17th-18th Century: Baroque (1600-1710)

This style broke away from the well defined conventions of classicism. The emotional appeal of subject matter was expressed through dramatic, grandiose, exuberant, opulent work. Painting became more ornate, theatrical and full of motifs. The architecture often employed tricks of perspective and other optical illusions to produce a symbolic and transcendental style . The word baroque was originally a pejorative term signifying a false, decadent, and over emphatic style. Until the Reformation, the Church had been a great patron to the artists, but, as any glance at the paintings of bare church interiors shows, this particular source dried up with the rise of Protestantism, and its attendant iconoclasm. Nor did the state fill the gap in official patronage. These conclusions apply mainly to the countries which embraced Protestantism, i.e. mainly the North Europe. That was also the time when the Catholic Church was trying to restore its power and image after the debacles of Reformation. Naturally beautifying its churches and introducing new paintings was among other measures a means of increasing the popularity of the church. Baroque came into being as religious architecture, and expressed the emotional aspirations of the Catholic Church. Luckily enough this period presented an extremely broad list of great names. Although the philosophical achievements of this period are widely superior to anything taking place during the Christianity, there is hardly any direct influence of philosophical thought upon the contemporary art. Descartes has tried to unify all science through geometry. He showed that the method for the proper guidance of reason is systematic doubt of everything until one arrives at clear and simple ideas that are beyond doubt. The heretical views of Spinosa were known just to a handful people, and his ideas became widely known about 150 years later. His iconoclastic views rejected the literally content of the Bible, and suggested an allegorical explanation. His view of God was of impersonal and a creative force of universe. Spinoza has shown that mind, matter, time, everything that appears is only a manifestation of the one. Man should try to adjust to the infinite plan, surrendering passion and accepting order, seeing events under the aspect of eternity. The ideas of Copernicus showed that the earth was not a centre of universe. Johannes Kepler proved that the planets moved not in circles as was postulated by the Greek philosophers, because they considered a circle to have a perfect form, but in ellipses. Kepler has formulated the laws of planetary motion establishing the Copernican system. The 1500 long Ptolemein cosmically views which reigned during the Medieval times were finally discarded. These ideas have been supported by Galileo Galilei, who by his astronomical studies using a telescope devised by himself could show craters on the Moon and discovered four innermost moons of Jupiter. (Surprisingly, the Copernican model was not fully accepted by the Church until the early nineteen century).The laws of Kepler paved the way for the modern view of astronomy and gave basis for the achievements of Newton. In1687 Sir Isaac Newton, one of the greatest natural philosophers of all time, published his Philosophiae Naturalis Principa Mathematica the most important single work ever published in the physical sciences. He has not only put forward a theory of how bodies move in space and time which was supported mathematically, but has shown that gravity causes moon to move in elliptical orbit around the earth and causes earth and the planets to follow elliptical paths around the sun. Newton has also developed independently from Leibniz the differential and integral calculus and propounded corpuscular theory of light. Natural sciences has celebrated its greatest achievements. The spherical form of earth shown by Magellan already in year 1521 disproved the views advocated by the Catholic Church. The religious beliefs still held sway upon Europe however the ideological base of the Church holding the Ptolemaic views was already deadly hurt. Among other cultural achievements of great significance one has to mention the immortal Baroque music of J.S.Bach, Vivaldi, Albinioni. Short descriptions of the most renown artists of this period are given below. Caravaggio (1573-1610) was initiating the most radical artistic revolution since the Renaissance. Everything in his paintings is captured without value judgement. The good and the bad appear like faces on the on the same medal. Among them who studied him was Velasquez (1599-1660) , an excellent and highly talented portraitist, who was made responsible for the acquisition of works of art on behalf of the Spanish crown. He was the favourite painter of Philip IV. At this time Amsterdam was the centre of the art market, not just for Holland, but for the whole Northern Europe, and in the mid-seventeenth century there are said to have been more than 300 painters working in the city. Netherlandish patrons in the early seventeenth century tended to favour anecdotal genre scenes, portraits, landscapes and still lives, rather than religious or history paintings. Large canvas of the type produced by Rubens in Flounders, depicting scenes from mythology or history, would have looked out of place in a Dutch burger's modest home. The Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was working in Rome. For Duke Vincenzo I Gonzaga he acquired Caravaggio's " Death of the virgin" , which has been rejected by its commissioners because of the scandal surrounding the artist's choice of model: a young drowned girl. Rubens was an experimental artist of great culture and refinement, who endowed his works with a feeling of richness and sensuality that make him one of the greatest baroque artists. Rembrandt (1606-1669) is the greatest Dutch artist of the century. His mastery brought him fame at an early age. His style seems able to reconcile Caravaggio with certain aspects of baroque. Rembrandt's creations are of an extraordinary spiritual depth, almost like private stories. He has executed over 160 oil paintings on religious themes, because he was drawn to these subjects for their intrinsic interest, not for hope of financial gain. Vermeer (1632-1675) Almost an exact contemporary of Spinosa makes an epic of family life. Most of his works stand slightly apart from the bulk of Dutch genre paintings, conceiving a sense of serenity which is unparalleled in the pictures produced by his contemporaries. His women are no longer heavy bundles of flesh. At his best his main motive is one woman alone, quietly reading a letter, or intent on her sewing. Now his name stands after those of Rembrandt and Frans Hals in Dutch painting. Some words about portrait painting, and especially of royalties. The royal portrait was developed in accordance with the notion of "Divine Right". The monarch had to look every inch the embodiment of God-given dominion. As a typical example the portrait of Philip IV by Velasquez, Charles I by Van Dyck, and Luis XIV by Rigaud may be regarded. This is the golden age of European drama. Shakespeare created the finest plays and the richest poetic and dramatic language in English literature. Moliere the greatest writer in comedies in the French language.

See also:
» Rococo 1720-1780
» Neo-classicism

Arts and Sciences: Baroque period
Painting: Bernini, Caravaggio, Poussin, Rembrandt, Rubens, Velasquez, Frans Hals, Vermeer, Van Dyck, Rinaldi
Sculpture: Bernini
Philosophy and natural sciences: Renee Descartes, Thomas Hobbs, Baruch Spinosa, Gotfried Leibniz, Kepler, Isaac Newton
Music: Bach, Albinioni, Purcell, Scarlatti
Theater: J.Moliere, W.Shakespeare, J.Racine

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