Following the Renaissance period, with Mannerism bridging the gap, Baroque made a flamboyant entrance. The style was elaborate and characterized by an ornate, over-the-top aesthetic that evokes a sense of ethereality and aims to inspire awe. Even today, it remains one of the most celebrated cultural movements of Western art history.
It was named after the word Barroco, which is a Portuguese term for an irregularly shaped pearl. The Baroque period is defined by its grandeur and opulence and was not limited only to art. It had a staggering influence over the architecture of the time and even today we see examples of this scattered throughout Europe. It had its roots in Rome but the movement spread across Italy and other European countries between 1600 and 1750. It was particularly popular in France, Spain, and Austria.
Because the Baroque period overlapped with the Italian Renaissance it is not surprising that the two movements shared some stylistic similarities. Both Renaissance and Baroque artists employed realism, rich colour, religious and mythological subject matter. Architects working in both styles favorited balance and symmetry. What sets the Baroque style apart from its Renaissance counterpart, however, was its extravagance. This characteristic was evident in both its art and architecture.
So, with this in mind, it is important to note that despite varying subject matters, there was one thing all Baroque paintings, sculptures, and buildings had in common: drama. This can be seen even in the way the colour moves across a canvas, with looming shadows and beaming light. Artists like Caravaggio and Rembrandt were particularly good at this. Other artists like Gentileschi, Poussin and Rubens were able to achieve a heightened sense of drama through movement. Often, this action-packed iconography was inspired by tales from the bible and stories from ancient mythology. In addition to energetic compositions, Rubens captured drama through his rich and radiant colour palette. Figurative bronze and marble sculptures produced during this period show a deep interest in dynamic movement. Through swirling silhouettes, twisted contours and flowing drapery, sculptors like Bernini were able to evoke this movement. Added elements like water fixtures were often enhanced by this theatrical approach. Sculptures were often intended to adorn stately buildings and were commissioned for grandiose settings like gilded church interiors and royal gardens. Baroque churches became a pivotal example of the glory of Catholicism. One of the key features was a domed roof situated above a large central space, allowing light to illuminate the space below. The dome was one of the central symbolic features of baroque architecture, illustrating the union between the heavens and the earth. The interiors were intricate and filled with ornamentation. This allowed for a feeling of being fully immersed within an elevated and sacred space.
The association with the church aside, the defining characteristics of the Baroque style were all there to pursue the representation of infinity. The goal was to emphasise light and its effects with a focus on the theatrical to create this sense of the never-ending. Baroque artists would attempt to blur the lines between reality and art through the use of a number of different techniques. They also used colour and medium to achieve this and in general, One of the primary techniques used was a painting method called chiaroscuro, which involves the treatment of light and dark in an artwork to create dramatic tension.
Baroque art ushered in a new era, where the theatre of the mind was called upon to play out dramatic scenes and stories. Sensuality and richness in the work were embraced and even though it largely served the Catholic church, the Baroque style utilized mythology to tell these stories beautifully. The Baroque style declined in popularity at the end of the 17th century as it was criticized for not being sincere. This may be true and perhaps the fall of Baroque art was indicative of a need that had been fulfilled, but it marked its place in history with a flair.