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Baroque art and architecture Essay

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The two ages of the Baroque and Rococo had many achievements from art and architecture to music and literature. These two glorious periods had a great deal of the same attributes, but still had their own distinct differences in which made each historical period unique in its own light. The beginning of the Baroque Art period originated during the same time as the Catholic Reformation in Rome, Italy, and throughout the majority of Europe. During the late 1500’s, the Protestant Reformation started to attack the Catholic Church on doctrine.

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Because of these assaults, the Catholic Pope began a movement inside the congregation to reaffirm and spread Catholic beliefs. During this time, a lot of people was illiterate and uneducated, but the church needed to devise an approach to spread the gospel, so ordinary people could receive the message, understand it, and be inspired. It was chosen that the message would be spread through the form art. They wanted to attract audiences with the use of religious art, having a much more significant impact on viewers. With Baroque Art and Rococo Art having its own distinct qualities, it has been in much controversy about the timespan of the Rococo era and the Late Baroque period being of one in the same. While structural design began to appear in the Baroque Art era, from the examination of various artist and their works, it can be observed and compared that stylistic elements during different ages transform over time, leading into the Rococo era where structural design began to die out.

The Period of Baroque

The Baroque art era was a time that showcased its exclusiveness in sculpture, painting, architecture, writing, dance, theater, and music with its own imaginative style that utilized misrepresented movement and clearly understood details to create drama, contrast, and beauty. The era is commonly divided into tree period known as the Early Baroque, High Baroque, and Late Baroque. The history of the Baroque period can be traced all the way back to the seventeenth-century and part of the early eighteenth-century. The term Baroque is often referred to the elaborate European style of art, music, literature, and architecture from the years c. 1600 to c. 1725 or even later. Efforts have been made to locate where the actual word ‘Baroque’ had originated from, though historians have not been very successful pointing its origin based on current historical knowledge. What is known, the word Baroque, on most accounts, started in papal Rome, deriving from the term “Barrockgeschmack” or ‘baroque taste’, meaning “pearls and teeth of unequal size”.

The characteristics of the Baroque style can be seen from the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Baroque art communicates ideas through an emotional and sensual approach, rather than an approach through reasoning. The key elements of this style are dramatic, though in the same breath they are realistic. Art appears highly illusionistic, as if the viewer is a live witness to the actual events enacted within a canvas or sculpture. The presence of diagonals, verticals, and horizontals visible within paintings are also a key component within Baroque art. It provides paintings and sculptures stability and structure within the viewers’ imagination by invading the audiences space through a sense of emotion, rather than through a sense of reasoning. Displaying its dynamic elements of unification and unanimity, Baroque artwork often connects the outside world of the viewer with the art, acting as an open door for the two dimensions to existing at the same time in space. Movement is also a major characteristic of the Baroque, adding to the component of realism by giving life to people or objects within a painting. Conjoining movement of the spirt with the brushwork of the artist to create a visual existence in which they envision. This era was a time of major accomplishment for the many painters, sculptors, and architects such as Caravaggio, Rubens, Bernini, Borromini, and other artist who gave this period notoriety, along with importance. Shifting away from the old ideas of mannerism into truth and realism of new innovative thought.

Baroque Painter: Caravaggio

One of many of the most important figures from the Baroque generation was an Italian painter, Michelangelo Merisi, famously known as Caravaggio. The name ‘Caravaggio’ was taken on from the name of a small town where his family resided, near Milan. He was apprenticed for four years to the artist, Simone Peterzano, who had previously studied with another artist Titian. Between the years 1589 to 1590, Caravaggio returned home due to the event of his mother’s death. Soon after, he received an inheritance that allowed him to support himself for a few years while still traveling. While the money did last very long, it was not until 1598 when he received his first public commission. At the time, he was making a living by helping in workshops and selling the painting to local dealers. Ultimately, Caravaggio’s work began to spread, capturing the attention of Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte. Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte was an admirer of his work, offering Caravaggio a living quarter in his palace, in exchange for a custom selection from the paintings Caravaggio made. While in Rome, he was not apprenticed to anyone, but he did visit and observe some studios such as the one of artist Cesari. Caravaggio metamorphosed into the most impressive religious painter of his time, after his early vocation as a painter of producing genre scenes, still-lifes, and portraits.

Caravaggio’s style and painting techniques were very much unconventional compared to his peers during this period, unveiling his rebellious character in which he possessed. The most revolutionary but highly reprehended decision he made was his judgment to skip the process of creating preparatory sketches before working on a canvas. What he would do is “merely scratch a few guidelines around the principal contours of the motif into the damp priming paint and, when it had dried, start working all prima (directly onto the canvas).” Unlike the Carracci and many another Italian artist of the seventeenth-century whose drawing survived, he had none to show for. Though his coequals disagreed with his techniques, he managed to make that system work in his favor. Caravaggio was a believer of always working from live models. This was “a process that required no discrimination, only the ability to reproduce in paint what the eye sees.” Characteristics of the Baroque style are displayed within Caravaggio’s painting Entombment of Christ (Figure 1.). This great painting completed by Caravaggio depicts Christ’s body being lowered into a tomb. The tomb is covered by the darkness of the shadows below, underneath the stone surface the six figures are standing upon. St. John the Evangelist is the figure on the left that is aiding in supporting up Christ’s upper body. Where St. John’s hand is grasping Christ’s rib cage, it points the viewers’ attention to the stab wound on his side. The figure on the right is Nicodemus. He is holding up Christ by the knees, wrapping his arms all the way around them while staring out of the picture plane. There are three women standing behind St. John and Nicodemus in a fan-like shape. The one on the left is Mary which is depicted as an older nun who is extending her arm out horizontally.

The one in the center is Magdalene, appearing to be drying her face with a white handkerchief. They both look downward at Christ and observes the expression on his face. The figure on the right is Clopas who is the sister of the Virgin Mary, looking up at the sky with her hands up and outward toward the heavens. This type of work was a new, more life-like, naturalist style of figurative composition. Caravaggio’s figures have a powerful boldness and physical presence, having a raw and uncensored approach. This painting has key stylistic elements that are apparent in the Baroque style. There is a use of dramatic style in the lighting with dark and high-contrast. The composition is made up of a tightly compacted figurative group, including the dead Christ. Caravaggio captures the momentary scene during the action. Depicting the moment just before Christ is being lowered down into the tomb. The painting also has a sense of movement. The painting is formed around a diagonal pattern. Having a fan-shaped pattern from all the figures in the composition adds tension and movement to them to the images, which is yet a captured snapshot in time. The stone slab in which all the figures are standing upon projects outwards into the views space. Though, it adds structure to the overall composition form the sharp vertical corner and diagonal horizontal edges, giving the painting stability for the figures. The stone slab starts as the foundation for the painting being at the bottom. Caravaggio decided to expose the vertical legs of Nicodemus standing on the platform, adding a greater amount of stability and structure to the painting. Christ’s hand is hanging down vertically, drawing the onlookers eye movement from the bottom to middle. In the middle can be seen Christ’s body horizontal, adding attention to the two figures holding him up. Looking at the top of Christ, the hand coming out from underneath moves the viewer’s eyes upward to St. John. Viewing St. John’s head looking down at the dead Christ, there is a hand to the left of his head. Following the hand back to its origin moves the focus back to the Virgin Mary where here head is side-by-side with Magdalene. Christ’s knees being bent at a 90-degree angle moves the focus upward from Nicodemus back into space where Magdalene is located with her head being side-by-side Mary. Lastly, looking at Mary and Magdalene there is a hand above both their heads. The hand is very prominent against the black shadows of the background. Following the hand back to its origin, it moves the focus back to Clopas.

The Period of Rococo

The Rococo art era is often connected with the end of the Baroque age, commonly known as the Late Baroque period. The history of the Rococo period dates as far back to the late 17th century and half of the 18th century. Unlike the exaggerated style of the Baroque with dark, rich, and vibrant details, the Rococo was a time that showcased its light-hearted style, through the customs of art including painting, sculpture, interior design, and decoration. During the mid to late-1700s, many artists steadily began to shift away from the Baroque design, transposing into the Rococo design. The term is often referred to the ostentatious European style in art, architecture, interior design and decoration, particularly in France, Austria, and Germany from the years c. 1730 to c. 1780. Efforts in discovering where the term Rococo had originated from has been made, though pinpointing its origin is not so accurate based on historical evidence. Though, it is acknowledged that the word ‘Rococo’ was originally used as a slanderous label before its popularity. On most accounts, its stated that the word had originated in France, most likely deriving from the term ‘rocaille’ which is French for ‘rock or tiny beads’. “Rocaille, which had originally referred to the shell-work employed in garden grottoes, began from 1736 to be used to designate a specific mode of decoration.” It is noted that “the word Rococo was apparently a combination of ‘rocaille’ and ‘barocco’ (Baroque),” thus forming the term ‘Rococo’.

The characteristics of the Rococo style can be seen from the late 17th and half of the 18th century. Rococo art shared a love for “complexity of form” with Baroque art, however it was unique through its medium of theme. The key elements of this style are consummated from a naturalistic and organic standpoint. Many of the paintings during the Rococo period are scenes that depict love, juvenescence, romantic encounters and nature, conveying a tone that is more intimate, light, graceful and playful than that of the Baroque period. Art of the Rococo is often typecast by its pastel color palette of light pinks, blues, and greens; different from the darker colors and deep contrast found in the Baroque. Though movement is still a considerable characteristic of the period, it is less emphasized on the aspect of structure and stability, but rather focuses on elaborate ornamentation and the value of asymmetry. As a substitute for vertical and horizontal lines, the Rococo used serpentine lines that were more curved than straight. The Rococo was a time of great change for the many painters, interior designers, and architects who contributed, such as Antoine Watteau, Fragonard, Mansart, Neumann and other artists who gave this period significance.

Rococo Painter: Jean-Antoine Watteau

One of the most prominent artists of the Rococo period was the French painter Jean-Antoine Watteau. Watteau was born in Valenciennes on October 10th, 1684. Creating the genre fête Galante, Watteau became one of the most remarkable painters of the 18th century. After receiving little training in his hometown, around 1702 he left and went to Paris. He working as a copyist in a picture factory for some time before entering the workshop of Claude Gilot, who stimulated his interest in scenes from the contemporary boulevard theatres. Around 1708, Watteau and Gilot went separate ways and he began working for the decorator Claude Audran III, enabling him to gain access to a few of Rubens’s paintings. Like many others during this era, he was inspired by the technique and rich visuals of Rubens works and began to create his very own. After leaving Paris for some time, then returning, Watteau was introduced to the collector Pierre Crozat. From this relationship, Watteau was able to study royal art first hand from his collections. It was by 1717 that “he had achieved the most ambitious and characteristic statement of the theme of love that preoccupied him. This evocation of the stages of love from starry-eyed enchantment to the social duty of procreation he submitted to the Académie Royale in that year as his diploma piece. Impressed by its originality, but unable to fit it into any existing category in the hierarchy of genres, the academicians admitted Watteau to their ranks as ‘peintre de fêtes galantes’, a category invented especially for him.”

Watteau’s style and painting techniques were unlike any of those who came before him. Key characteristics of the Rococo style are displayed within Watteau’s painting Pilgrimage to Cythera (Figure 2.)

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