Beginning around the year 1600,
the demands for new art resulted in what is now known as the Baroque. The canon
promulgated at The Council of Trent (1545-63) by which the Roman Catholic Church
addressed the representational arts by demanding that paintings and sculptures in
church contexts should speak to the illiterate rather than to the well-informed, is
customarily offered as an inspiration of the Baroque, which appeared, however, a
generation later. This turn toward a populist conception of the function of
ecclesiastical art is seen by many art historians[weasel words] as driving the
innovations of Caravaggio and the Carracci brothers, all of whom were working in
Rome at that time.
The appeal of Baroque style
turned consciously from the witty, intellectual qualities of 16th century Mannerist
art to a visceral appeal aimed at the senses. It employed an iconography that was
direct, simple, obvious, and dramatic. Baroque art drew on certain broad and heroic
tendencies in Annibale Carracci and his circle, and found inspiration in other
artists such as Caravaggio, and Federico Barocci nowadays sometimes termed
Germinal ideas of the Baroque
can also be found in the work of Michelangelo and Correggio.
Some general parallels in music
make the expression "Baroque music" useful. Contrasting phrase lengths, harmony and
counterpoint ousted polyphony, and orchestral color made a stronger appearance.
(See Baroque music.) Similar fascination with simple, strong, dramatic expression
in poetry, where clear, broad syncopated rhythms replaced the enknotted elaborated
metaphysical similes employed by Mannerists such as John Donne and imagery that was
strongly influenced by visual developments in painting, can be sensed in John
Milton's Paradise Lost, a Baroque epic.
Though Baroque was superseded
in many centers by the Rococo style, beginning in France in the late 1720s,
especially for interiors, paintings and the decorative arts, Baroque architecture
remained a viable style until the advent of Neoclassicism in the later 18th
century. A prominent example, the Neapolitan palace of Caserta, a Baroque palace
(though in a chaste exterior) that was not even begun until 1752. Critics have
given up talking about a "Baroque period".
In paintings, Baroque gestures
are broader than Mannerist gestures: less ambiguous, less arcane and mysterious,
more like the stage gestures of opera, a major Baroque artform. Baroque poses
depend on contrapposto ("counterpoise"), the tension within the figures that moves
the planes of shoulders and hips in counterdirections. It made the sculptures
almost seem like they were about to move.
Art historians, often
Protestant ones, have traditionally emphasized that the Baroque style evolved
during a time in which the Roman Catholic Church had to react against the many
revolutionary cultural movements that produced a new science and new forms of
religion-the Reformation. It has been said that the monumental Baroque is a style
that could give the papacy, like secular absolute monarchies, a formal, imposing
way of expression that could restore its prestige, at the point of becoming somehow
symbolic of the Catholic Reformation. Whether this is the case or not, it was
successfully developed in Rome, where Baroque architecture widely renewed the
central areas with perhaps the most important urbanistic revision during this
period of time.
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.
There were highly diverse
strands of Italian baroque painting, from Caravaggio to Cortona, both approaching
emotive dynamism with different styles. 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
The later Baroque style
gradually gave way to a more decorative Rococo, which, through contrast, further
The intensity and immediacy of
baroque art and its individualism and detail-observed in such things as the
convincing rendering of cloth and skin textures-make it one of the most compelling
periods of Western art.
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 use for Vermeer and many other Dutch
artists. Flemish Baroque painting shared a part in this trend, while also
continuing to produce the traditional categories.
According to the Oxford English
Dictionary, the word baroque is derived from the Portuguese word "barroco", Spanish
"barroco", or French "baroque", all of which refer to a "rough or imperfect pearl",
though whether it entered those languages via Latin, Arabic, or some other source
is uncertain. In informal usage, the word baroque can simply mean that something is
"elaborate", with many details, without reference to the Baroque styles of the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The word "Baroque", like most
periodic or stylistic designations, was invented by later critics rather than
practitioners of the arts in the 17th and early 18th centuries. It is a French
transliteration of the Portuguese phrase "perola barroca", which means "irregular
pearl", and natural pearls that deviate from the usual, regular forms so they do
not have an axis of rotation are known as "baroque pearls". Others derive it from
the mnemonic term "Baroco" denoting, in logical Scholastica, a supposedly laboured
form of syllogism.
The term "Baroque" was
initially used with a derogatory meaning, to underline the excesses of its
emphasis. In particular, the term was used to describe its eccentric redundancy and
noisy abundance of details, which sharply contrasted the clear and sober
rationality of the Renaissance. It was first rehabilitated by the Swiss-born art
historian, Heinrich Wolfflin (1864-1945) in his Renaissance und Barock (1888),
Wolfflin identified the Baroque as "movement imported into mass," an art antithetic
to Renaissance art. He did not make the distinctions between Mannerism and Baroque
that modern writers do, and he ignored the later phase, the academic Baroque that
lasted into the 18th century. Writers in French and English did not begin to treat
Baroque as a respectable study until Wolfflin's influence had made German
In modern usage, the term
"Baroque" may still be used, usually pejoratively, describing works of art, craft,
or design that are thought to have excessive ornamentation or complexity of line,
or, as a synonym for "Byzantine", to describe literature, computer software,
contracts, or laws that are thought to be excessively complex, indirect, or obscure
in language, to the extent of concealing or confusing their meaning. A "Baroque
fear" is deeply felt, but utterly beyond daily reality.