The Baroque movement occurred between the late 1500s and the late 1700s. This 200 year time span allowed for the Baroque period to cover many styles and many different types of artists. The origin of the name itself is a mystery. The word Baroque in no way seems to describe the art movement.
Baroque art itself took three different forms over these years. Although the style made its debut in Italy, it soon reached into France, Germany, Netherlands, and Spain and virtually every country in Europe had at least a taste of it, although the popularity of Baroque did not catch on in England or Holland.
The feel of the art was directly related to the country in which it was produced. While Spain and Latin America tended toward extravagance in their style, other countries remained much more conservative.
Probably the most influence during the Baroque period came from the church. The Baroque movement generally depicted the Saints, the Virgin Mary, and other Biblical stories. This is a direct result of the Council of Trent (1545-1563), through which the church demanded that the artists gear their art toward the illiterate common people instead of the well-schooled and well-informed.
The division between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism was such that the Catholic Church desperately wanted to reach as much of the public as possible and, through a visual and emotional display of the church through art, the wanted to influence as many people as possible to remain faithful to the Catholic Church. That these paintings were very bold and complex was no surprise when they were presented in the Protestant countries that truly preferred simplicity rather than extravagance. The key artists in this area of Baroque were Gianlorenzo Bernini and Peter Paul Rubens.
Baroque art also introduced a new and stunning technique through which artists would create a dramatic and selective illumination of a figure out of the dark depths of the shadows. This was a bold technique and it was revolutionary and had the effect and goal of sharp contrast between images, which allowed some images to stand out while others tended to fade into the background. The hint of infinite space was present in many Baroque paintings as artists wished to capture a greater sense of space through their work.
Through these paintings the common working-class folk were portrayed in stark contrast to the religious focus of the time. The goal was to capture the inner passions of the soul on the faces of those they were painting in order to connect with the inner world of the mind. Cloth and textures were very realistic and set a high standard for the artwork. The key contributors to this form of Baroque were Rembrandt van Rijn, Jan Vermeer, and Michelangelo Merisi-Caravaggio.
The Baroque style coincided with what is now known as the age of enlightenment. During this time scientific and astrological knowledge was rapidly being expanded upon and there were countless texts on the subject. This allowed artists to portray their work with incredible astronomical accuracy. The realization that the earth was not the center of the universe inspired landscape paintings devoid of human life. In addition, with colonial America becoming a major influence in the world and both they and Europe were enjoying economic growth and freedom. Thus, the art portrayed this growth.
Of particular interest was the concept of the absolute monarchy and an “absolutism style” was born from this influence. The monarchy itself thoroughly enjoyed the Baroque style and thus they used it frequently, not just in paintings, but also in sculpture, architecture, and décor. With the increase in trade around the world, paintings often portrayed landscapes and people that were unfamiliar and exotic in Europe. This made for exciting and well sought after paintings for the sheer uniqueness of the subject matter.
Baroque art thrived on emotion and a great variety in themes. A sense of movement, energy, and tension are an integral part of the whole and the contrast between light and shadow help dramaticize these effects. It was a time of grandeur, of the large scale. It was also a time of returning to pictorial clarity. Despite the dominance the church had over the art of the time, many artists still returned to nature as inspiration and the nature scene with its landscapes and noble subjects was quite dominant during this period.
This Baroque style was full of drama and a richness that set it apart. The movement and emotion was borrowed from the Mannerist Movement and the grandeur and solidity were taken from the Renaissance. These elements formed this new and exciting style of art that had approximately 200 years of success and exposure. Baroque art led the way into the Rococo Style of art, which retained many of the characteristics of the Baroque style.