shift in the European view of the world. In fact, the developments and abundant scientific literature of the 18th century became knows as the Age of Enlightenment, a time of great economic progress which in turn gave rise to a prosperous middle class in most European countries and their colonies. It was precisely this economic growth and the rise of a strong middle class that helped propagate the Baroque style since the upper classes were now interested in investing in the arts. The 17th century was a century that marked remarkable advances in science and mathematics. Among the most notable discoveries of the century were the invention of the telescope and microscope; in terms of scientific and theoretical formulations, the 17th century provided posterity with figures such as Descartes, Newton, and Galileo to name only three of the most famous. Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason as it was later called, altered notions of reason, knowledge, nature, man, and especially God. It was during this century that reason and knowledge were considered the only vehicles for achieving happiness (Blatt and Blatt: 260).

Baroque visual arts approached many of the traditional themes of Renaissance such as the religious subject which continued to predominate. Nonetheless, due to the influence of the Hapsburg family which was also the main patron of the arts during the period of the Baroque, many of the works of art produced during that time were inspired from historical events or scenes from court life. As far as artistic technique, the Baroque was an expression of equilibrium between the graphic and the pictorial perspective which generated not only exquisite balance and harmony of tones and colors, but also accuracy in the reproduction of gesture and psychologies. As far as the artists that influenced the Baroque movement in arts, it is important to mention two names i.e. Caravaggio and Federico Barocci. In fact, these two 16th century Italian painters are commonly referred to as the precursors of Baroque painting. Nonetheless, incipient Baroque ideas can be identified in the works of Michelangelo and Corregio. Thesis: The Baroque did not represent a powerful departure from the art of the Renaissance. On the contrary, Baroque style embraced the legacy of the Renaissance, and expanded it in terms of both themes and artistic technique. In this sense, the Baroque can be considered as the final stage of the Renaissance. The three paintings I have selected for this paper are "Young Virgin Mary" (1632-3) by Francisco de Zurbaran, "The Holy Family with the infant and St. John the Baptist" (1602-4) by Caravaggio and "The Supper at Emmaus" (1622-23) by Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez.

Although it was did not manifest itself as a complete opposite of Renaissance, Baroque style was different along several basic art dimensions. These differences generated a sense of infinite depth in the case of Baroque paintings. The closed compositions of Renaissance based on linear perspectives and sharply defined forms were replaced with open compositions that parted from the idea of clear horizontals and verticals (Goldmeier, 1972 in Blatt and Blatt: 257). In addition, the symmetry and perfect balance of the Renaissance was abandoned in favor of asymmetrical compositions which largely relied on the tension created by the diagonal among different parts of the painting (Ibid). Most important perhaps was the change in terms of the overall painting style which shifted from a linear style with sharp boundaries and contours - in the case of Renaissance - to a more "painterly" (Ibid) style which was far more broad and aimed at using minimal color for maximum effect by placing the emphasis on shadings. This enriched painting and gave a feeling of depth as far as the picture plane.

Baroque painting is primarily a reflection of the religious tensions that marked the period in question, more precisely the division of faith concretized in the form of the rupture between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. The most important Baroque painters came from deeply Catholic countries such as Italy or Spain. This can account for the large number of religious paintings executed by some of the greatest representative of the movement. They supported the Catholic Church's program named the "Counter Reformation" which was a response from the Catholic clergy to the rise of Protestantism starting from the 1550s. This program employed artistic representation as an emotional appeal which aimed at influencing the largest audience possible so that the Catholic Church would not lose too many followers.

Baroque art is an expression of great dramatic scenes depicted through the use of rich deep colors and intense light and dark effects. In fact, the trademark of Baroque painting is the selective illumination of figured used in paintings which abound in dark colors and shadows. This stylistic device can be identified in the case of the three paintings this paper focuses on. In the case of Velazquez, his painting employs this technique in order to reproduce the moment of enlightenment when Jesus Christ was recognized by his disciples upon his Rising. The emotional effect of this religious event as described by the gospel according to Saint Luke (24:30-31) (the Supper at Emmaus, Timeline of Art History) is very intense. In this sense, Baroque art focuses on the visual representation of the most dramatic point of a certain event. Velazquez chose to paint the exact moment when Jesus Christ was recognized by his disciples, and not the moments before or after. As opposed to Renaissance art, Baroque art aims at evoking emotion that can only be stirred through dramatic representations. This technique is best exemplified in the case of Caravaggio, the father of chiaroscuro, employed especially in the case of paintings depicting religious ecstasy and traits of the physical body. In his painting, the Holy Family with the Infant and St. John the Baptist, Caravaggio uses light in an intense form focusing it especially on the faces of the infant and Virgin Mary. This creates a deep contrast with the sides of the painting which are dark, and gives the illusion of both volume and depth.

The most important difference between Baroque and Renaissance art is that the former abandoned Mannerist and returned to naturalism in painting, architecture, sculpture and decorative arts. Mannerism was a profound influence on Italian Renaissance, especially the High Renaissance which lasted from the 1520s until the development of the Baroque at the beginning of the 17th century. Mannerism is associated with da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo, but is not restricted to them. Its main feature was artificiality understood as an intellectual approach to art as opposed to the mimetic perspective of the Baroque. The Baroque was a continuation of Renaissance not only in terms of artistic trends but also of attitudes and philosophy. The Baroque also coincided with an intense preoccupation with the issue of divine authority which was being replaced by scientific inquiry and experimentation. This fact could also explain the fresh perspective that Baroque artists expressed as far as religious themes that were no longer idealized, but introduced into the life of the common man who could all of a sudden question divine existence and authority.

Similarly to Baroque sculpture, one of the most important features of Baroque painting is the naturalistic tradition. In this sense, painters and sculptors did not idealize their figures although most of them were religious. Instead, these holy biblical characters were depicted as ordinary human beings. Religious and spiritual connotations were induced with the help of colors, strong contrasts and light and dark effects. The ordinary appearance of biblical characters was also a means to relating to the present time when the paintings were being executed. For instance, in the case of Zurbaran's "The Young Virgin," critics have argued that the image of young Mary sitting with a sewing pillow on her lap was in fact a depiction of the condition and symbolic ideals of Spanish women in the 17th century (Department of Religious Studies). Young Mary is featured in the center foreground with lighting being applied around her head in the shape of an aura. Moreover, the mundanely character of Mary's pose and the decor surrounding her is suggested by placing a basked in the right foreground. Also, on the table in front of her lies a small devotional book which symbolizes her discipline and devotion to the divinity.

The paintings by Caravaggio, Velazquez and Zurbaran belong to the period of Early Baroque (ca. 1590-1625) and are examples of the shift as far as figures in Baroque paintings. Although religious,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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