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The Age of The Baroque: A Brief History

  • Art

The Baroque is an art era that emerged from Rome, Italy, during the early sixteenth century then spread to most of Europe throughout the early eighteenth century. The Baroque style came after the Renaissance, and it focused on exaggerated motion and precise details. The origin of the word “Baroque” is disputed, but the earliest sources of the name show that it is from the Portuguese “barroco” or Spanish “barrueco,” which both mean a large, irregularly shaped pearl. In 1855 the term “Baroque Style” was first coined to describe the art style that was first ridiculed and referred to as caricature. 

St. Peter’s Basilica © Eugene Pivovarov

Rome is often referred to as the birthplace of Baroque. Historians and art critics consider the late work of Michelangelo, who died in 1564, as the early work of the Baroque style. An example of Michelangelo’s early Baroque architecture is St. Peter’s Basilica. The earliest actual Baroque building is the Church of the Gesù, built by Architects Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola and Giacomo Della Porta between 1575 and 1584 in Rome. The Façade of Gesu is not entirely new, but some innovation and details were the beginning of Baroque architecture. 

Church of the Gesù © Alessio Damato

The features and characteristics of Baroque architecture in churches are often seen in broader naves, sometimes oval. Intentionally unfinished architectural components. Dramatic use of light; either intense light and shade contrasts. A dramatic central projection often distinguishes façades. The interior is a shell for painting, Sculpture, and stucco. Illusory correlation effect involving incredibly realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects appear in three dimensions. 

Energy and movement are the main elements of Baroque era sculptures. Naturalism makes Baroque stand out compared to the classical and idealism of the Renaissance styles that depicted humans as perfect and immaculate. Gian Lorenzo Bernini is considered the father of Baroque Sculpture. Born in 1598 in Naples, Italy, son of a sculptor, Bernini became a leading sculpture at a young age. 

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa is a sculptural group in white marble, located in the Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria Della Vittoria, Rome, designed and completed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The Sculpture pictures Teresa of Ávila, and it is considered one of the sculptural masterpieces of the High Roman Baroque, built between 1647-1952 when Bernini was in his early fifties. The Sculpture shows Saint Teresa collapsing after an angel hit her with a spear while floating on the clouds. Natural light illuminates the Sculpture through a hidden window that lightens the golden rays that represent the sunshine.

Ecstasy of Saint Teresa © Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Baroque painting is characterized by great emotion, vibrant, deep color, and intense light and dark shadows. Paintings in this era create the illusion of three-dimensional and strong emotional content. Light is the critical feature in Baroque painting; the use of light and shade was widespread. Baroque painters were obsessed with the background to create a real-life image of the art piece and realism in everything being shown. 

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was a Baroque era painter, born Leiden, Dutch Republic (now the Netherlands). Rembrandt is considered one of the greatest painters in European art and the most important in Dutch history. Rembrandt’s most famous work is The Night Watch. The painting’s long name is Militia Company of District II under Captain Frans Banning Cocq and was completed in 1642. The painting is located at Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The Night Watch famous for three characteristics, the enormous dimensions of 3.8 meter by 4.5 meter, the efficient use of light and shadow, and the perception of motion.

One of the essential features of the Night Watch is that the figures are in an actual human size to give the illusion that they jump off the canvas into real space. The focus of the painting is on Captain Banning Cocq and his lieutenant van Ruytenburch. Historians believe the painting depicts the union between the Dutch Protestants and Dutch Catholics to fight against the Spaniards. The painting was commissioned by Captain Banning Cocq and seventeen members of his Kloveniers (civic militia guards), who all appear in the painting.   

The Baroque era continued to enrich European art and expand creativity during the seventeenth century. Theatre was thriving, and the opera emerged in Italy around the year 1600. The opera was commercialized in Venice, and it became no more extended exclusivity for the aristocrats. Ordinary people in Venice were able to buy tickets to attend the Opera shows. Music was flourishing during the Baroque time. Many musical forms were invented in that era, like the concerto and sinfonia.

The Night Watch

Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer and musician of the Baroque period. His music is revered for its technical command, artistic beauty, and intellectual depth. Bach was known for his modulation style, which was very limited during the Baroque period. Music modulation is the act or process of changing from one key to another. 

Private baroque theatre in Český Krumlov

Baroque art started to fall in the eighteenth century. Many deemed it too melodramatic and gloomy. Rococo art rising from France, and it was even more elaborate than the Baroque, but it was less severe. Artists in the Rococo era focused less on religion and politics and focused more on romance and nature. The Rococo style fell short due to the counter-movement is known as Neoclassicism. 

The following are examples of the finest baroque palaces. 

Ludwigsburg Palace ⓒ Alexander Johmann

Ludwigsburg Palace was built between 1704 and 1733 in Ludwigsburg, Germany. It is considered one of the largest Baroque palaces.

Château de Maisons ⓒ Moonik

Château de Maisons, designed by François Mansart from 1630 to 1651, located Maisons-Laffitte, France. It is a reference point in the history of French architecture.

Castle Howard ⓒ Pwojdacz

Castle Howard is a private residence in North Yorkshire, England. The construction began in 1699 and took over 100 years to complete.


Further reading:
  • Cunningham, Lawrence, et al. Culture and Values: A Survey of the Humanities, 2013
  • Held, Julius, Donald Posner. 17th and 18th Century Art. 1972
  • Friedrich, Carl. The Age of the Baroque. 1952

Fahad Hizam alHarbi

Private Investigator based in Mexico, multilingual and certified. CFI, CPO, CFCS, CAMS.
I specialize in money laundering, corruption, and fraud. I write about crime, literature, travel, and sport.
Contact me through here or on social media for any investigative project in Mexico or Latin America.

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