Baroque Painting: Chiaroscuro vs. Movement

Baroque Painting: Chiaroscuro vs. Movement
Isabel del Rio
Baroque Painting. The calling of Saint Matthew, by Caravaggio

Baroque Painting. The calling of Saint Matthew, by Caravaggio

Baroque Painting. Wonderful!

Baroque years, complicate theatrical period, full of contrasts and exaggerations.

The Baroque period covers the 17th century and much of the 18th, a period characterized by Absolutism, the Counter Reformation and Catholic Revival, in spite of the existence of important Baroque art in non-absolutist and Protestant states as Holland.

They were the children of the Mannerist art, after Michelangelo Buonarroti. Mannerist artist had already started to use chiaroscuro (for example, see ‘the portrait of Philip II of Spain’ by the Mannerist artist Sofonisba Anguissola) and to twist theatrical the figures (‘Madonna with the long Neck, by Parmigianino). Now, Baroque artists will be also much more realist in order to impress more and more viewers.

It will be in Rome and under the patronage of Pope, when Caravaggio (1571-1610) will start religious paintings (‘the Crucifixion of Saint Peter’, ‘Calling of Saint Matthew’, or ‘David with the Head of Holofernes’) with a sharp chiaroscuro, which accentuated the dramatic scenes full of pain and blood by its black contrasts beside a single exaggerated point of light. Caravaggio is not looking for beautiful faces and young skins, his figures are mostly tortured old people, and he is a master in reflecting the skin folds and wrinkles: fantastic realistic technique called ‘naturalism’.

In fact, the apparent powerful Catholic Pope was in crisis, threatened by Spanish and French monarchies (they wanted to control Italy) and by Protestant states. Then, he promoted and art that encourage piety and repentance and to look for

Baroque painting. Farnese palace in Rome

Baroque painting. Farnese palace in Rome

God seeing this life only as a way to rise the immortal one: he promoted an exaggerated religious art as well as luxurious (Bernini was building Saint Peter square in the Vatican) to impress with a power that was in true decadency. Caravaggio will be the main Italian artist and his influence spread across Europe. His paintings and the paintings of his followers (Orazio Gentileschi, Artemisia Gentileschi, Battistello Caracciolo, Carlo Sellitto…) entered in Spain by the commercial harbor of Seville where Diego Velazquez (1599-1660) was born: Golden Age of Spanish painting had begun (Francisco de Zurbaran; Bartolome Esteban Murillo; Jusepe de Ribera; Juan Carreño…).

However, at the same time, frescoes developed in the vaults and walls of the palaces, full of fantastic celebrations of the nobility, in decadency too and struggling against the new absolute monarchies to maintain its old power. Who had more prestige? The earl or the king who had a bigger palace with more frescoes. Logically, black color is not suitable for the walls of a ballroom and the Carracci family started another tendency, blending elements from the Renaissance and Lombard realism, and emphasizing the movement of the figures and the complicate compositions, they abandoned the chiaroscuro ( for example, frescoes with ‘The Loves of the Gods’ at the Farnese Gallery).

Then, following the chiaroscuro tendency or the Carracci’s classic ideas, Baroque was a fantastic moment for painting. The Flemish painters Rubens or Van Dyck; the Holland master Rembrandt; the French artists Poussin, Le Nain or La Tour, the peculiar Vermeer in Delft… All of them will get the highest peaks of realism and perspective, also atmospheric: In 1656, Diego Velazquez finished ‘Las Meninas’… Nothing more to say.

Baroque painting. Las Meninas by Velazquez

Baroque painting. Las Meninas by Velazquez

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Video: Baroque Great Painters



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