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An Exploration Of Baroque Art, Architecture & Sculpture

Updated: 6 days ago

Baroque Art by Caravaggio
Judith Beheading Holoferns by Caravaggio | Source: Caravaggio, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Whenever the world desires to see itself with the eye of masterpieces and renowned philosophies, there comes a single word announcing its arrival every time, Renaissance. Whether you talk of integrity, humanism, values of spiritual beauty, systematic technology, marvelous architecture and sensible melodies through expressions, or perfect complementing colours, you will always find Renaissance as the base of these values. Imagine waking up in one castle in Milan and seeing da Vinci in his exquisite selected colour silk dresses or Michelangelo's never-ending desire to take an off from his work. Fascinating? Obviously, yes, but we weren't here to talk about my favorite interval, but rather the one that came after it, The Baroque Period! You might raise a question here; Mahima, if the Renaissance was so wonderful, why it came to an end, and why did the Baroque art emerge? So, Mate, this is what the article is about. You will know the complete chronology of the baroque style, following its characteristics, key figures, architecture, art and sculpture. But, before we begin discussing the Baroque period, I have a few lines to say about its pre-eminence so that you know why you are reading this article. It is because of the fact that this single period brought diversity and unity in style and subject. You can witness a gradual theatrical contrast through paintings from Bernini's St. Teresa to Rubens' Maria de Medicini and get impressed in the hallway by Caravaggio's naturalist style and Rembrandt's extraordinary paintings. There is much more and beyond, but to understand accurately, you must hold my company here. So without wasting any more minutes, let us start moving with the flow of our article. On an important note, it may be a long read, so stretch your back, grab your Americano quickly and enjoy this binge-read.

Baroque Art of The Landing of the Queen in Marseilles by Peter Paul Rubens
The Landing of the Queen in Marseilles by Peter Paul Rubens | Source: Louvre Museum, Department of Paintings

Baroque sculpture of Ecstacy of Saint Teresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Ecstacy of Saint Teresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini | Source: Gian Lorenzo Bernini, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Origin Of The Word Baroque.

Before I tell you in detail what the term literally means and how it emerges, let me tell you a few things. While you read about the European civilization through history, you notice one thing, after each new valley, there comes something fresh, even in terms of art, music, culture, and architecture. Nothing ever gets lost, however, it may seem to look like it did. Now, the thing is that almost every trend or style is either an advanced preceding influence or totally fresh. Something similar happened with Baroque art. In the beginning, for many years, it was considered the pariah in the history of art, or you can call it decadence or disorder. But it was only after the end of classicism that it got its literal value. And today, it is so crucial in our lessons that you are reading it here with me.

Baroque Art The Penitent Magdalen by Georges de La Tour
The Penitent Magdalen by Georges de La Tour | Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Coming forward, let me tell you the origins of the word now. Typically, it derives from the word-baroco, a memory term that medieval logicians used, meaning ridiculous. It also extracts from the Italian word Barocchio, used for shady financial practices and the Portuguese term Barocco, illustrating the irregularly shaped pearls. So when French and German writers used the term baroque, they typically represented the poor taste of something. It was only in the nineteenth century when the two publications W Lubke's Geschichte der Architektur and J Burckhardt's Cicerone spoke in appreciation and reappraisal of the Baroque artistry.

Carel Fabritius Self-Portrait Baroque Artwork
Carel Fabritius Self-Portrait | Source: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

The first paramount investigation into nature and the beginning of Baroque art were H Wolfflin's Renaissance and Baroque (1888), where he also showed the significance of Baroque architecture. Further, in Italy, the term was first used in 1885 by Enrico Nencioni as Barrocchismo to facet the aspects of the society of the seventeenth century. In 1887, Cornelius Gurlitt published Geschichte des Barockstils in Italien; in 1908, Alois Riegl published Die Entstehund der Barokkunst, and a series of lectures were published posthumously describing the Baroque art interlinking with a cultural and intellectual history of the era.

Baroque art has received much attention in recent years, and few critics have even assigned them a chronological order: early, high, late, classicism, realism, and decorative. Now, what comes inside them and how they differ from each other; you will read in later sections of the article.

Origins Of Rococo.

You might think that is why we are discussing the word-Rococo. Let me tell you the reason behind this. Rococo is a word that may have confused many when it came to explaining the end of the Baroque period in the nineteenth century, as few scholars used it interchangeably for Baroque. But after a few years, the scholars tended to use it more often to explain the European art of the 1700s till the French revolution. With a twist, few scholars thought that introducing these words into the history of art may lead to conceptual imprecision, which can question the validity and utility of a particular time. However, with time Giuliano Briganti proposed that the term baroque must be limited to the generation of 1630. That's it, folks; you know quite a bit about the historical background of the term Rococo; now let me explain its origin to you briefly.

Based on the french word rocaille, it refers to shellwork and rockwork decoration of grottos and fountains. Then, in the eighteenth century, a student of David's studio coined the term rococo by combining the words baroque and rocaille.

Historical Background Of Baroque Art.

Before we lean ourselves to the history of the baroque period, there must be an emphasis on the Renaissance. You know that the basis of intelligence, technology and harmony satisfying the intellect can be easily visible throughout the Renaissance era. But the perfect form or best possible Renaissance was intangible, or you can say that every change hindered its achievement. Hence, it somehow refrained from the active principles of life, asking for freedom as the life repressed because of it.

You can consider it as the first reason behind the emergence of a new style, and the second most crucial reason was the historical intervention. In 1530, when there was nothing more left for the Renaissance to achieve and they accomplished everything, the Catholic churches and reformation demanded change as the rigidity and perfect figures began challenging their spirit. So the reformation process started, which resulted in a less austere subject in Spain. The art theme suddenly had a social function, whereas the Renaissance had a religious and moral dimension. This way, we see the emergence of humanism which encouraged the independence of art form.

Similarly, Protestantism was disturbed by the art association with luxury, and even sensuous feelings were hostile to the art. For those who don't know the term Protestantism, it is a Western Christian tradition that rejects the authority of Rome. There is a difference between the protestants and Catholics that the protestants believe only faith in Jesus and his sacrifice can lead you to salvation, whereas the Catholics accepted that faith plus good deeds lead towards salvation. It becomes necessary to understand as the next section will confuse you with arguments and history. Returning to the topic, as Protestantism was disturbed by ongoing art and started a reformation, it ended in iconoclasm. Iconography also became important because Protestantism included dry austerity, eliminating the need for senses. But the iconography during this time exploited the display of several emotions. Emile Male, for example, portrayed love through the mystical reunion of souls with God. Therefore, the new thing was unremarkable for everyone else. What's next? Understandably, art turned its back to classicism. as it was thought to be impure and cold, discovering the Baroque art, which was dynamic and profuse.

Legends, you finally know the reason behind the emergence of baroque, so there is no sense of any confusion. Here's an introduction to another common term, Counter-Reformation. You need to understand it as the counter-reformation was a historical event, which coincided with the emergence of Baroque art in Churches and religious subjects. Hence, it is attached to the Baroque history, thereby becoming crucial to study in the Baroque period. (Counter-reformation was the revolution against the Protestant belief, which we learned about in this section briefly).

The Counter-Reformation.

A protestant threat was sparked in 1517 when Martin Luther King, a theologian and Augustinian monk, became dissatisfied with the abuses from clergy and the Church's excessive sales of indulgences to build New St. Peter's in Rome; posted his Ninety-Five Theses on Wittenberg cathedral in Germany's portals. These theses attacked Pope Leo X and explained Luther's position on contrition and penance, soon spreading throughout northern Europe through pamphlets. It motivated the Protestant Reformation and led to the emergence of various religious reformers who competed with the Protestant churches.

To end this spread of Protestantism and rectify the problems caused earlier, Pope Paul III convoked a Council of Trent in 1545, which tried to eliminate the abuse from Church administration. This council forbade the sale of indulgences which motivated Martin Luther to break with the Church authorities, abolishing the greed exhibited by bishops, absenteeism and excessive benefices. It also reformed old monastic orders and created new ones, making it the most vital instrument to fight against Protestantism. Further, it included a lot of reforms against the incompetence and delivery of services from the Church.

95 Thesen Erste Seite by Martin Luther King
95 Thesen Erste Seite by Martin Luther King | Source: Martin Luther, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Now, after this damage, to make the visual image right, churches used art as the counter weapon of the Counter-Reformation. You must know that the churches had used art to counter the effect of their political propaganda from early history. And to win this fight against the spread of Protestantism, they revived the art by imparting messages persuading everyone to the faith. To do this, they chose images to follow sacred scripture to avoid any errors, and bishops were to ensure that the art must be strictly religious. Since the ongoing mannerist art was ambiguous and ineffective in providing the proper religious messages from Church, Baroque art was widespread!

Where Did Baroque Art Exist?

After you know how baroque art emerged due to historical reasons, it is time to see its boundaries. Due to the pace in history, it started on Italian grounds, though Latin spirits were unfavorable of such type of artistry. In response to the Protestantism that spread everywhere and artists were little lost in its emergence, baroque art spread to the masses to combat its influence. So it spread in Europe- first into Austria, Bohemia, and Bavaria, then ultimately to the corners of Spain and America. This expansion was a big step by Rome which never spoilt its ancient art due to the barbarian flood. This way, baroque art reached the ultimatum in the 17th century.

What Is Baroque Art?

The term baroque art itself includes the names of artists, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Caravaggio, Annibale Caracci, Diego Velaquez, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt, and Johannes Vermeer, rendering the epic masterpieces of all time, which rightly reflects the period's creative energy. With this line, I have successfully described the era of baroque artistry, which roughly began in the 1580 and ended in the early 18th century. In some northern European regions, it lasted till the 1750s. You have already studied how it started, so I am not bringing it up again.

Baroque art Visit To Grandmother by Louis Le Nain
Visit To Grandmother by Louis Le Nain | Source: Louis Le Nain, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Baroque sculpture Character Head The Yawner by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt
Character Head The Yawner by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt | Source: Museum Of Fine Arts, Budapest

Baroque era is generally referred to as the era of genius since it was the first time ever in history when the Scientific revolution established the foundations of modern science. This era is the source of many of the physics lessons you learn today, including laws by Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, and Johannes Kepler, as well as the principles of modern philosophy and analytical geometry. Returning to Baroque art and architecture, let us move forward in the section.

How Baroque Artistry And Architecture Were Different?

There are many differences between Renaissance art and Baroque art. For instance, during the Renaissance, spatial illusionism developed, but in the baroque period, it was systematically exploited. We will take our differences for sometime later as we are dealing with the section for the vision to spot the baroque art and architecture.

The Jewish Bride Baroque art by Rembrandt
Isaac and Rebecca The Jewish Bride by Rembrandt | Source: Rijksmuseum

Floor Plant of Saint Peter Basilica Vatican City Baroque Architecture
Floor Plant of Saint Peter Basilica, Vatican City | Source: St. Peters Basilica Tickets

Forced perspective gallery by Francesco Borromini
Forced perspective gallery by Francesco Borromini | Source: Livioandronico2013, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In Versailles, there is a magic mirror tricking the eye into seeing a much wider hallway than the actual one. Further, some picture scenes in the curtains of Rembrandt and Vermeer's paintings seem real. In Borromini's little colonnaded corridor, the eye sees much bigger than reality. Similarly, Bernini used the device to build Scala Regia in the Vatican. Further, in baroque architecture, there were extraordinary effects like arches curving forward in space, walls undulating as if capable of motion, and ground plans in unusual patterns.

Sleeping Girl by Domenico Fetti Baroque art
Sleeping Girl by Domenico Fetti | Source: Domenico Fetti, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Veüe du Palais d'Orléans appelé Luxembourg by Pierre Lepautre
Veüe du Palais d'Orléans appelé Luxembourg by Pierre Lepautre | Source: Pierre Lepautre, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Flora by Rembrandt Baroque Art
Flora by Rembrandt | Source: Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Fall Of The Damned by Peter Paul Rubens Baroque Artwork
The Fall Of The Damned by Peter Paul Rubens | Source:

In terms of Baroque art, the artists maintained extraordinary attempts to create real people in their paintings and even reactions to specific situations. They observed man's behavior in moments and traced their postures and expressions to their artwork. The faces in baroque artworks typically have broad laughter, sardonic smile, and explosion of emotions. They used to believe that body is as good a carrier of human emotion as the face, so they had in-depth knowledge of gestures and bodily poses.

Crucifixion by Baroque Artist Rembrandt
Crucifixion by Rembrandt | Source: Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Bitter Potion by Adriaen Brouwer Baroque Art
The Bitter Potion by Adriaen Brouwer | Source: Adriaen Brouwer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Truly, the baroque period was dynamic as the foundations of the modern world were deeply immersed on the grounds.

The Seventeenth-Century Art From Baroque Era.

1. Italy.


The first great church, built for the Jesuit order, II Gesu, was started by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola in around 1568, offering more than a milestone in the history of church architecture. It was a crucial historical structure as it solved one major problem; integrating a central plan of the building with a longitudinal one. There is something unique about the church nave as it is long enough to feel like being in the longitudinal room and short to make the visitor aware of the light area passing the dome. It consists of two separate storeys having the upper portion narrower. Such a facade was also seen in Santa Caterina dei Funari by Guido Guidetti in Rome. Next, the Gesu had all its crucial horizontal elements broken so that there is verticalism present in the structure, which is necessary as the facade is as wide as it is high. In the Santa Caterina dei Funari, the pediment of the primary portal was low, whereas, in Gesu, it consisted twin pediment above the central door. There is a compulsive entrance through the main gate as it seemingly welcomes a visitor by moving out towards him.

Baroque architecture Church of the Gesù, Rome
Church of the Gesù, Rome | Source: Alessio Damato, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Church of St Catherine of the Rope-makers Baroque Architecture
Church of St Catherine of the Rope-makers | Source: Lalupa, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Next is the facade of Santa Sussana, which is remarkable for the charity of its organisation and is astonishing as it is richly covered by the plastic decor, making a theatrical play between the light and shade. It has a few artistic principles from the High Renaissance, like the density of forms and motion in depth and height, replacing the static equilibrium.

Santa Susanna, Rome Baroque Architecture
Santa Susanna, Rome | Source: Architas, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Other prominent structures from the Italian Baroque architecture of this time include; St. Peter's, Sant' Andrea Della Valle, Santa Maria in Valicella, Chiesa Nuova of the Oratorians, and San Carloal Corso.

Sant Andrea della Valle Roma Baroque architecture
Sant Andrea della Valle Roma | Source: Jensens, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Parrocchia Santa Maria in Vallicella Baroque Architecture
Parrocchia Santa Maria in Vallicella | Source: Georg Schelbert, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


By the end of the 1560s, when the world was in mediocre Mannerist style, Venice had treasure in form of artist Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto, and Jacopo Bassano. You have already learned so much about Baroque art but before I tell you a few crucial paintings from this era, note a few points. It really was unable to express the religious and spiritual ideals of the time though it has highly artificial figural and compositional formulations. The main elements of baroque art are naturalistic and emotionally forceful subjects with a clarity of presentation and the importance of gestures scientifically.

The earliest significant work from Baroque era belonged to Federico Barocci, Deposition from 1566-69. Though, Barocci was from the Mannerist generation, he was the leader of the reform movement. He spent most of his time in Urbino, but his demand for art led him to fulfill commissions all over Italy. In the 1560s, he already kept a place of space and atmosphere, colour and light, vivid form, and religious subjects in his art. As he developed this painting style, the space in his pictures became deeper, the atmosphere became denser, and there was a perfect balance of light and shadow.

Deposizione dalla croce Federico Barocci Baroque artwork
Deposizione dalla croce Federico Barocci | Source: Federico Barocci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Some of the masterpieces of Baroque art are Bean eater by Annibale Carracci, Madonna and Child with Angels and Saints by Ludovico Carracci, Still Life By Caravaggio, Baptism of Christ by Guido Reni, Aurora in the ceiling fresco in Rome by Guido Reni.

Baroque art The Bean Eater by Annibale Carracci
The Bean Eater by Annibale Carracci | Source: Annibale Carracci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Baptism of Christ Guido Reni Baroque Artwork
The Baptism of Christ by Guido Reni | Source: Guido Reni, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Still Life with Fruit by Caravaggio
Still Life with Fruit by Caravaggio | Source: Caravaggio, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Madonna and Child with Saints Catherine of Alexandria, Agnes, Romauld, Paul, Peter and Andrew by  Ludovico Carracci
The Madonna and Child with Saints Catherine of Alexandria, Agnes, Romauld, Paul, Peter and Andrew by Ludovico Carracci | Source: WikiArt


There was finally a break in Mannerism through the sculpture of the baroque period, where artists tended to avoid posing the figures in torsions and extremeness.

The prominent baroque sculpture are St. Cecilia by Stefano Maderno from 1600, the

Equestrian Statue of Alessandro Farnese from 1630-25 by Francesco Mochi, Apollo and Daphne from 1622-25 by Gianlorenzo Bernini and Abduction of Proserpina by Bernini during 1621-22.

Baroque Sculpture of Alessandro Farnese by Francesco Mochi
Alessandro Farnese by Francesco Mochi | Source: Equestrian Statue

Who Was Gianlorenzo Bernini?

One of the important sculptors of the Baroque period is Gianlorenzo Bernini. Born in Naples in 1598, his father Pietro was a sculptor and taught him