Baroque Art

A Brief Overview of the Baroque Painting

Baroque is a style in visual arts, music, and architecture that emerged in the 17th Century in Italy, later also composed in Spain as well as other European countries such as the Netherlands. In Baroque art, there is an important emphasis on the real elements of society rather than dealing with the idealized or divine aspects that belong to Greek or Roman mythology which was the subject matter of the previous, Renaissance, period. In this article, the Baroque will be briefly examined by also providing examples.

Baroque art was considerably different from Renaissance art. ''Renaissance art produced during the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries in Europe under the combined influences of an increased awareness of nature, a revival of classical learning, and a more individualistic view of man. Scholars no longer believe that the Renaissance marked an abrupt break with medieval values, as is suggested by the French word renaissance, literally “rebirth.” Rather, historical sources suggest that interest in nature, humanistic learning, and individualism were already present in the late medieval period and became dominant in 15th- and 16th-century Italy concurrently with social and economic changes such as the secularization of daily life, the rise of a rational money-credit economy, and greatly increased social mobility.'' (Augustyn.) Renaissance art dealt with calm nobility, distance as well as serenity, and the idealized aspects, mostly mythical, figures from the Ancient Greek and Roman mythologies.

From the Italian painter Sandro Botticelli 1482 - 86

Contrary to Renaissance Art, Baroque composed scenes from everyday life by using theatrical effects thanks to the advanced usage of light and shadow effects in order to provide more dramatic tension in the work of art. Also, Baroque sculptures had more emotional intensity and were, diagonal as well as dynamic while Renaissance sculptures were stationary, stable, and horizontal.

The Matchmaker by Gerard van Honthorst


The chiaroscuro is a technique that is widely used in Baroque art. ''The word Chiaroscuro itself is Italian, and roughly means, “light and dark.” Chiaroscuro art was first used to describe a type of drawing on medium-dark paper where the artist created darker areas with ink and lighter areas with white paint. It refers to the use of highlights and shadows in a composition to create the illusion of light from a specific source shining on the figures and objects depicted. Sometimes, vigilant use of tonal contrasts is leveraged to suggest the volume and modeling of the subjects depicted. The first use of chiaroscuro-style three-dimensional shading (known as “skiagraphs” or “shadow-painting” in Ancient Greece) is traditionally ascribed to Apollodoros, the noted painter of 5th century Athens. Enduring in a somewhat primitive form during the era of Byzantine art (c.400-1400), the technique was refined in the West during the late Middle Ages and by 1400 was a standard feature in both gospel illuminations and paintings. Chiaroscuro was heavily used by the painters of the Renaissance period to make their paintings look truly three-dimensional and also a “reflection” of the real world. They realized that the contrast between areas of light and dark can heighten the impact of an image. As the Renaissance gave way to the Baroque, a style that emphasized drama and emotional intensity, some artists developed an exaggerated form of chiaroscuro known as tenebrism, from the Italian word tenebroso, meaning gloomy or murky.'' (Yellow Sparrow)

The historical events also contributed to the emergence of the Baroque style considerably. During the Renaissance period, there were disputes between religion and science. Astronomical advances were highly contributed by thinkers such as Newton and Galileo. On the contrary, followers of Martin Luther challenged the authority of the Catholic doctrine since it was seen as corrupted. As a result, the Reformation happened in Germany, England, and France. Catholic churches began to renew themselves. However, the Baroque style benefited from the celebration of Roman Catholicism since it was harshly attacked.

‘’By the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church after the Council of Trent (1545–63) adopted a propagandistic stance in which art was to serve as a means of extending and stimulating the public’s faith in the church. To this end, the church adopted a conscious artistic program whose art products would make an overtly emotional and sensory appeal to the faithful. The Baroque style that evolved from this program was paradoxically both sensuous and spiritual’’(Britannica). 

As a result, Caravaggio, the Italian painter, in his work Judith Holofernes composed a story from the Bible, about how the widow, Judith, seduced the barbaric Assyrian general Holofernes by using her charm to murder him to save Israel from strict oppression. The painting is a celebration of the former values of Catholicism. Thus, it is considered revolutionary. It is also clear to see how Caravaggio applies light and shadow effects to create an emotional as well as a dramatic effect by manipulating light and color that gives the sense of a direct relationship with the subjects and objects of the painting. Later, light and shadow techniques also influenced Romantic, Neo-Classic as well and Impressionist art movements.

Caravaggio′s Judith and Holofernes, 1598 - 1599 Plazzo Barberini Rome, ITALY