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Baroque art and architecture

the visual arts and building and construction produced during the era in the history of Western that roughly coincides with the 17th century. The earliest manifestations, which occurred in Italy, date from the latter decades of the 16th century, while in some regions, notably Germany and colonial South America, certain culminating achievements of Baroque did not occur until the 18th century. The work that distinguishes the Baroque period is stylistically complex, even contradictory. In general, however, the desire to evoke emotional states by appealing to the senses, often in dramatic ways, underlies its manifestations. Some of the qualities most frequently associated with the Baroque are grandeur, sensuous richness, drama, vitality, , tension, emotional exuberance, and a tendency to blur distinctions between the various arts.

The origin of the term

The term Baroque probably ultimately derived from the Italian word barocco, which philosophers used during the to describe an obstacle in schematic . Subsequently the word came to denote any contorted idea or involuted process of thought. Another possible source is the Portuguese word barroco (Spanish barrueco), used to describe an irregular or imperfectly shaped , and this usage still survives in the jeweler’s term .

In the word Baroque came to be used to describe anything irregular, bizarre, or otherwise departing from established rules and proportions. This biased view of 17th-century art styles was held with few modifications by critics from to and , and until the late 19th century the term always carried the implication of odd, , exaggerated, and overdecorated. It was only with ’s pioneer study Renaissance und Barock (1888) that the term Baroque was used as a stylistic designation rather than as a term of thinly veiled abuse, and a systematic formulation of the characteristics of Baroque was achieved.

Three main tendencies of the era

Three broader cultural and intellectual tendencies had a profound impact on Baroque art as well as . The first of these was the emergence of the and the expansion of its domain, both territorially and intellectually. By the last decades of the 16th century the refined, courtly style known as had ceased to be an effective means of expression, and its inadequacy for was being increasingly felt in artistic circles. To counter the inroads made by the , the Church after the (1545–63) adopted a 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; while a naturalistic treatment rendered the religious image more accessible to the average churchgoer, dramatic and illusory effects were used to stimulate piety and devotion and convey an impression of the splendour of the divine. Baroque church ceilings thus dissolved in painted scenes that presented vivid views of the infinite to the observer and directed the senses toward heavenly concerns.

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The second tendency was the consolidation of , accompanied by a simultaneous crystallization of a prominent and powerful middle class, which now came to play a role in art . Baroque palaces were built on an expanded and monumental in order to display the power and grandeur of the centralized state, a phenomenon best displayed in the royal palace and gardens at . Yet at the same time the development of a picture market for the middle class and its taste for may be seen in the works of the brothers and in France and in the varied schools of 17th-century Dutch . (For a detailed discussion of this phenomenon, see .)

The third tendency was a new interest in nature and a general broadening of human intellectual horizons, spurred by developments in science and by of the globe. These simultaneously produced a new sense both of human insignificance (particularly abetted by the displacement of the from the centre of the universe) and of the unsuspected complexity and infinitude of the natural world. The development of 17th-century painting, in which humans are frequently portrayed as minute figures in a vast natural setting, is indicative of this changing awareness of the human condition.

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Baroque Art and Architecture: Fact or Fiction?

Baroque Art and Architecture: Fact or Fiction?

The arts present an unusual diversity in the Baroque period, chiefly because currents of and coexisted and intermingled with the typical Baroque style. Indeed, and , the two Italian painters who decisively broke with in the 1590s and thus helped usher in the Baroque style, painted, respectively, in classicist and realist modes. A specifically Baroque style of arose in in the 1620s and culminated in the monumental painted ceilings and other church decorations of , , , , and countless lesser artists. The greatest of the Baroque sculptor-architects was , who designed both the with spiral columns above the altar of in Rome and the vast fronting that church. Baroque as developed by Bernini, , , and emphasized massiveness and monumentality, movement, dramatic spatial and lighting sequences, and a rich interior decoration using contrasting surface textures, vivid colours, and luxurious materials to heighten the structure’s physical immediacy and evoke sensual delight.

Pronounced classicizing tendencies subdued the Baroque impulse in France, as is evident in the serious, logical, orderly paintings of and the somewhat more sumptuous works of and the portraitists and . French is even less recognizably Baroque in its pronounced qualities of subtlety, elegance, and restraint. Baroque tenets were enthusiastically adopted in staunchly Roman Catholic Spain, however, particularly in architecture. The greatest of the Spanish builders, , shows most fully the Spanish interest in surface textures and lush detail. He attracted many followers, and their adaptations of his style, labeled , spread throughout Spain’s colonies in the Americas and elsewhere. (For a detailed discussion of the Baroque in Latin America, see .) and other 17th-century Spanish painters used a sombre but powerful naturalistic approach that bore little direct relation to the mainstream of Baroque .

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The Baroque made only limited inroads into northern Europe, notably in what is now Belgium. That Spanish-ruled, largely Roman Catholic region’s greatest master was the painter , whose tempestuous diagonal compositions and ample, full-blooded figures are the epitome of Baroque painting. The elegant portraits of and the robust figurative works of emulated Rubens’s example. Art in the Netherlands was conditioned by the realist tastes of its dominant middle-class patrons, and thus both the innumerable and landscape painters of that country and such towering masters as and remained independent of the Baroque style in important respects. The Baroque did have a notable impact in England, however, particularly in the churches and palaces designed, respectively, by and .

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