Deconstructivism

Deconstructivism was a reasonably controversial movement that started in architecture around the 1980’s. When translated it literally translates to the breaking down or demolishing of a constructed structure. This can happen for structural reasons or just as an act of rebellion. It is perhaps for this reason that many people misunderstand the movement. Though it is regarded as a modern art movement, it is in fact, not a new style, Nor is it an avant-garde movement against architecture or society. It does not follow the “rules” nor is it a rebellion. It is just the unleashing of infinite possibilities within form and volume.


During the first world war, Russian artists broke the rules of classical architecture and composition by presenting a series of drawings that defied the geometric norms of the times. Their more critical view of style and form did disturb the traditional perceptions of architecture at the time but it did open people’s eyes to the possibilities of breaking the rules. After the war, the country was going through radical changes and revolutions and the impact of this unusual style was both influenced and an influencer of social revolution. Geometry suddenly became irregular, both in art and architecture and in many ways mirrored the world around it.


The term first appeared in the 1980s, as stated. But deconstructivism didn’t ever “take the world by storm” like many other art movements did. It wasn’t as impactful and it didn’t shape the world of art and architecture in quite the same way, but it did have a lasting impression on alternative ways of viewing the world. Deconstructivism as we know it is a melting pot of influence from the Russian Constructivists, Modernism, Expressionism and Cubism. The style itself gained more attention during the MOMA’s 1988 exhibition, which focused on bringing the works of artists like Zaha Hadid, Peter Eisenman and Daniel Libeskind into a more mainstream light.
Because deconstructivism was primarily focused on architecture, there was a much greater opportunity for the exploration of three-dimensional shape and form. Architects were able to play with the volume of a space and the things that occupy it. However, many architects did not align themselves with the style and Bernard Tschumi, an architect and writer, said that “calling the work of these architects a movement or new style was out of context and showed a lack of understanding to their ideas.” He claimed that the style was merely a move against postmodernism. Unfortunately for them, the term resonated with the public and their works have been referred to as “deconstructivist” ever since. Although, since then the style and architects associated with it have won some of the world’s most iconic awards.


One of the most defining characteristics of deconstructivism is that it challenges conventional ideas about form and order. The forms created often disturb our thinking and evoke uncertainty and unpredictability. Through the controlled chaos, they challenge our own preconceptions. Designs would typically consist of irregular and complex geometric forms and objects could be formed by several different fragments put together without any apparent order. In many architectural pieces, we see a manipulation of the building’s surface like a skin that intentionally deformed. Therefore, folds and twists are common and they define the interior space and exterior form. Diagonals, curves and pointed corners are frequent elements and the common right angle is almost nonexistent. The designs lack symmetry and in a lot of ways, practicality. Although, why bother with practicality when the building itself becomes a monumental tribute to organised chaos.

Postmodernism

Postmodernism is a term used to describe the style adopted by many artists, filmmakers, architects, and writers. It is a late 20th-century style that represents a departure from modernism in general. They were self-conscious of using these earlier styles and conventions and mixed together fragments of other genres and media to create their work. Overall, they had a general distrust of theories, both artistic and philosophical.

Postmodernism was a direct reaction to modernism. Remember, “modern” by art definitions encompasses art from the 1870s till the 1930s. It includes genres like Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism and many more. Overall, modernism was generally based on idealism and a utopian vision of human life and society. They believed in progress. Modernism assumed that certain ultimate, universal principles could be used to understand or explain reality. Where modernism was based on idealism and reason, postmodernism was born of skepticism and suspicion of reason. It challenged the notion that there are universal certainties or truths.

In this way, postmodernism is distinguished by its questioning of what is called a “master narrative.” In essence, a master narrative is something that is believed almost unanimously and is widespread. They questioned these narratives, particularly the modern theory that all progress, especially technological, is positive. By rejecting these narratives, the postmodernists rejected the idea that knowledge or history can be encompassed in totalizing theories. Some of the theories rejected by the postmodernists were that only men are artistic geniuses and the colonialist assumption that non-white races are inferior. Up until this point, there was little to no representation of women and people of colour in art history. Except as subjects of other people’s artworks.

Postmodernism overturned the idea that there was one inherent meaning to a work of art or that this meaning was determined by the artist at the time of creation. Instead, the viewer became an important factor in the determination of meaning. In some cases, the viewer was even allowed to participate in the work. Many performance artists originated in this era and asked for public engagement to define the artwork. Dadaism had a strong influence on postmodern art in its questioning of authenticity and originality. They were also interested in breaking the invisible yet notorious barrier between “high” art and “low” art. The idea that all visual culture is not only equally valid but that it can be enjoyed without artistic or visual training undermines notions of value and artistic worth. Postmodernism even had its start in the late 19th and early 20th century with artists like Edgar Degas painting on fans and Picasso often including the lyrics of popular songs on his canvases.

The Pop Artists were prime artists within the postmodern field, but other artists like Marina Abramović, Cindy Sherman, Gerhard Richter, Damien Hirst, and Jeff Koons were major influencers on the movement. The truth is that there is no real defining style or form of art that defines postmodern art. It is a subversive genre, playing into many different forms of expression. All manner of mediums and styles were utilized, from painting and printmaking to photography, performance art, sculpture and installation, and even film. Postmodernism very much introduced a more tongue-in-cheek way of approaching art. It was often ludicrous and controversial and challenged the boundaries of taste. More importantly, though, it reflects a self-awareness that not many genres had before this. A self-awareness of its own style, the message it was spreading and who it was affecting.

Pop Art

Pop art was a very colourful movement that made its debut in the 1950s and has remained a prominent artistic movement since then. The movement really marked the end of modernism and is often hailed as the start of contemporary art. Pop art is a distinctive genre of art that first appeared in post-war Britain and America. It was characterized by an interest in popular culture and imaginative interpretations of commercial products. The movement is hailed as being innovative in its approach to art, making it accessible to the masses. Renowned for its bold imagery, bright colour palette and repetitive approach, their work was both quirky and critical and commented on contemporary life and events at the time.

Everyday objects were used as subject matter and were often physically incorporated in the work. Artists like Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and Roy Lichtenstein were particularly well known for this. They took inspiration from all walks of popular life, from television to comic books, movies to magazines. Advertising particularly was a point of interest for the pop artists due to its mass production and ease of access. Pop art used images and icons that were popular in the modern world. This included items, people, comic books and even soup cans. These artists created work that used these items in many different ways, from repetition to collage and even changing the colour and texture of the original thing to something outlandish and over the top.

Pop Art represented an attempt to return to a more objective, universally acceptable form of art after the dominance of Abstract art in the US and Europe. It rejected the notion that “high art” was somehow more important. They thought that earlier forms of art were too elite and as such, Pop art threw away these highbrow pretences and laid art down for what they thought it was at its core. Something to be consumed, visually. Although the critics of Pop art described it as vulgar, sensational and a joke, those who did believe in it saw it as a democratic, nondiscriminatory way to bring people together.

Pop art was a descendant genre of Dadaism, which ridiculed the seriousness of contemporary art in Paris and beyond. Some of the most striking forms of Pop art emerged out of artists like the ones mentioned above. Roy Lichtenstein’s stylized reproductions of comic strips used coloured dots and flat tones that was seen often in commercial printing. Andy Warhol’s meticulous paintings and silkscreens featured ordinary objects as well as celebrities and Claes Oldenburg made soft plastic sculptures of objects like bathroom fixtures, typewriters and gigantic hamburgers that were larger than life in scale. All of these artworks showed a single unifying theme in that there was very little of the “personal” in them. They aspired to an impersonal, refined attitude in their works. Some, however, were subtly criticising social structures. For example, Andy Warhol repeated would take an image and then repeat that same plain image, over and over in many of his works. This effect had an undeniably disturbing effect and hammered home the comment on mass consumption and consumerism that had swept the land.

American Pop art tended to be anonymous and aggressive, with the personal feelings of the artists coming through very little. On the other hand, English Pop Art expressed an almost romantic view of Pop culture, perhaps because it wasn’t right in the hub of it. While the Americans were living pop culture, the English tended to deal with it as a theme and in some cases, metaphor. Warhol even said once, “I think everyone should be a machine,” and he tried to produce works that a machine would have made.

Abstract Expressionism

The abstract expressionists were mostly based in New York City and the name encompasses their aim to make art that was abstract but also expressive or emotional. They drew heavily from surrealism and the idea that art should come from the unconscious mind. Within the field of abstract expressionism, there were two primary groups; the so-called “action painters” and the “colour field painters”.

The action painters were led by Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, who worked in a spontaneous improvisatory manner, often using large brushes to make sweeping gestural marks. They seemingly attacked their canvases with expressive brushstrokes that led to spontaneous and loose paintings. They were very liberal with their art style and weren’t afraid of flouting traditional methods of art-making. For example, Pollock famously put his canvases on the ground and danced around it, pouring paint from the can or trailing it from the brush or a stick. In this way, the action painters directly placed their inner impulses onto the canvas.

The second group included Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still. They were deeply interested in religion and mythology and created very simple compositions with large areas of colour. Hence the name “colour field painters”. Their artworks were intended to produce contemplative or meditational responses in the viewers. In an essay written in 1948 by Barnett Newman, he says “Instead of making cathedrals out of Christ, man or “life”, we are making it out of ourselves and our own feelings.” This approach to painting developed from around 1960 and was characterized by artists using large areas of more or less a single flat colour.

Mark Rothko

Barnett Newman

Clyfford Still

Despite all of this, the term “Abstract Expressionism” was never an ideal label for the movement. It was somehow meant to encompass the works of both fields of artists above. Still, it has become the most accepted term for the movement. All artists in the movement were committed to art as expressions of the self, born out of profound emotion and universal themes. They were highly successful and came at a time when the world was recovering from World War 2. In their success, these New York painters robbed Paris of its mantle as the leader of modern art and set the stage for America’s dominance of the international art world. They saw art expressionism as a struggle between self-expression and the chaos of the subconscious.

With many Europeans fleeing the Nazi invasion, America saw a surge of Surrealist artists on its shores. As the tide of Fascism arose in Europe in the 1930s, these major Surrealist figures sought refuge in New York City. The impact of their ideas, techniques and themes cannot be underestimated in the formation of Abstract Expressionism in the 1940s. Much like the surrealists, the Abstract Expressionists shared a belief that the canvas was a place where the human mind could unload its subconscious. At a time where many were grappling with the darker potential of human experience, this was a welcome change from off the wall art and Impressionism. The Abstract Expressionists shared the belief that abstract art could communicate deeper, more universal truths than naturalistic painting or sculpture, which would typically retain some sort of culturally defined message. Beyond any formal advances made by their movement, Abstract Expressionism came to represent the capacity for freedom in artistic creation.

Modern Art

Now that we have covered the good extent of art history, it is time to look at the modern developments of art. Modern art typically refers to late 19th and early to mid-20th-century art. Work during this time showcases the artist’s interest in re-imagining, reinterpreting and even rejecting aesthetic values of preceding styles. We have already covered some of the first styles to emerge under the modern art umbrella so we will be looking at the more recent developments. It is important to not confuse modern art with contemporary art. Contemporary art refers to the art of today, produced by artists who are living in the 21st century. Although there are many interchangeable factors to the two, most people consider the following genres of art to be within the modern art family.


Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism is the term used to describe artists like Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning. They all subverted the typical labels of what painting was, although, despite this, it was never the ideal label for the movement. It was a term that was somehow meant to encompass not only the work of painters who filled their canvases with fields of colour and abstract forms but also those who attacked their canvases with vigorous gestural expressionism. It was a movement that is comprised of many different artists. Still, the factor that tied them all together was that the artists were committed to art as expressions of the self, born out of profound emotion and universal themes. Most were shaped by the legacy of Surrealism, which was a movement that they translated into a new style fitting of the post-war mood of anxiety and trauma.

Pop Art

Pop Art started with the New York artists Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, and James Rosenquist. They all drew on popular imagery and were actually part of an international phenomenon. Following on from the popularity of the Abstract Expressionists, Pop’s reintroduction of identifiable imagery, things like soup cans, cars, comics, and famous people, was a major shift for the direction of modernism. The subject matter moved far away from the traditional themes of “high art”. Pop artists celebrated commonplace objects and people of everyday life. The goal, in a sense, was to elevate pop culture to the level of fine art. Perhaps due to the incorporation of commercial images, Pop art has become one of the most recognizable styles of modern art.


Postmodernism

Postmodernism is often seen as a reaction against the ideas and values of modernism as well as a word to describe the period that followed modernisms dominance in cultural theory and practice. The term is typically associated with skepticism, irony and philosophical critiques of the concepts of universal truths and objective reality. Modernism was generally based on idealism and a utopian vision of human life and society. It held a strong belief in progress. Postmodernism advocated for individual experience and that human experience was more concrete than abstract concepts.


Deconstructivism


One of the most defining characteristics of deconstructivism is that it challenges conventional ideas about form and order as if the designs tried to liberate art and architecture from preconceived rules. Through the controlled chaos, they challenge our own preconceptions. The designs consisted of irregular complex geometries and the objects were often formed by several different fragments put together without any apparent order. Deconstructivism criticizes rational order, purity, and simplicity. It is often considered a branch off of postmodernism.

started with the New York artists Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, and James Rosenquist. They all drew on popular imagery and were actually part of an international phenomenon. Following on from the popularity of the Abstract Expressionists, Pop’s reintroduction of identifiable imagery, things like soup cans, cars, comics, and famous people, was a major shift for the direction of modernism. The subject matter moved far away from the traditional themes of “high art”. Pop artists celebrated commonplace objects and people of everyday life. The goal, in a sense, was to elevate pop culture to the level of fine art. Perhaps due to the incorporation of commercial images, Pop art has become one of the most recognizable styles of modern art.

Neoclassicism

Neoclassicism was a style of painting that was established after the Rococo movement. It came to fruition with the help of the French Royal Academy of the Arts in 1669. Its primary focus was historical painting, which included subjects from the Bible, classical mythology and events from history. Following this in terms of importance was portraiture, genre painting, landscapes, and still-lifes. This hierarchy was used to evaluate works submitted for the Salon or for prizes. Artists like Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain were revered as the ideal examples of history painting and both artists were primary influences on the Neoclassical art movement.
While both of those artists were French Baroque painters originally, it was their distinctive styles and their classical approach that interested the Neoclassical artists. Lorrain painted landscapes, well-observed, and with a focus on naturalistic detail and observation of light and its effects that was unparalleled. They often featured figures from mythological or Biblical scenes. An effect of orderly harmony was conveyed in many of his works, which appealed to the Neoclassical belief that art should express the ideal virtues of man. What these virtues are, is important to consider. In many ways, Rococo encouraged frivolity and opulence. Neoclassical art can be said to encourage the opposite and with a return to darker, richer tones, it pushes for a more stoic and dramatic outlook on life. Both Baroque art and Rococo art-infused society with a culture of vanity that was based on personal conceits and whimsy. Neoclassicism mirrored what was going on in the political and social arenas of the time, which incidentally showed the journey to the French Revolution. Its primary belief and aim were that art should not just express the virtues of life but also impart a moralizing message. It had the power to civilise, reform and transform society just as society itself was being transformed by the rising forces of the Industrial Revolution, governmental change, scientific discovery, and invention.
 
The same virtues that we see in Greek and Roman art were even replicated in Neoclassical architecture. Simplicity, symmetry, and mathematics were seen as important values to uphold in the creation of a structure. Much of these developments in art and architecture were, in large part, due to the popularity of the ‘Grand Tour’. This was a point in history where art students and the general aristocracy were given access to recently unearthed ruins in Italy. As a result, many became enamored with the aesthetics and philosophies of ancient art. This was seen as a traditional and educational right of passage and many people traveled there in search of art, culture and the roots of Western civilisation.
 
Another cornerstone for Neoclassical art was easily its link with the Enlightenment. This was a political and philosophical movement that primarily valued science, reason, and exploration. It was also called “The Age of Reason”. Now, for nearly the first time in recent history, the absolutes of the monarchy and religious dogma were questioned, and the ideals of individual liberty, religious tolerance, and constitutional governments were advanced. A catalog of sorts was even compiled, titled The French Encyclopedia (1751 – 1772), that represented a compendium of Enlightenment thoughts. It was the most significant publication of the century and had an international influence. Denis Diderot, who is also known as the founder of the discipline of art history, said the purpose of the book was to change the way people think. Historian Clorinda Donato wrote that it “successfully argued for the potential of reason and unified knowledge, to empower human will and shape society.”
 
The Neoclassicists took this view and ran with it, developing it into a visual tool for change that saw history unfold before its feet. It had its influence on painting, sculpture, architecture and interior design. We see in all of this a welcoming of classical styles as well as ideals. The betterment of man was key and if this meant questioning what was once thought to be unquestionable, then so be it. Neoclassicism helped bring Enlightenment to the general public and began a movement forward into a more liberal, more questioning artistic sphere.

Rococo

Rococo art originated in early 18th century Paris and is characterized by soft colours and curvy lines. The subject matter is usually scenes of love, nature and amorous encounters with a play on light-hearted entertainment and the nature of youth. The word itself originates from rocaille, which is French for rubble or rock. That seems like a strange thing to derive an art movement from but it refers to the shell-work in small gardens and is used a descriptive word for the serpentine patterns we see often in the Rococo period.
 
The movement originated as a response to the Baroque period, particularly after the death of Louis XIV. The French court left Versailles and moved back to their old Parisian mansions, redecorating their homes using softer designs and gentler tones. The king enjoyed the Baroque movement and as such, surrounded himself and his subjects with rich colours and precious metals. The French aristocracy now lived in more intimate interiors. This style was new and different and we know the French have always been style setters. The style is characterized by asymmetry, graceful curves, elegance and delightful new paintings about daily life, courtly love, and the French landscape.
In the sense of painting, Rococo was primarily influenced by the Venetian School’s use of colour, erotic subjects and Arcadian landscapes, which refers to a vision of pastoralism and harmony with nature. Arcadia is a poetic space associated with bountiful natural splendor and harmony. It is an almost utopian space. When it comes to interior design, the School of Fontainebleau was the foundation of Rococo living spaces. The school of Fontainebleau is not a physical school but rather a style. It is split into two primary sections with the first being characterized by extensive stucco (moldings and picture frames), frescoes and an elaborate system of allegories and mythological iconography. Gilding was a key focus for this first school of art because even simple elements of Rococo interior decorating became highly accentuated. For example, clocks would be embedded into intricate, almost sculptural pieces that seamlessly complemented the overall look and feel of its surroundings. Renaissance decorative motifs are common as well as a certain degree of eroticism. The second school was overhauled by Henry the IV and leaned far more into mannerism styles than its predecessor did. Rococo art also eventually spread outside of France to places like Italy, England, and even Germany with each region bringing its own flavour to the mix.
 
Rococo art and the people associated with it embraced a sense of whimsy, certainly. But there was a sense of purpose in the decorative quality of the movement. Jean-Antoine Watteau said, “In my view, you must either do away with ornament – or make ornament the essence. It’s not something you add. It’s not icing on a cake. It’s everything – or its nothing.” Watteau was a french painter who spurred on the revival of colour and movement in French art. Rococo embraced an almost over-the-top quality and very successfully too. Everything was deliberate and designed to build on this aesthetic. Over time, Rococo veered towards more divergent paths but continued to be popular throughout the French provinces. Even today it has been a major influence on fashion, interior design, and art. The Neo-classical approach grew out of it and spawned many branches of further art movements. However, the term Rococo and the artists associated with it only began to be critically re-evaluated in the late 20th century when the movements of Pop Art and the works of artists like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons. They created a new context for art expressing the same sort of ornate, stylistic and whimsical style. In conclusion, Rococo seemed to have arisen from Baroque as a breath of fresh air, which permeated through to art and design even now.

Mannerism

During the Renaissance, many artists found new sources of inspiration from a variety of channels The Italians, particularly found beauty in the subject matter of classical antiquity. They enjoyed the idealized forms and harmonious compositions that came from ancient Greek and Roman art. While we see this in the works of High Renaissance artists like Michelangelo and da Vinci, it also manifested in a style called Mannerism that emerged towards the end of the Renaissance movement.
 
Mannerist artists took the principles established during the Renaissance to new extremes, creating an aesthetic that puts a twist on the classic ways of art-making. Mannerism arose in the 1530s and lasted until the end of the century. It is named after the term, maniera, which is Italian for “style” or “manner” and refers to a stylized, exaggerated approach to painting and sculpture. Mannerism is also known as the Late Renaissance and is regarded as the bridge between the Renaissance and the Baroque period. It had its own ornate aesthetic and extravagance. While Mannerist artists were interested in the perfectionism portrayed in High Renaissance art, they did not seek to replicate it. Instead, they exaggerated these principles, which resulted in work that favoured self-expression over the pursuit of idealism. It is one of the first times we see this in art history. Self-expression has never been the focus in art, just the pursuit of perfection or religious and spiritual representation.

 
The Mannerists created highly artificial compositions which were intended to show off their techniques and skills. They manipulated the composition and its elements to create a sense of sophisticated elegance. A primary way that the Mannerists took High Renaissance techniques a “step further” through the exaggeration. Led by the artist Parmigianino, an Italian artist, Mannerists rejected realistic proportions and instead painted their figures with impossibly elongated limbs and oddly positioned bodies. These stretched and twisted forms were used as a way of heightening movement and heighten the drama. Apparently, Parmigianino stumbled upon this unique style by accidentally doing a self-portrait using a convex barber’s mirror. He painted what he saw and what he saw was a series of bizarre effects produced by the roundness of the mirror, which twisted the beams of the ceiling into strange curves and elongated his body to a near alien form. The idea came to him to amuse himself but became so much more.
 
The Mannerists pushed the sensibilities of the Renaissance to the limits. They enjoyed the idea of elaborate ornamentation, covering canvases and sculptures in an overwhelming abundance of decorative elements. One artist who took this concept to astonishing new levels is Giuseppe Arcimboldo, a painter who crafted portraits out of vegetation, animals and found objects. They also abandoned the more natural colours of the High Renaissance in favour of more artificial and often garish tones.
 
A poignant way of describing the mannerists is to look at El Greco, a Spanish painter who adopted the Mannerist style when he moved to Rome. Like other Mannerists, he looked at earlier artists without attempting to reproduce their work. “You must study the Masters,” he said, “but guard the original style that beats within your soul and put to the sword those who would try to steal it.” This statement really encapsulated the way the Mannerists saw the world and the way they attempted to capture that vision. They found value in looking at the past but saw the appeal of putting one’s own stamp on the future. Mannerism is arguably one of the most impactful art-movements purely for the fact that it encouraged artists to express some part of how they were feeling. While it is not held in the same esteem as the Golden Age’s earlier work. Nevertheless, its distinctive aesthetic continues to enchant those who are aware of it, making it one of art history’s most fascinating hidden gems.

Baroque Art

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.

The High Renaissance

The High Renaissance is seen as the artistic pinnacle of the era and is a term given to a particular period within the Renaissance. This thirty-year period was exemplified by the groundbreaking and iconic works of art being made in Italy. This time general was considered a thriving societal prime. There was a deep rejuvenation of classical art that was married to an intense exploration into the humanities. This spurred artists on to wield their exceptional skills, exploring the concepts of science, anatomy, and architecture through their work. Even today, these works remain some of the most awe-inspiring artworks of history.

This was the dominant style in Italy during the 16th century and also saw the birth of Mannerism, which we explore in further essays. The High Renaissance period is traditionally taken as starting in the 1490s, with Leonardo da Vinci’s fresco of The Last Supper. It ended in roughly in 1527 with the Sack of Rome by the troops of Charles V. The term, “High Renaissance” was first used in the 19th century, some 300 years later. However, it is important to note that in recent history, many academic art historians criticize the term for oversimplifying the artistic developments that took place and ignoring historical context. There is also a notable focus on only a few iconic works and the era was truly blooming with culture and art.

High Renaissance is seen as being “high” because it was considered the period in which the artistic aims and goals of the Renaissance truly reached their pinnacle. The era is seen to have been dominated by three individuals: Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. Michelangelo was an exquisite sculptor, painter, and architect and he demonstrated a true mastery of the human figure. His frescoes rank among the greatest works of Renaissance art. Raphael was skilled in creative incredible perspective and hailed for his delicate use of colour. Da Vinci painted two of the most well-known works of Renaissance art: The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa. Despite this, it is important to note that he was actually a generation older than Michelangelo and Raphael, though his work is still stylistically consistent with the High Renaissance. Because of this, he is therefore often seen as the father of the movement.

In terms of the artworks themselves, they followed a certain set of principles and ideologies. Stylistically, painters during this period were influenced by classical art and their works were harmonious. However, this can be said for Early Renaissance too. What separates the two eras was the unity of the image, for one. And two, it was during the High Renaissance that artists first began to use oil paints. Traditionally, tempera paint or was the only available painting medium and artists were therefore fairly limited. Tempera dries superbly fast but with oils, the artist could achieve a quality to the work that had simply not existed before. There was a restrained beauty to a High Renaissance painting. Coming back to the unity of the image, we see in these works a process where all the distinct parts and details of the works come together to support a cohesive whole.

One of the other furthering factors in the endeavors of the High Renaissance was that the number and diversity of patrons had increased tenfold and this allowed for greater development in art. For example, Da Vinci is credited for inventing the Sfumato technique, which allows tones and colours to shade gradually into one another, producing softened outlines or hazy forms. This can be seen especially in the Mona Lisa and is likely one of the reasons she is so revered. This technique originated in part due to the introduction of oil paint as a viable medium but also because artists like Da Vinci were given the space and freedom to explore and push boundaries.

It is easy to see how the High Renaissance is viewed as the pinnacle of artistic success but it truly was just the beginning. Finally, there was truly room for art to grow and not just follow the norms of the day. It is the beginning of a series of flowering into further art movements that would only serve to enhance man’s ability to communicate through art. And was this not the purpose of Renaissance art? To explore the possibilities of humanity?

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