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The Baroque Style of Art


Academic year: 2022

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Shikha Bisht


The Baroque Style of Art

The term Baroque is applied to diverse styles, a fact that highlights the approximate character of art- historical categories. Like Gothic, Baroque was originally a pejorative term. It is a French variant of the Portuguese barroco, meaning an irregular, and therefore imperfect, pearl. The Italians used the word barocco to describe a convoluted medieval style of academic logic. Although Classical themes and subject matter continued to appeal to artists and their patrons, Baroque tended to be relatively unrestrained, overtly emotional, and more energetic than earlier styles. Baroque artists rejected aspects of Mannerist virtuosity and stylization, while absorbing the Mannerists’ taste for chiaroscuro and theatrical effects. They were more likely than Mannerist artists to pursue the study of nature directly. As a result, Baroque art achieves a new kind of naturalism that reflects some of the scientific advances of the period. There is also a new taste for dramatic action and violent narrative scenes, and emotion is given a wide range of expression—a departure from the Renaissance adherence to Classical restraint. Baroque color and light are dramatically contrasted, and surfaces are richly textured. Baroque space is usually asymmetrical and lacks the appearance of controlled linear perspective; sharply diagonal planes generally replace the predominant verticals and horizontals of Renaissance compositions. Landscape, genre, and still life, which had originated as separate but minor categories of painting in the sixteenth century, gained new status in the seventeenth. Allegory also takes on a new significance in Baroque art and is no longer found

primarily in a biblical context. Portraiture, too, develops in new directions, as artists depict character and mood along with the physical presence of their subjects.

Whereas Renaissance artists reveled in the precise, orderly rationality of classical models, Baroque artists embraced dynamism, theatricality, and elaborate ornamentation, all used to spectacular effect, often on a grandiose scale.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Italian artist who was perhaps the greatest sculptor of the 17th century and an outstanding architect as well.He was born Dec. 7, 1598, Naples, Kingdom of Naples [Italy]—died Nov. 28, 1680, Rome, Papal States . Bernini created the Baroque style of sculpture and developed it to such an extent that other artists are of only minor importance in a discussion of that style.

Bernini’s career began under his father, Pietro Bernini, a Florentine sculptor of some talent who ultimately moved to Rome. He was strongly influenced by his close study of the antique Greek and Roman marbles in the Vatican, and he also had an intimate knowledge of High Renaissance painting of the early 16th century. His study of Michelangelo is revealed in the St. Sebastian (c. 1617), carved for Maffeo Cardinal Barberini, who was later Pope Urban VIII and Bernini’s greatest patron.

Bernini’s contribution in Baroque Art

Bernini’s early works attracted the attention of Scipione Cardinal Borghese, a member of the reigning papal family. Under his patronage, Bernini carved his first important life-size sculptural groups. The series shows Bernini’s progression from the almost haphazard single view of Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius Fleeing Troy (1619) to strong frontality in Pluto and Proserpina (1621–22) and then to the hallucinatory vision of Apollo and Daphne (1622–24), which was intended to be


viewed from one spot as if it were a relief. In his David (1623–24), Bernini depicts the figure casting a stone at an unseen adversary. Several portrait busts that Bernini executed during this period,

including that of Robert Cardinal Bellarmine (1623–24), show a new awareness of the relationship between head and body and display an ability to depict fleeting facial expressions with acute realism. These marble works show an unparalleled virtuosity in carving that obdurate material to achieve the delicate effects usually found only in bronze sculptures. Bernini’s sensual awareness of the surface textures of skin and hair and his novel sense of shading broke with the tradition of Michelangelo and marked the emergence of a new period in the history of Western sculpture.



′ ″

Bernini’s David differs fundamentally In his life-size marble sculpture David of 1623, all trace of Mannerism has disappeared. He represents a narrative moment requiring action. David leans to his right and stretches the sling, while turning his head to look over his shoulder at Goliath. In contrast


to Donatello’s relaxed, self-satisfied bronze David, who has already killed Goliath, and

Michelangelo’s , who tensely sights his adversary, Bernini’s is in the midst of the action. Bernini’s David, his muscular legs widely and firmly planted, begins the violent, pivoting motion that will launch the stone from his sling. (A bag full of stones is at David’s left hip, suggesting he thought the fight would be tough and long.) Unlike Myron, the fifth-century bc Greek sculptor who froze his Discus Thrower at a fleeting moment of inaction, Bernini selected the most dramatic of an implied sequence of poses, requiring the viewer to think simultaneously of the continuum and of this tiny fraction of it.

Donatello, David, c. 1430–40 Michelangelo, David .c. 15014.


The suggested continuum imparts a dynamic quality to the statue. In Bernini’s David, the energy confined in Michelangelo’s figures and bursts forth. The Baroque statue seems to be moving through time and through space. This kind of sculpture cannot be inscribed in a cylinder or confined in a niche. Its unrestrained action demands space around it. Nor is it self-sufficient in the

Renaissance sense, as its pose and attitude direct attention beyond it to the unseen Goliath.

Bernini’s David moves out into the space surrounding it, expression of intense concentration on David’s face contrasts vividly with the classically placid visages of Donatello’s and Verrocchio’s versions and is more emotionally charged even than Michelangelo’s. The tension in David’s face augments the dramatic impact of Bernini’s sculpture.

Bernini’s David is a single figure, it assumes the presence of Goliath, thereby expanding the space—

psychologically as well as formally—beyond the sculpture. This is a characteristic, theatrical Baroque technique for involving the spectator in the work.


2. Ecstasy of Saint Teresa

Gianlorenzo Bernini, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, Cornaro

chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, Italy, 1645–1652. Marble, height of group 11′ 6″

Another work displaying the motion and emotion that are hallmarks of Italian Baroque art is Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa in the Cornaro chapel of the Roman church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. The work exemplifies the Baroque master’s refusal to limit his statues to firmly defined spatial settings. For this commission, Bernini marshaled the full capabilities of architecture,

sculpture, and painting to charge the entire chapel with palpable tension. The marble sculpture that serves as the chapel’s focus depicts Saint Teresa of Avila (1515–1582), a nun of the Carmelite order and one of the great mystical saints of the Spanish Counter-Reformation. The conversion occurred after the death of her father, when she fell into a series of trances, saw visions, and heard voices.

Feeling a persistent pain, she attributed it to the fire-tipped arrow of divine love an angel had thrust repeatedly into her heart.



Gianlorenzo Bernini, baldachino, St. Peter’s, Rome, 1624–33. Gilded bronze, approx. 95 ft. (28.96 m) high.

Bernini had won the commission to erect a gigantic bronze baldacchino under Giacomo della Porta’s dome. Completed between 1624 and 1633, the canopy like structure (baldacco is Italian for

“silk from Baghdad,” such as for a cloth canopy) stands almost 100 feet high (the height of an average eight-story building) and serves both functional and symbolic purposes. It marks the high altar and the tomb of Saint Peter, and it visually bridges human scale to the lofty vaults and dome above. Bernini reduced the space at the crossing so that worshipers would be drawn to the altar. He did so by erecting the bronze baldachino, or canopy, over the high altar above St. Peter’s tomb. Four twisted columns, decorated with acanthus scrolls and surmounted by angels, support a bronze valance resembling the tasseled cloth canopy used in religious processions. At the top, a gilded cross stands on an orb. The twisted-column motif did not originate with Bernini. In the fourth century, Constantine was thought to have taken spiral columns from Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and used them at Old St. Peter’s. Eight of these columns were incorporated into the pier niches of New St. Peter’s. Bernini’s columns seem to pulsate, and the dark bronze, accented with gilt, stands out against the lighter marble of the nave and apse. Such contrasts of light and dark, like the organic quality of the undulating columns, are characteristic of Baroque.


St. Peter’s

St. Peter’s basilica and piazza, Vatican, Rome. Maderno, facade, 1607–26; Gianlorenzo Bernini, piazza design, c.


In 1656 Bernini began the exterior of St. Peter’s. His goal was to provide an impressive approach to the church and to define the Piazza San Pietro. The piazza, or public square ,is where the faithful gather during Christian festivals to hear the pope’s message and receive his blessing. Bernini conceived of the piazza as a large open space, organized into elliptical and trapezoidal shapes (in contrast to the Renaissance circle and square). He used Classical Orders and combined them with statues of Christian saints. He divided the piazza into two parts . The columns are four deep, and the colonnades end in temple fronts on either side of a large opening. Crowds can thus convene and disperse easily; they are enclosed but not confined. Bernini compared the curved colonnades to the arms of St. Peter’s, the Mother Church, spread out to embrace the faithful. The second part of the piazza is a trapezoidal area connecting the oval with the church façade. The trapezoid lies on an upward gradient, and the visitor approaches the portals of St. Peter’s by a series of steps. As a result, the walls defining the north and south sides of the trapezoid become shorter toward the façade. This enhances the verticality of the façade and offsets the horizontal emphasis produced by the

incomplete flanking towers. The two sections of the piazza are tied together by an Ionic entablature that extends all the way around the sides of both the oval and the trapezoid, and the entablature is crowned by a balustrade with marble statues of saints. The integration of the architecture with the participating crowds reflects the Baroque taste for involving audiences in a created space, in particular a processional space leading to a high altar.



1. Gardner’s Art through the Ages: The Western Perspective, Fourteenth Edition, Volume II by Fred S. Kleiner

2. A history of western art / Laurie Schneider Adams. —5th ed 3. www.britannica.com

4. www.visual-arts-cork.com



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