Baroque art

From New World Encyclopedia
Nativity by Josefa de Óbidos, 1669, National Museum of Ancient Art, Lisbon

The Baroque style began as somewhat of a continuation of the Renaissance. Later, however, scholars of the time began to see the drastic differences between the two styles as the Renaissance style gave way to Baroque art. Baroque architecture, sculpture, and painting of a dramatic nature were powerful tools in the hands of religious and secular absolutism, and flourished in the service of the Catholic Church and of Catholic monarchies. The Baroque artists were particularly focused on natural forms, spaces, colors, lights, and the relationship between the observer and the literary or portrait subject in order to produce a strong, if muted, emotional experience.

The Council of Trent (1545-1563), in which the Roman Catholic Church answered many questions of internal reform raised by both Protestants and by those who had remained inside the 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.

Due to this Baroque art tends to focus on Saints, the Virgin Mary, and other well known Bible stories. Religious painting, history painting, allegories, and portraits were still considered the most noble subjects, but landscapes, still life, and genre scenes rapidly gained notoriety.

Overview of Baroque Painting

Characteristics of Baroque painting

Baroque art is characterized by great drama, rich color, and intense light and dark shadows. As opposed to Renaissance art, which usually showed the moment before an event took place, Baroque artists chose the most dramatic point, the moment when the action was occurring: Michelangelo, working in the High Renaissance, shows his David composed and still before he battles Goliath; Bernini's baroque David is caught in the act of hurling the stone at the giant. Baroque art was meant to evoke emotion and passion instead of the calm rationality that had been prized during the Renaissance.

Baroque painting stemmed from the styles of High-Renaissance painters such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, and Correggio. Walter Friedlaender refers to such "elements as interest in verisimilitude and naturalism (often with a strong allegorical content), representations of extreme states of feeling, a desire to suggest extensions into space, dynamic movement, an intense engagement with light (in its physical and spiritual connotations) and a sensitivity to the impact of Classical civilizations, as representing some of the salient features of Baroque art." Although the era of the seventeenth century is said to be quite ambivalent toward any one style, the Baroque painters exhibited several characteristics in their painting that made it clear that the work was Baroque: 1) painterly brushstrokes, 2) recession of the plane, 3) open form, 4) unity, and 5) unclearness of subject.


Main article: Baroque Architecture
Santa Susanna: Carlo Maderno.
Sicilian Baroque: San Benedetto in Catania.

The Baroque architectural style came into effect in the construction of Il Gesù (Church of Jesus). The building was constructed by Giacomo da Vignola (designer of ground plan) and Giacomo Della Porta, who designed the façade. The basic scheme of the façade is prevalent throughout Catholic countries and was used as a model for over two centuries. The Baroque played into the demand for an architecture that was on the one hand more accessible to the emotions and, on the other hand, a visible statement of the wealth and power of the Church. The new style manifested itself in particular in the context of new religious orders, like the Theatines and the Jesuits, which aimed to improve popular piety.[1]


  • long, narrow naves are replaced by broader, occasionally circular forms
  • dramatic use of light, either strong light-and-shade contrasts, chiaroscuro effects (e.g., church of Weltenburg Abbey), or uniform lighting by means of several windows (e.g. church of Weingarten Abbey)
  • opulent use of ornaments (puttos made of wood (often gilded), plaster or stucco, marble or faux finishing)
  • large-scale ceiling frescoes
  • the external facade is often characterized by a dramatic central projection
  • the interior is often no more than a shell for painting and sculpture (especially in the late baroque)
  • illusory effects like trompe l'oeil and the blending of painting and architecture
  • in the Bavarian, Czech lands, Poland, and Ukrainian baroque, pear domes are ubiquitous
  • Marian and Holy Trinity columns are erected in Catholic countries, often in thanksgiving for ending a plague


Baroque sculptors experienced a sense of freedom to combine and create what their minds could think of. Many artists felt free to combine different materials within a single work and often used one material to simulate another. One of the great masterpieces of baroque sculpture, Giovanni Bernini's Saint Theresa from the Cornaro Chapel, for example, succumbs to an ecstatic vision on a dull-finished marble cloud in which bronze rays descend from a hidden source of light. Many works of Baroque sculpture are set within elaborate architectural settings, and they often seem to be spilling out of their assigned niches or floating upward toward heaven.[2]

"The distinctive features of baroque statues are a) the use of more than one block of marble, thus allowing a large array of gestures; b) the treatment of drapery, which does not fall in an ordinary way, but is moved by a sort of wind; c) the use of variegated/colored marble or of different marbles; d) a torsion of a very often tall and slim body." [3]

Key Artists of Baroque Art and Their Influences

The Carracci's

Baroque monumental painting was brought into existence by the Carracci: brothers Annibale and Agostino Carracci, and cousin Ludovico Carracci. "The Carracci aimed at a synthesis of vigor and majesty of Michelangelo, the harmony and grace of Raphael, and the color of Titian, less through direct imitation of these High Renaissance artists than through emulation of their method of idealizing nature." [2] In other words, they were attempting to revitalize seventeenth century art with Renaissance ideals of nature, and their ideas of color and unity. The Carracci were associated with the Bolognese Academy, with their cousin Ludovico being the founder of the school. The premise of the Carracci's Bolognese Academy was that, "art can be taught—the basis of any academic philosophy of art—and that the materials of instruction must be the traditions, the antique, and the Renaissance, in addition to the studying and drawing from life." [1]


A revolutionary, Caravaggio changed the course of European art. "The psychological realism, which plumbed the depths of human feeling in a manner comparable in some respects to the insights of his slightly older contemporary, William Shakespeare, and its extraordinary sense of solid reality projected in actual space." [2] Caravaggio became renown for his use of chiaroscuro, his most effective device to awaken the deep recesses of the soul. Chiaroscuro was the use of contrasting light and dark colors and shadows.


Artemisia Gentileschi, pupil and daughter of Orazio Gentileschi, structured her painting around the tumultuous past of her youth. After being raped by Orazio's pupil, Agostino Tassi, Artemesia's reputation was scarred. As a result, much of the subject matter in her work deals with feminist subjects being wronged by men, and the heroic revenge they take on men. It is clear that the female in all of her works is a self-portrait.[2]


Gian Lorenzo Bernini's impact on Baroque art, particularly in the latter stages of the style, is unquestionable. Bernini produced major works in architecture, sculpture, paintings, and was a dramatist and composer. In fact, he was the model sculptor for all those that followed him in the historical timeline. His style in all mediums exhibited an unmatched intensity and vibrance that seemed to be bringing everything that he created to life.

Major Works Identifying the Baroque Style in Italy

  • Carraci's Ceiling paintings at Palazzo Farnese (Farnese Palace)

Annibale Carraci's ceiling paintings are clearly influenced by Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. Typical of Baroque art, "it is essential for our understanding of the Baroque that divine love, conceived as the principle at heart of the universe, should be the motive power that draws together all the elements of the ceiling and resolves all conflicts in an unforeseeable act of redemption."[2] The energy among all the figures is controlled yet powerful and abundant. It is extremely difficult to distinguish reality from representation. In other words, the Baroque style is characterized by a more sensual, at times erotic display of affection, not only in painting, but in sculpture and architecture as well.

  • Landscape with the Flight into Egypt

In his landscapes, Carracci principally strays away from the high point of view so that the figures in the scene are at the same eye level as the viewer. A second, more discernible characteristic of his landscape paintings is the fact that they are not fantastic or imaginative; in fact, they are based on the actual surroundings of Rome. In this piece, it is the Tiber and the Alban Hills: "The landscape in this painting, as almost always in the seventeenth century, was derived from studies made outdoors but was constructed in the studio." [2]

The use of shadows to contrast the light and dark is at its best in this piece. While the theme of Saint Matthew's calling is prevalent in art history, none other can rattle the soul as Caravaggio's piece does. Christ is illuminated in light as the edge of his fingertips reflects off the ray of light in the darkened room. The faces of the three boys are illuminated in surprise as they see the vision of Christ: "The background is a wall in a Roman tavern; a window, whose panes are the oiled paper customary before the universal use of glass, is the only visible back-ground object." [2]

  • Artemesia Gentileschi's Judith with the Head of Holofernes

The passion and energy is bursting out of the surface of the piece, and the only light in the piece is from the candle (chiaroscuro), which gives us a direct view of the sinister shadow on Judith's face: "The victorious Hebrew heroine casts one last glance backward into the darkened tent as her maidservant is about to wrap the severed head." [2]

  • Gian Lorenzo Bernini's David

When one compares Bernini's David to that of Michelangelo and Donatello, it becomes clear why the style is Baroque. One of the key features of Baroque sculpture that is prevalent in this piece is Bernini's depiction of the scene in the precise moment at which David is twisting vigorously, as he is in motion to release the stone: "The left hand's tightening about the sling and stone produces sharp tensions in the muscles and veins of the arm, the toes of the right foot grip the rock for …" [2] Vibrance emanates from this work and is easily distinguished by the emotion of the figure and the contortions of the body.

Other Influential Italian Artists

  • Carlo Maderno
  • Francesco Borromini
  • Bartolomeo Manfredi
  • Carlo Saraceni
  • Battistello Caracciolo
  • Guido Reni
  • Francesco Albani
  • Domenichino
  • Guercino
  • Daniele Crespi
  • Domenico Fetti
  • Pietro Tacca
  • Pietro da Cortona
  • Alessandro Algardi
  • Baciccio
  • Andrea Pozzo
  • Luca Giordano
  • Carlo Maratti
  • Francesco Furini
  • Carlo Dolci
  • Evaristo Baschenis
  • Bernardo Strozzi
  • Bernardo Cavallino
  • Mattia Preti

Dutch Artists


Of the many artists that were bound to Caravaggio's charm were Hendrick Terbrugghen and Gerard van Honthorst. The two were known as the chief Caravaggesques because "their religious paintings show understanding of Caravaggio's new vision of ordinary humanity reached by divine love." [2] Honthorst's primarily focused on biblical scenes done in the dark, while Terbrugghen, like Caravaggio, paints with an aura of uncertainty. The background is set, seemingly, in the middle of nowhere. Terburgghen explored the Baroque psychological aspect of Caravaggio's art.[2]


Frans Hals was arguably the most brilliant of all portraitists. As an up and coming artist, he was interested in little but the human face and figure. He possessed an unrivaled ability to capture "the moment of action, feeling, perception, or expression and recording that moment with tempestuous but unerring strokes." [2] His use of light and dark is less intense than Caravaggio, but his style of portraiture is original. In The Laughing Cavalier the background is definite and unimportant. All the attention is on the face of the portrait. "The amorous proclivities of the young man may be indicated by the arrows, torches, and bees of Cupid and the winged staff and hat of Mercury embroidered in red, silver, and gold on the dark brown of his slashed sleeve. With his glowing complexion, dangerous mustaches, snowy ruff, and dashing hat, the subject is the very symbol of Baroque gallantry; the climax of the painting is the taunting smile on which every compositional force converges." [2]


Rembrandt van Rijn dealt with secular subjects as well as biblical themes; however, it is the spirituality of his art that sets him apart from his Dutch contemporaries, and for that matter, all artists. He was one of the few artists that signed his works with his own name. While he lived in an era where artists were banned from showing their paintings in churches, Rembrandt addressed the individual by the use of "radiant light and vibrant shadow, receptive to the deepest resonances of human feeling." [1] In Supper at Emmaus, Rembrandt resurrected Caravaggio's use of light and dark with an intensity that has put him in the history books. In this piece, Rembrandt depicts the revelation of Christ as savior to his disciples, an almost automatic subject in the Baroque age. The point of revelation to his disciples is represented with a sudden burst of light from darkness, hinting at the release into heaven from this darkly material world. Suddenly, the area where Christ is standing turns into an apse and the table becomes an altar, both of which are illuminated with rays from Christ's head. The shock of the scene is further elevated to new heights by Rembrandt in that everyone is still, there is no motion in the piece.


Gerrit van Honthorst distinguished himself form other artists in that he specialized in painting in the dark. In Adoration of the Shepherds, Caravaggio's influence is evident in the mysterious background and the rough edges in the midst of radiating light.

Other Influential Dutch artists

  • Pieter Lastman
  • Jan Pynas
  • Dirck van Baburen
  • Jan Lievens
  • Gerard Dou
  • Jacob Backer
  • Govaert Flinck
  • Ferdinand Bol
  • Carel Fabritius
  • Samuel van Hoogstraten
  • Gerbrand van den Eeckhout
  • Philips Koninck
  • Nicolaes Maes
  • Willem Drost
  • Aert de Gelder
  • Willem Buytewech
  • Jan Molenaer
  • Adriaen van Ostade
  • Isaac van Ostade
  • Pieter de Hooch
  • Gerard ter Borch
  • Gabriel Metsu
  • Frans van Mieris the Elder
  • Jan Steen
  • Gillis van Coninxloo
  • Roelant Savery
  • Hendrick Avercamp
  • Esias van de Velde
  • Hercules Seghers
  • Pieter de Molyn
  • Jan van Goyen
  • Salomon van Ruisdael
  • Jacob van Ruisdael
  • Aert van der Neer
  • Frans Post
  • Aelbert Cuyp
  • Meindert Hobbema
  • Paulus Potter
  • Philips Wouwerman
  • Willem van de Velde the Younger
  • Cornelis Vroom
  • Simon de Vlieger
  • Jan van de Cappelle
  • Michael Sweerts
  • Jan Both
  • Nicolaes Berchem
  • Jan Weenix
  • Karel Dujardin
  • Thomas de Keyser
  • Pieter Saeredam
  • Emanuel de Witte
  • Gerrit Berckheyde
  • Jan van der Heyden
  • Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder
  • Pieter Claesz
  • Willem Heda
  • Jan Davidsz de Heem
  • Willem Kalf
  • Rachel Ruysch
  • Abraham van Beyeren

Flemish Artists

Peter Paul Rubens

By completing the fusion of the realistic tradition of Flemish painting with the imaginative freedom and classical themes of Italian Renaissance painting, Peter Paul Rubens fundamentally revitalized and redirected northern European painting.[2] After the death of his father, Rubens traveled to Venice, where he fell under the spell of the radiant color and majestic forms of Titian. During Rubens's eight years (1600-1608) as court painter to the duke of Mantua, he assimilated the lessons of the other Italian Renaissance masters and made (1603) a journey to Spain that had a profound impact on the development of Spanish baroque art. He also spent a considerable amount of time in Rome, where he painted altarpieces for the churches of Santa Croce di Gerusalemme and the Chiesa Nuova, his first widely acknowledged masterpieces. His reputation established, Rubens returned (1608) to Antwerp following the death of his mother and quickly became the dominant artistic figure in the Spanish Netherlands.

Major works

  • Raising of the Cross
  • Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus
  • Fall of the Damned
  • Garden of Love

All of Rubens's works exhibit the lusty exuberance that somewhat contradict his devout biblical perspective. In most of his works, the figures are nude and there is an act of lust occurring. Frenetic energy and movement best characterize his work, with a swift circular movement that resembles the S-curve of classical sculpture. Glowing color and light that flickers across limbs and draperies resulted in spiraling compositions such as The Descent from the Cross with a characteristically baroque sense of movement and power.

Other Influential Flemish artists

  • Adriaen Brouwer
  • Joost de Momper the Younger
  • Paul Bril
  • Jakob Jordaens

Spanish Artists

Diego Velázquez

Velázquez had a colossal impact on European art. Much of his work focused on landscapes, mythology, and religious painting; however, he spent the majority of his life in portraiture. Being a painter in the Madrid court, many of his portraits are of court nobles. Velasquez was called the "noblest and most commanding man among the artists of his country."[2] He was a master realist, and no painter has surpassed him in the ability to seize essential features and fix them on canvas with a few broad, sure strokes. "His men and women seem to breathe," it has been said; "his horses are full of action and his dogs of life." [2]

Because of Velasquez' great skill in merging color, light, space, rhythm of line, and mass in such a way that all have equal value, he was known as "the painter's painter." [2] Ever since he taught Bartolomé Murillo, Velasquez has directly or indirectly led painters to make original contributions to the development of art. Others who have been noticeably influenced by him are Francisco de Goya, Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet, and James McNeill Whistler.

Major works

  • The Surrender of Breda(an equestrian portrait of Philip IV)
  • The Spinners
  • The Maids of Honor
  • Pope Innocent X
  • Christ at Emmaus

Other Influential Spanish artists

  • Fra Juan Sánchez Cotán
  • Francisco Ribalta
  • Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
  • Alonso Cano

French Baroque

Georges de La Tour

The tide of psychological realism that Caravaggio set in motion eventually reached Georges de La Tour, and he embraced it. His paintings resemble Caravaggio in his hard and polished surfaces and in his strong light-and dark contrasts, but the content is drastically different.[2] La Tour's skillfully renders paintings of Christ and the Virgin Mary, yet never actually tells the reader that they are who they are. While most paintings depicting the birth of Christ have rays of light emanating from the child, La Tour has the midwife carrying a candle. In other words, behind his painting, there is a surreal sense of humanity, and the beginning of a new life that captures the awe of its viewers.

Louis Le Nain

Louis Le Nain painted ordinary people performing ordinary activities in almost majestic fashion. The figures in the painting seem to be revered: "they stand or sit calmly among the poultry and pigs of a farmyard, in groups composed with such dignity that the rough cart is endowed with monumental grandeur." [2] In The Cart the "richly painted colors—muted grays, tans, and browns in the clothing with an occasional touch of red, soft grays and blues in the pearly sky, grays and greens in the landscape—make this little masterpiece a worthy ancestor of Chardin in the eighteenth century and Corot in the nineteenth." [2]

Other Influential French artists

  • Claude Lorrain
  • Nicolas Poussin
  • Valentin de Boulogne
  • Simon Vouet
  • Jacques Blanchard
  • Laurent de La Hyre
  • Lubin Baugin
  • Philippe de Champaigne
  • Nicolas Tournier
  • Gaspard Dughet
  • Eustache Le Sueur
  • Sébastien Bourdon
  • Charles Le Brun
  • Antoine Coysevox
  • Pierre Legros the Younger
  • Pierre Mignard
  • François Girardon
  • Jean Jouvenet
  • Jean-François de Troy
  • André Le Nôtre


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Helen Gardner, Art Through the Ages, Sixth Edition (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. 1975, ISBN 0155037536).
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 Frederick Hartt, Art: A History of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, Third Edition (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall; New York: H.N. Abrams, 1989, ISBN 9780130486387).
  3. Baroque Sculpture in Rome Retrieved March 10, 2021.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Gardner, Helen. Art Through the Ages, Sixth Edition, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. 1975. ISBN 0155037536
  • Hartt, Frederick, Art: A History of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1989. ISBN 0810918846
  • Held, Julius Samuel, and Daniel Posner, 17th and 18th Century Art; Baroque Painting, Sculpture, Architecture. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1971. ISBN 978-0810900325
  • Wittkower, Rudolf. Art and Architecture in Italy 1600-1750. Vol. 1: Early Baroque (Yale University Press Pelican History of Art) Yale University Press, 1999. ISBN 978-0300079395

External Links

All links retrieved September 20, 2023.


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