In the article, you will discover origins of the Baroque, learn about the relationship between the Baroque and the Renaissance, the influence on art, and the modern interpretation of the Baroque through interior design.
The Baroque is the name of the movement used by art historians to mark the period of history between 1600 and 1750. One of the basic, original meanings of the Baroque, according to which it means something incorrect, twisted and grotesque, has been completely rejected.
Art historians are still debating whether the Baroque is just an extension of the Renaissance or stands out from it. Throughout history, they have claimed that the Baroque expressed the spirit of the Counter-Reformation, but also the style of absolutism.
Baroque can be divided into three parts, depending on the country we are talking about. These include the Baroque in Italy and Germany; the Baroque in Flanders, Netherlands, and Spain, and the Baroque in France and England.
Baroque in Italy and Germany
Unlike the Renaissance, where we could connect the work of artists with the development of other disciplines, during the 17th century, scientific thought remained too far away from him to be able to identify with it. That is why Janson states that Baroque “is not simply the result of religious, political and intellectual development.”
Around 1600, art was under the auspices of the papacy, which wanted Rome to be the most beautiful city in Christendom. Having that in mind, it became the place where the Baroque firstly appeared. In the beginning, lesser-known artists gathered around the idea of the papacy, and shortly afterward, big names came along and left their mark on the history of art.
One of such artists is Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, also the first great artist of the Baroque in Italy and Germany. In addition to Caravaggio, who was often criticized for making saints in his paintings look like ordinary people, Annibale Caracci is also one of the biggest artists of the Baroque in Italy and Germany. He believed, like Caravaggio, that art must return to nature, but “his approach was less sincere and maintained a balance between studying life and reviving the classics.”
Baroque did not clearly separate painting and sculpture. Both, painting and sculpture, combined with architecture create a complex illusion in the form of a stage. One of the masters who did it perfectly and, at the same time, the last one we will mention here, is Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini.
Baroque in Flanders, the Netherlands, and Spain
The Baroque quickly spread to Europe. One of the artists who was responsible for that is the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. According to Janson, Rubens completed what Dürer had started a hundred years earlier – breaking down the artistic boundaries between the north and the south. His style will be formed thanks to the travel he made to Italy, where he studied ancient sculpture and the style of old masters.
One of the greatest, if not the greatest genius of Dutch art, is Rembrandt. One of Rembrandt’s fascinations was the paintings that dealt with Bible motifs. They reflect “not only his greater realism but also his emotional attitude.”
Some of the painters in the Baroque were, like the great masters of the Renaissance, the subjects of various novelized biographies. Why Rembrandt came out of “prosperity” after 1640 was a topic that has occupied the critics. This, of course, can be a part of the myth that completes the big picture of the artist’s life and, at the same time, casts a shadow on one of the greatest Baroque painters. One of such myths was the fact that the participants of The Night Watch, who paid to be in the picture, were dissatisfied because they did not get an equal place.
Besides Rembrandt, another Dutch painter is Jan Vermeer. Art historians don’t know much about his biography. Many critics think that he was one of the artists who penetrated the most into the secret of light.
During the Baroque in Flanders, Netherlands, and Spain, there was a large group of paintings that we could classify as genre scenes, as well as landscapes and still lifes. Everything was shown, from scenes in canteens to luxurious and poor interiors.
Spain did not produce great artists in the 16th century, although it was distinguished by famous writers and saints. According to sources, the Baroque arrived in Spain in the form of incentives from Caravaggio, although we cannot be sure how exactly it happened. After Dutch painters started painting still lifes, and when that became a certain trend, Spanish painters started too.
One of the greatest Baroque painters in Spain is Diego Velázquez. As an artist, he was fascinated by light. He was interested in the optical possibilities of light; for Velázquez “light creates the visible world.” His paintings often represent symbols or mysteries that need to be solved. One such image is Las Meninas.
Baroque in France and England
Unlike the Baroque in Flanders, Netherlands, and Spain, where we were limited to painting because, according to sources, architecture and sculpture in those countries were not so important for art history, in France the situation was different.
The reasons for this can be found in the political situation. Louis XIV was in power and France became extremely powerful, if not the most powerful nation in the whole of Europe, both on the military and cultural level. According to sources, at the end of the 17th century, Paris replaced Rome in the sense of a metropolis of fine arts. At that time, most works of art celebrated the existence of Louis XIV and were considered a product of absolutism. “For the French, the Baroque was the style of Louis XIV; they often call the literature and art of that period classical. And since the style of Louis XIV is a reflection of Italian baroque, although modified, we must label it as classicist baroque or baroque classicism. ”
Younger painters saw their role models in the early Baroque. In addition, since it was believed that “classicism was influenced by French humanism”, and that it originated from a tradition that was primarily related to the Renaissance, all this together slowed down the spread of the Baroque in France.
The greatest French painter of this century was Nicolas Poussin. It is believed that before Poussin, “no one drew such a close analogy between painting and literature, nor did they apply it so diligently in practice.” Poussin had a theory that a person should get rid of color, and focus all his attention on shape and composition. Poussin was looking for an engaged observer, who would be able to decipher the facial expression in the picture. If we remember Leonardo da Vinci, this is close to his view that “the goal of painting is to describe the intention of the human soul.”
During the life of Louis XIV, art was under close supervision and subordinated to the glorification of rulers. Many artists have paraded, including Bernini, in an attempt to complete the Louvre, which has been under construction for more than a century. However, it was only after the death of Louis XIV that the absolutist influence on artists who were subjected to strict rules and supervision weakened, especially the rules imposed by Lebrun, the king’s painter.
After the death of Louis XIV, the nobles did not return to their estates but tended to build magnificent houses in Paris. However, this type of construction required a style that would be a little more resilient and less rough, and “French designers created Rococo for that need.”
English architecture took after the French model, but it should be noted that it never accepted Rococo. Some of the most important artists during this period were Thomas Gainsborough and William Hogarth.
Baroque and interior design
Having in mind that the style dates back to the time of Louis XIV, everything related to the interior was made to suit large, richly decorated salons. Modern Baroque today does not represent a new style, but interior designers attempt to fit it in the right way, contrasting it with modern styles.
The Baroque is represented by tall, oval rooms, bulky, full of incrusted pieces of furniture, and the frequent presence of ornaments. The dominant colors are sapphire, emerald, and others. Decorations that dominated the architecture, arches, winding lines, and fountains adorned with ornaments, some of them moved into the interior of the houses. Therefore, this style, as it requires large spaces, would be good for hotels or luxury restaurants where only one piece of furniture, such as armchairs, would be enough to bring the spirit of the Baroque to modern places. In addition to the necessary carpets and wallpapers on the walls, the interior in the Baroque style is characterized by rich frames and paintings with dramatic themes.
If we have in mind that Baroque showed prestige and power, it is understandable that it is characterized by rich, numerous decorations, rich upholstery, and expensive mirrors. Altogether, it can create the effect of ornateness, but large interior spaces will contribute to each object getting its place, as well as the necessary light.
Excessive decoration, beyond being on the verge of becoming kitsch, can be an expression of prestige and power, as obesity once was the expression of wealth and power.
Author: Miloš Lazarević
Photo by Sophie Louisnard from Pexels