After the Protestant Reformation began to take hold, the Catholic Church responded with their own Counter Reformation. To combat the spread of Protestantism, the Church developed a new style of art that was dramatic, full of emotion, and very realistic. This new style, which came to be known as Baroque, contrasted with the genre paintings of the Protestant North that were often used to teach moral lessons (Sullivan). Originating in Italy in the 16th century, it was used by the Church to retain followers by depicting religious scenes that were expressive, visually interesting, and interactive (Fiero 203).
The most noticeable characteristic of Baroque was the sense of movement, energy, and tension artists created in their artwork (Sullivan). Strong contrasts of light and dark shadows, with light sources appearing to come from beyond the canvas, in addition to the posing of the figures, gave viewers the feeling they were viewing a theatrical performance taking place within the painting. Unlike their Renaissance predecessors, Baroque artists strove for a realistic interpretation of nature, rather than an idealized idea of perfection (Fiero 203).
One of the first artists to make a clear break from the Renaissance style was Michelangelo Merisi, or better known as Caravaggio (Sullivan). Considered the leading artist of the seventeenth century, he readily rejected the artistic conventions of dignity, beauty, and perfection from the Renaissance era (Fiero 203). Working primarily from Rome, he favored subjects from the New Testament. He would create his narrative by placing religious figures in the local streets of his modern day Italy (Varriano). This can be seen in is painting The Calling of St. Matthew, the second painting from a series of three that tell the story of Saint Matthew. Completed in 1600, it was commissioned for the left wall of the Contarelli chapel in Rome. This new work provided Caravaggio with his first major commission, bringing the artists much popularity with its success. This painting illustrates the moment when Jesus chooses Matthew to give up his ways and follow him. Caravaggio divides the figures in the painting into two groups. Located in a tavern, the group surrounding Matthew are dressed in the style of the day, while Jesus and his companion wear traditional biblical garments. The lighting is dim, and appears to be coming from a lamp that is beyond the canvas. Also typical of the Baroque style is the high contrast between the dark shadows and the brightly illuminated areas of their faces. Caravaggio uses the light to draw a line that distinguishes Matthew to the viewer. (The Calling of St Matthew).
Another popular artist from Rome was Bernini. He was the leading architect in Rome during the seventeenth century, turning the city into a ‘city of fountains’ (Varriano). Like Caravaggio, he incorporated a dramatic and theatrical appeal into his sculptures. Breaking away from the Renaissance idealism, he strove for...