The Baroque movement was not the one limited to architecture. The era defines a paradigm shift in arts and culture, coming up after the Renaissance but before Rococo. Spread throughout different parts of Europe, there is evidence of the impact and influence the Baroques had on architecture, painting, dance, sculpture, and music – from St. Peter’s to St. Paul’s. The style challenged the existing notions of simplicity and austerity prevailing throughout the continent in the 17th century.
Like the style itself, the Baroque movement has no clear outline.
Throughout the 17th century, the style spawned some of the greatest art and artists ever-known to humankind – the most iconic, being the Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Bernini was one of the key players of the Baroque. His most notable and most visited work to date remains the St. Peter’s Square. In the piazza, Bernini introduced a large colonnade that encircles the viewers and fully immerses them in the architecture – all 300,000 of them. This number is three times more than the current daily capacity of the Wembley Stadium! This quality of immersive, ingratiating architecture is common to many different structures constructed during the Baroque time. The fact that the style evolved to so many different forms of art is a testament to the fact that Baroque was truly all-encompassing This is in stark contrast to other architecture movements that are often regarded as highbrow or esoteric ventures, ergo, less inviting.
Another quality displayed in all glory by the Baroque is its grandeur. The ambition and drama possessed by the elements of Baroque architecture are truly unique to this style. The grandeur is displayed not just in the size, but also in the levels of detail and intricacy. In the stages of Late Baroque, the style also took on a dark, psychological quality – blurring the lines between art and reality.
The Baroque offers an immense range. Wherever the style traveled (and it traveled quite a bit) it modified itself, adopting local customs and traditional styles, and became something entirely new. One such example we can study is from Trento, a city in the Italian dolomites. Trento is known for its picturesque views and trekking opportunities, in today’s day and age, however it is the same site a great war started many years ago: a war of art. The Baroque can be understood as a rebellion – a fightback by a waspish church that had come out, all guns blazing. During the earliest stages of this rebellion, Lutherans opposed art altogether. They believed art, through symbolism and its representation of the oligarchy was nothing but regrettable vanity that leads to the worship of false idols. This led to waves of iconoclastic uprising across northern Europe – plagued by the destruction of paintings and burning of statues. However, the Catholic Church remained insistent – people liked seeing what they were worshipping, and art was an essential conduit of religion and spirituality, giving it immense power. The council of Trento declared that “Great profit is derived from all sacred images, and an adoration of these images, is an adoration of Christ”. On the contrary, if anyone challenged these notions, they would be cursed, formally by the council, for denouncing their doctrine. Naturally, this exacerbated the existing discontent within society, prompting further rebellion and fightback.
The Baroque rebellion may have started in Trento, but as we all know, the movement truly gained traction in the capital city of Italy – Rome. The Eternal City was waging this war during the turn of the century. The architecture grew more loud and proud, slowly altering the Roman skyline. While architecture and sculpture were going through these massive, largely popular changes, the art form that needed the most drastic attention – painting, chose an alternative approach. Panting began to grab people’s attention through a variety of mediums – the first being the addition of drama, essentially transforming painting to the theatre. The addition of darkness, negativity, and psychology to painting was evident in the work of all Baroque artists. However, the most outstanding example remains that of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, colloquially referred to by just his last name- Caravaggio. (Not to be confused with Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, or Michelangelo, a High Renaissance artist) Caravaggio was a pictorial genius that ensured that the religious messaging of the Counter-Reformation was evident in all his work.
This struggle between Church and State, visionaries and governments, art and the artists went on for many decades to give us what we now know as the Baroque style. As open to interpretation as any other form of art, the work of geniuses like Caravaggio has been misunderstood as much as it has been admired and challenged as much as it has been accepted. To learn more about the progression of Baroque from its rebellious origin to the formal style of art and culture, visit The Birth of Baroque art history documentary by Perspective, an online, free for all YouTube channel providing educational content to all listeners – professionals and laymen alike.