The Baroque In Italy And Spain

1263 words - 5 pages

The Baroque in Italy and Spain

The period called “Baroque” cannot easily be classified. The work that distinguishes this period is stylistically complex and even contradictory. While Baroque was born in Rome during the final years of the sixteenth century, it was not specifically Italian. Nor was it confined to religious art. While Baroque did have ties to the Counter-Reformation, it quickly entered the Protestant North where it was applied primarily to secular subjects. It would also be difficult to claim that Baroque is “the style of absolutism,” because Baroque flourished in the bourgeois Holland no less than in the absolutist monarchies. Nor do we see the turbulent history of the era reflected in Baroque art. While the seventeenth century was one of almost continuous warfare, these wars had practically no effect on Baroque imagery. It is equally difficult to relate Baroque art to the science and philosophy of the period. While a direct link did exist in the Early and High Renaissance, when an artist could also be a humanist and scientist, this changed in the seventeenth century. During this time, scientific and philosophical thought became too complex, abstract, and systematic for the artists to share. Still, there is a subtle but an important relationship between Baroque art and science. The complex metaphysics of the humanists, which gave everything religious, meaning, was replaced by a new physics. Human awareness of the world was continuously expanding and the cosmology of such men as Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo broke the ties between sensory perception and science. By placing the sun, not the earth at the center of the universe, it contradicted what our eyes told us: that the sun revolves around the earth. The worldview of visual reality was forever changed by the new science of the seventeenth century. It would be fair to say that Baroque literally saw with new eyes. Instead of considering Baroque to be the result of religious, political or intellectual developments, it would be more accurate to think of it as one among other basic features that distinguish the period. The strengthened Catholic faith, the absolutist state, and the new science were all factors that combined to give Baroque its fascinating variety.

Around 1585, the Papacy began a campaign to make Rome the most beautiful city of the Christian world. They patronized art on a large scale, which attracted many ambitious young artists. Several of them came from northern Italy and it was they who created the new style. One of the foremost painters of the time was a genius called Caravaggio (1571-1610). Caravaggio produced a new and radical kind of realism He painted directly on the canvas from the live model and he depicted the world that he knew so that his canvases are filled with ordinary people. In “The Calling of St. Matthew” (1599-1602), Caravaggio depicts his subject entirely in terms of contemporary lowlife. Yet, to identify one of the characters as Jesus, he...

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