Foundations of the world as we know it
Like the art it produced, the Baroque era was manifold - spacious and dynamic, brilliant and colorful, theatrical and passionate, sensual and ecstatic, opulent and extravagant, versatile and virtuoso.
Join us for the art tour Baroque 1620-1800: Style in the Age of Magnificence at V&A by Andrew Sprira
Close your day:
Friday, the 16th of March 18:30 - 21:00
Wednesday, the 21st of March 13:00 - 15:30
Saturday, the 24th of March 13:00 - 15:30
1. The meaning and time frame
Baroque - the origin of the word is not clear. It may come from the Portuguese word barroco, meaning an irregularly shaped pearl. Certainly, the term originally was used in a disparaging sense, especially in connection with post- Renaissance architecture, which nineteenth-century critics perceived as decadent Classical: unstructural, overornamented, theatrical, and grotesque. "Baroque" term has been included in the art-historical vocabulary for many years as a blanket designation for the art of the period roughly covering 1600 to 1750 and encompassing the careers of some of the greatest painters sculptors, and architects the Western world has ever produced.
2. The age of expansion following on an age of discovery
It was an age of expansion following on an age of discovery, and its expansion led to still further discovery. The rising national powers colonized the globe. Wars between Renaissance cities were supplanted by wars between continental empires, and the history of Europe was influenced by battles fought in the North American wilderness and in India. The art of the Baroque period reflects this growing nationalism. In France, for example, it centers around the powerful monarchy; in Italy, it is the Catholic art of the popes, in opposition to the art of the Protestant North.
Baroque extended well beyond the earth in the conceptions of the new astronomy and physics proposed by Galileo, Kepler, and Newton. The same laws of mechanics were found to govern a falling apple Humanity's optical range was expanding into seeing marco and microscopic world.
The Baroque is almost obsessively interested in the space of the unfolding universe. Descartes makes extension (space and what occupies it) the sole physical attribute of being; only mind and extension exist, the former proving the real ity of the latter in Descartes's famous phrase Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). Pascal confesses in awe that "the silence of these infinite spaces frightens me." Milton expresses the Baroque image of space in a phrase: "the vast and boundless deep.
3. Matter of motion, space and time
The Baroque scientist comes to see physical nature as matter in motion through space and time; the latter two are thought of as the conditions of the first. The measurement of motion is made possible by the new mathematics of analytical geometry and the infinitesimal calculus, and experiment comes to be accepted as the prime method for getting at the truth of physical nature. Time, like space and motion, is a preoccupation of the creative Baroque mind, in art as well as in science. The age-old sense of time, rich with religious, philosophical, psychological, and poetic import persists alongside the new concept of it as a measurable property of nature.
Time "the subtle thief of youth" that steals away the lives of all of us; that, in the end, reveals the truth, vindicates goodness, and rescues innocence; that demolishes the memory of great empires; and that points to the ultimate judgment of humankind by God-this sense of time pervades the art and literature of the Baroque. The sonnets of Shakespeare dwell on the mutability and brevi ty of life and on time's destruction of beauty ("that time will come/and take my love away"). The great landscapes of van Ruisdael suggest the passage of time in hurrying clouds, restless sea, and ever-changing light. Painters and sculptors, eager to make action explicit and convincing, depict it at the very moment it is taking place as in Bernini's David.
4. Spiritually of light
Fascinating element to the Baroque mind is light. Light, which for thousands of years was thought of and worshiped as the godlike sun or the truth of the Holy Spirit, now becomes a physical entity, propagated in waves through Pascal's infinite spaces, capable of being refracted into color by a prism. But, as with time, the new-found materiality of light by no means diminishes its ancient association with spirituality in the religion, poetry, and art of the Baroque. It still stands for inspiration, truth of dogma, the mystical vision of the transcendental world, the presence of the Divine, the "inner light". And it can have these associations in a commonplace setting or in one of splendor and magnificence. Yet the age of the new science, adapting the old metaphor of light to the dawn of a new day, would be called the "Enlightenment” signifying that the old, dark, mythical way of reading the world has been given up and that the light of knowledge brings a new day.
5. Dramatic dynamism
While naturalism thrived in Baroque art, Classicism was revised and further developed, and the two styles divided the taste of the age with a third: the dynamic, colorful, sensuous style characteristic of Rubens and Bernini. The differences among these three styles were seen as influence or even occasional collaboration. The masters of the Baroque took as their models the great artists of High Renaissance, Antique and nature, the learned in artists of whatever stylistic bent were the Classical literature and antiquities.
Degree of lightness, darkness and intensity in this great era of the stage, tragedy and comedy are reborn. At the same time, the resources of music greatly expand, creating the opera and refining the instruments of the modern orchestra.
Source: Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, tenth edition