baroque and problems for the catholic church

Many believe the term Baroque derives from the Portuguese word barroco, meaning an irregularly shaped pearl (Sayre 677). Originally, it was used in a derogatory manner with connotations of bizarre and strange, implying bad taste. Ironically, some of the most profound and beautiful works of art and architecture were created in this era. Religion, economics, the rise of absolute monarchy, and an overall style transition of a new generation together influenced the compelling and timeless style known as Baroque. Undoubtedly, Baroque form owes it origin to the religious conflicts occurring between the 1600 and 1700s.

Many of the style usage in Baroque art and architecture were devoted to furthering the aims of the Counter Reformation. During this time the Catholic Church had lost many followers in Europe who joined a new religious movement called “The Protestant Reformation”. In an attempt to win back the sections of Europe that had been lost and reestablish current relationships, the Catholic Church decided to use elaborately decorative religious art full of excitement and sensuality to invoke human emotion and feeling.

The Catholic Church became aware that they could no longer aim for just the educated elite but must aim for the poor and growing middle class. By glorifying Saints and using vivid theatrical methods full of color and contrast to portray biblical scenes, they caught the attention of the everyday people. Works like Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Theresa and Andrea Pozzo’s Apotheosis of Saint Ignatius are both prime examples of the Catholic churches religious marketing campaign. At the same time the Protestant Church was very conservative and therefore restricted it’s art due to its strict doctrine.

Calvinists believed that churches and church services should be simple, free of distraction (Baniulyte, Ausra). A classic example of this is Pieter Saenredams Interior of the Choir of Saint Bavo’s Church at Haarlem, where “this stripped-down, white space is meant to reflect the purity and propriety of the Reformed Church” (Sayre 707). Economically, the Baroque era was a development from the past. Hard work, discovery, and artwork were, for the most part, widely encouraged. Churches and the royal elite often hired artists and architects to meet their artistic requests.

Art itself became commercially available for purchase. In Europe, Holland became a place for merchants to sell and trade their art. Art became so popular that it was once said, “Every Dutch home had paintings on its walls” (Sayre 706). Since art was such a regular component in everyday life, some artists started depicting daily life into their artwork. Jan Vermeer’s Women with the Pearl Necklace is classic example of this, in that it is considered a domestic scene where an ordinary girl looks at herself in the mirror while fixing her necklace.

In addition, the rise of absolute monarchies played a crucial role in this era. Among the monarchies that appeared during the Baroque era there was Spain’s Phillip the II, Germany’s Frederick the Great, and Russia’s Peter the Great. However, Louis the XIV takes the cake. In order to display the power and grandeur of the centralized state, baroque palaces were built on a monumental scale. An example of this practice is the Royal Palace and Gardens at Versailles. Due to an event during the rebellions in 1649, Louis XIV developed a rather strong distrust to both the nobility and the common people (Britannica).

This caused him to revolve his place of residence around him and in doing so controlled every aspect of it. Referred to as the “Sun King”, Louis XIV was largely responsible for the expansion that resulted in the grand building that still stands today. He hired architect Louis Le Vau along with artist Charles Le Brun to carry out the work on this Baroque masterpiece. The palace was to be a symbol of the Kings power, and it was intended to exceed anything before in past in size and grandeur.

Fortunately, aside from his self-obsession and vanity, Louis XIV was, without a doubt, a great patron of the arts. It has been said, “His own personal tastes encompassed both the balance and harmony of classical art and the drama and exuberance of the Baroque” (Sayre 732). One of Louis favorite artists was the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. The Arrival and Reception of Marie de’ Medici at Marseilles is a classic example of Rubens dramatic Baroque artwork, including his signature fleshy bodies. Furthermore, this era’s overall style and way of life made a transition from the Renaissance.

For instance, art in the Renaissance played special attention to clarity and realism. Yet, the art works did not completely depict human emotion, while Baroque art works focused more on showing them (Baniulyte, Ausra). A new solidity and weightiness to Italian paintings began to appear. Two great figures who embodied this new style were Caravaggio and Annibale Carracci. In addition, buildings from the Baroque era appear spacious, sensual, and extravagant. This is because much of the architecture created during this time employed techniques never seen before.

Artists like Bernini revolutionized the way we view sculptures, by making stone appear to be capable of bleeding (Levy, Evonne). Without a doubt, this Era was a time of truly influential, exceptional, and passion filled artwork that the world had never seen before. Each individual influence, from religion to economics, played an important part in shaping what we now know today as Baroque form. The techniques used in the art and architecture, without a doubt, influenced the art that we see to today, and will continue to see in the future.

Works Cited

Baniulytė, Aušra. Italian Intrigue In The Baltic: Myth, Faith, And Politics In The Age Of Baroque. Journal Of Early Modern History 16.1 (2012): 23-52. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Feb. 2013.

“Baroque period”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 02 Feb. 2013

Levy, Evonne. Repeat Performances: Bernini, The Portrait And Its Copy. Sculpture Journal 20.2 (2011): 239-249. Art & Architecture Complete. Web. 4 Feb. 2013.

Sayre, Henery M. The Humanities: Culture, Continuity and Change, Book 4. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2013


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