The term is used strictly to designate an epoch in the history of the arts, roughly 1550–1750; loosely to designate a characteristic of a whole era of European culture; more specifically, a style of art marked by complexity and tension.
The Term. The word was applied in the 16th century to pearls irregular in shape (perolas barrocas ) as distinct from well-shaped ones, in the Portuguese market at Goa. It has also been suggested that the term derives from baroco, the name of a syllogism in Scholastic philosophy.
The term was first used in a cultural sense by French writers in the 17th century. In the 18th century late baroque art became known as rococo because it was "odd," in that it was a striking departure from the forms of symmetric classical art. In the 19th century scholars extended the term "baroque" to the late Renaissance. It generally connoted lack of taste, even when applied to artists such as Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680), Francesco Borromini (1599–1667), or Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640).
A shift from a negative to a positive connotation owed something to French Impressionism of the 19th century, which recalled similar techniques of Diego Velázquez (1599–1660) and Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–69), while Richard Wagner's (1813–83) 19th-century ambition of unifying all the arts in opera was reminiscent of similar attempts in the 17th century. At the same time, relativists were beginning to deny any objective criteria for the evaluation of art. These trends enabled Heinrich Wölfflin to proclaim the baroque a different but no less beautiful art than that of the Renaissance.
Dissemination. The movement began in Italy, growing out of the renaissance and Mannerism, both a development of those styles and in some ways a dramatic departure from them. Mannerism, with its asymmetrical and generally crowded compositions, deliberately violated classical rules of proportion and thus developed into the baroque.
The baroque was an Italian creation both because Italy had been for well over a century the center of the greatest artistic creativity and because the papal project of rebuilding the city of Rome provided unparalleled opportunities for architects and artists.
The identification of the baroque with the counter-reformation is qualified somewhat by the fact that the vital center of religious reform, throughout most of the 16th century, was Spain, where baroque developed somewhat later than in Italy and was not as ubiquitous, thus showing that other styles were equally capable of expressing the new religious sensibilities. But a serious religious spirit and a propensity for paradox and exaggeration were already characteristic of the Spanish mentality and served as a basis for the new movement.
Although French classicism of the second half of the 17th century is sometimes juxtaposed to the preclassicism or quasi baroque of the first half, many things in the culture of the times—costume, decoration, festivities, operas, public rituals—qualify as baroque, which logically developed into the rococo. But French baroque was more restrained in thought and form and more secularized than in other countries. Classicism subdued, but did not change, the baroque character of 17th-century France.
The French, who assumed the spiritual leadership of the Counter-Reformation soon after 1600, were somewhat reserved in their response to the baroque. In the early 17th century churches continued to be built in the gothic style, albeit often with baroque modifications, and there were few French buildings as unrestrainedly exuberant as some in Italy and elsewhere. The rococo style—less flamboyant, more attentive to exquisite detail—was a French invention.
Several factors combined to ensure this French reserve—a traditional commitment to the ideals of classical restraint and balance, the increasing influence of the monarchy over artistic production, and Jansenist austerity, which mistrusted display in general and in particular disapproved of the exuberant joyfulness of so much baroque religious expression.
Initially Louis XIV sought the advice of bernini on remodeling the palace of the Louvre in Paris. But eventually the king lost interest in the project and concentrated his attention on his new palace at Versailles, a structure baroque in its grandeur but in many ways quite classical in design.
The movement came relatively late to Germany, possibly because of the disruptions of the thirty years' war, but in the German lands it had its last, and in some ways most spectacular, flowering, in the great abbey churches of Bavaria and Austria and in the music of Johann Sebastian bach (1685–1750) and George Frideric handel (1685–1759).
By attenuating the term somewhat it has been possible to find baroque influences in the Protestant North as well, especially in England, less in the visual arts than in literature.
Baroque proved to be a truly international style, especially in Catholic lands, as it spread to Italy, America, the Philippines, Goa, and other territories beyond Europe itself. Spain was responsible for much of it, with strong influences visible in Central and South American churches.
Counter-Reformation. Although the origins of the baroque lay in the high Renaissance and the Mannerism that followed it, the Counter-Reformation (Catholic Reformation), beginning in the mid-16th century, gave the artistic movement its major impetus.
The sometimes worldly and critical spirit of the Renaissance, as well as the quite different spirit of the Protestant reformation, in some ways blocked the spread of the renewed spirituality of the Catholic Church, an opposition that motivated the establishment of the Roman inquisition and the index of prohibited books (1559), both of which scrutinized the faith and the conduct of writers and artists. Thus the artistic experiments of the baroque were achieved while remaining within the boundaries of religious orthodoxy. Despite obvious stylistic differences with both, the baroque might be said to have united the substance of medieval Catholicism with the forms of Renaissance classicism.
Sixtus V (pope 1585–90) put the statues of SS. Peter and Paul on the top of the columns of the Roman emperors Trajan and Marcus Aurelius, and erected anew the Egyptian obelisk of the emperor Caligula in St. Peter's square, together with the cross inscribed "Christus vincit." Urban VIII (pope 1623–44), during whose pontificate the Papal States reached their greatest extent, reopened St. Peter's Basilica (1626), the restored majestic sanctuary of Christendom.
In part the ecclesiastical influence on the baroque was through patronage, as various newly established religious orders, especially the Jesuits and Oratorians in Rome, later the Theatines in Germany, commissioned architects to build great churches in the new style. But the Counter-Reformation influence went much deeper, baroque art serving as perhaps the chief instrument for expressing the spirituality of the age.
The great ascetics and mystics of the time were also founders or reformers of religious orders, such as St. teresa of Ávila (1515–82) and St. john of the cross (1526?–94). Most important was St. ignatius loyola (1491–1556) with his motto: "Omnia ad majorem Dei gloriam" (All for the greater glory of God). These saints forged the spirituality in which Christian feeling and thinking became radically theocentric, a concept that baroque ecclesiastical art incorporated by centering churches and whole cities around the tabernacle and the monstrance, symbolizing in a way the spiritual heliocentricity of the baroque age. The mystical experience described by St. Teresa and others was the highest expression of that human striving which was the heart of the baroque sensibility, the mystical experience the ultimate paradox, where human and divine met in all-engulfing love.
In France, St. francis de sales (1567–1622), Cardinal Pierre de berulle (1575–1629), St. John eudes (1601–80), Bl. marie de l'incarnation (1599–1672), and St. margaret mary alacoque (1647–90) developed devotions, such as the cult of the Sacred Heart, which might be called baroque, and St. Louis-Marie grignion de montfort (1673–1716) promoted the heightened devotion to the Eucharist.
The baroque spirit did, however, present difficulties for Christianity, which since its inception had warned against the snares of the world, the danger of losing sight of the heaven amidst the distractions of Earth. The baroque awareness of disorder could seem almost antireligious, a repudiation of ancient verities. But the fact that Christians had a love of the world, yet were called upon to reject it, was precisely the kind of tension that was the root of baroque creativity. It was the uniquely appropriate style for the 17th century, which saw the simultaneous growth of both skepticism and piety.
In a sense the starting point for the resolution of this dilemma was the Christian doctrine of human sinfulness. Prone as they were to sin, people could not perceive the world except through the prism of their own experiences. The challenge was to enable them to transcend those experiences.
Thus the exuberant, possibly even arrogant, baroque urge to break through existing boundaries served religious faith by its artistic transformation of restlessness into the search for infinity, the desire to rise above the mundane world without shunning it. The baroque often began with dense, complex renderings of worldly scenes, then led the eye higher and higher, as in domes painted to seem open to the sky, where human beings visibly escaped the bonds of Earth into the heavens, natural and supernatural yoked together in the same tableau. "The baroque artist adopts a tactic of, first, negation, then strong affirmation, which gives a special illusion of release into 'distance' and 'infinity"' (Wylie Sypher).
The new churches were expected to provide worshippers with a foretaste of Paradise, although at first there was some tension between Counter-Reformation austerity and the exuberant new style. St. Philip neri originally intended that the walls of the Chiesa Nuova in Rome should be whitewashed, and the original Jesuit plans for the Gesu Church were comparably restrained.
Rome itself, a city built on hills, supported this sense of triumph. Subjects in baroque art were often represented as looking up, and a favorite theme was the miraculous levitation of particular saints, along with gloriously triumphant scenes of entry into heaven, as on the tomb of St. Ignatius in the Gesu Church. Everywhere the style expressed energy barely held in, the urge to soar.
Although trent expressed a preference for relatively simple church music, such as plain chant, the creativity of the era expressed itself musically as well, especially in the masses of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1526?–94). At the Chiesa Nuova, Philip Neri sponsored performances of a new genre outside the context of the Mass itself—the free musical composition called the oratorio, which reached its climax with Handel.
Another starting point of the baroque was the Catholic Church's teaching on the value of free will, in the face of the denial of that belief by Martin luther, John cal vin, and others. St. Ignatius was the great psychologist of the will, his Spiritual Exercises a guide whereby directors might teach people ways of mastering the self for the sake of God. The palpable tensions within baroque artistic creation, the conflicts and even contradictions that they embodied, could be taken as visible manifestations of the struggle to subdue the human will to the will of God. The self experienced itself as divided, which only the divinely guided will could unify. The path to heaven now became a strenuous one, with joyous rewards visible to those who dared look up.
Thus the Church was optimistic about its own future and, as contrasted with classic Protestantism, relatively optimistic about the human ability to achieve salvation. Baroque religious art tended to be highly celebratory, representing a series of great spiritual triumphs, the visible and the invisible, the finite and the infinite, which began as apparently contradictory of one another but in the end were gloriously united.
So also the reemphasized sacramentalism of the Counter-Reformation Church justified the baroque's dazzling rendition of material realities, the triumph of the eye over the mind, the act of faith itself made through the physical, especially the sacrament of the altar. Trent's affirmation of the sacredness of matter provided the theological justification for the entire Catholic baroque enterprise.
The "pagan humanism" of the Italian Renaissance, which tried to pattern life on the natural ideals of the ancients rather than on the morality taught by Christianity, was largely unacceptable to the later 16th century. Although the depth of this paganism has been exaggerated, even the Christian Humanism of Erasmus, who urged a return to the ancient sources both in religion and in secular learning, was often rejected by devout Catholics such as St. Ignatius.
The ratio studiorum of the Society of Jesus might be called baroque, in part because of the antihumanist reaction (although the Jesuits incorporated the study of the pagan classics into their curriculum), in part because of the severe Jesuit emphasis on disciplining the will. The humanism of the Jesuits and its underlying baroque spirit was a devout humanism, brought into harmony with Christianity on the basis of the principle "Omnia ad majorem Dei gloriam."
The development of the extravagant, almost unrestrained, baroque style has sometimes been understood as disregarding the Council of Trent's injunction that religious art should be austere and relatively simple. Trent's strictures in this regard, however, have been exaggerated, and in fact the conciliar decrees did not go much beyond insisting that religious art be instructive and edifying. Baroque art was often didactic, in its frank intention to convey religious messages, an artistic purpose that was scarcely new.
There was some debate at Trent as to whether the veneration of images should still be encouraged, since it sometimes led to superstitions that Protestantism had attacked to great effect. In the end, however, in this as in other things, the council chose to emphasize precisely what the Protestants had condemned, among them veneration of the saints as spiritual exemplars and as intercessors with God. The new baroque churches had many side chapels dedicated to particular saints, and baroque sculpture had no greater achievement than its statues of the saints.
Trent's sanctioning of religious images was part of its larger affirmation of the principle that the spiritual is mediated to human beings through the material, an affirmation that lay at the heart of much of baroque art and architecture, indeed the very charter of their existence. The task of the artist was, above all, to render palpable and visible the higher unseen realities.
The dogma of transubstantiation—that the bread and wine of the Eucharist are changed into the body and blood of Christ—was at the center of the new piety, the most important way in which the physical manifested the spiritual. The new emphasis on Eucharistic piety and adoration had profound effects on architecture, as the tabernacle was set on the high altar, the altar came to be the focus of the worshiper's attention (often highlighted by a magnificent canopy), and churches were built as large open spaces, without rood screens and with as few pillars as possible to interfere with the vista. (The rule of the Jesuits, who were among the most important early patrons of the new style, did not provide for the celebration of the Divine Office by priests in common, thereby dispensing with the choir stalls that had separated the laity from the high altar in many medieval churches.)
michaelangelo's rendition of the "Last Judgment" in the sistine chapel had been commissioned by Clement VII in reparation for the Sack of Rome (1527), the low point of the early modern papacy. But, as the baroque style developed, it became the vehicle of Roman triumph, marking a sense of partial victory over Protestantism and a successful reassertion of papal authority. The theme of the triumph of the soul over the heaviness of Earth—its flight to the heavenly realms—blended almost imperceptibly into the celebration of the triumph of the Church over its enemies, both triumphs experienced as a single event. The triumph of the Church was the victory of truth over falsehood, a victory that made possible the soul's triumph over evil. (Thus St. Ignatius's tomb shows not only his entry into heaven but heretics being cast into hell.)
Having rejected the Protestant doctrine of sinful depravity, the Church of the Counter-Reformation could rejoice in its own triumphs and in the triumphs of the souls to whom eternal reward was accessible after heroic effort, for which the great saints provided concrete examples.
Along with the religious orders, high-ranking churchmen were the chief patrons of the baroque, and these ecclesiastical princes often specified the subject matter for the artists, so that artistic creations were the result of some kind of negotiation between the patron and the artist. But, to the degree that church officials controlled baroque art, it was not simply through the exercise of coercive influence. Most of the artists of the age were themselves sincere believers, some of them quite devout.
Bernini made retreats under the guidance of the Spiritual Exercises. The poet Torquato Tasso (1544–95), still deeply entrenched in the chivalrous and amorous tastes of Renaissance epic, accused himself before the Inquisition of not being able to write a Christian epic and after many attempts succeeded in purifying his "Gerusalemme Liberata" into the "Gerusalemme Conquistata". The attractions of the world appeared diabolic in the new ascetic atmosphere, symbolized by the figure of Don Juan, who covered under a mask of gentleness his unbridled voluptuosity and ended in Hell. Lope de Vega, after a life of multiple adultery and public scandal, paid for by suffering and penance, became a priest, but at an advanced age fell again when he met an actress performing in his comedies.
In accordance with the admonitions of Trent, baroque art was consciously used to defend controverted Catholic beliefs and practices—devotion to the Virgin Mary, the primacy of Peter, the seven sacraments, acts of charity and other good works, the veneration of the saints and of relics, the union of the living and the dead. Martyrdom, often rendered with disconcerting vividness, was a favorite theme, intended especially to inspire apostolic zeal in priests who might go as missionaries to newly discovered lands. Baroque art freely made use of allegory, which Protestant biblical theology had rejected.
While the Church remained vigilant against heresy, it continued to tolerate benignly some of the devotional excesses of its own members, in a new kind of folk art. "The great achievements of the Catholic Church lay in harmonizing, humanizing, civilizing the deepest impulses of ordinary people" (Kenneth Clark).
Protestantism. The concept of Protestant baroque is problematical, given the Protestant rejection of religious images and its minimizing of the sacred character of church buildings. Protestantism removed all mediators between man and God, which obviated the commemoration of saints or the depiction of spiritual hierarchies stretching between Earth and heaven. Overall it minimized the sacramental principle itself, whereby the spiritual was manifest through the material.
To the degree that the baroque built on the Catholic affirmation of free will, making possible a sense of striving for God, Protestantism was also inhospitable to the baroque spirit, because of Protestant claims about fundamental human sinfulness that negated that freedom. It was a theology that lent itself to the baroque primarily, therefore, in its preoccupation with human bondage to sin and the means of escaping it.
Rembrandt has often been called a baroque painter, as he was also the greatest Protestant painter, in his rendition of biblical scenes. His baroque qualities were particularly manifest in his dramatic and spiritually revealing use of light and shadow and in the dynamic postures of his subjects in his illustrations of familiar biblical stories.
The baroque spirit could also express itself through literature in Protestant cultures. A major flowering were the Metaphysical poets of 17th-century England, of whom John donne (1573–1631), Andrew Marvell (1621–78), Richard Crashaw (1613?–49), and George Herbert (1593–1633) were the supreme examples, in their fascination with paradoxical, even daring imagery; their use of religious and sensual imagery almost inter-changeably; and their preoccupation, in an almost Ignatian manner, with the discipline of the will, a preoccupation made possible by the Anglican adherence to Dutch arminianism, which affirmed freedom of the will in a qualified way and also opened the door to an appreciation of the "beauty of holiness" as it might be manifest visibly in church buildings and liturgy.
John milton (1608–74), however, was a Puritan, a movement that rejected Arminianism, and his Paradise Lost has been considered a baroque masterpiece in its dramatic rendering of rebellious men and angels breaking out of the boundaries placed around them by God.
The baroque style was born and matured within aristocratic, courtly societies, in contrast to the bourgeois culture of, for example, the Protestant Netherlands, and the exuberance of the baroque has been attributed not only to religion but to the aristocratic mentality that was disdainful of economic considerations and willing to spend lavishly for the arts. The bourgeois ideal was to "maintain a high average standard," whereas "the Baroque spirit lives in and for the moment of creative ecstasy. It will have all or nothing" (Christopher Dawson).
Only in "high church" Anglicanism could the baroque spirit manifest itself architecturally in any way comparable to its Catholic creations, the greatest Protestant baroque church being Christopher Wren's (1632–1723) St. Paul's Cathedral, London, which was, however, less grand than St. Peter's in Rome.
Both the Anglican and Lutheran churches revered sacred music, and the culminating baroque expressions of that art form were Protestant, in Bach and Handel. The Catholic Church had its own baroque musical tradition, beginning with Palestrina, and baroque music can be called a truly ecumenical creation, the Lutheran Bach even composing Catholic masses.
Secular Uses. With patronage essential to almost all artistic activities, separation of religious from secular art was not always clear-cut, and the baroque style was also adopted by lay princes for palaces and other secular buildings, even as ecclesiastical princes, notably the great Roman papal families, commissioned works that reflected their own worldly importance.
The baroque lent itself to such purposes because its soaring and vast painted walls could be used to glorify princes as well as saints, its massive structures celebrating political power as well as salvation. The baroque became in a sense the preferred style of the "absolute" monarchs who were centralizing and regimenting government and society throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Government patronage took control of artistic expression (as in the French Academy) in the same way as the Church of the Counter-Reformation.
If musically the earliest great baroque compositions were settings of the Mass, eventually the baroque spirit led to the creation of opera, an essentially secular genre that was primarily musical but brought into play all other aspects of baroque creativity—poetry, scenery, costumes, even the theater building itself. In opera the powerful emotions originally stirred by religion were permitted expression in secular ways.
The Rome of the late 16th century was itself a master example of harmonious town planning, and similar efforts were made by secular princes—capital cities where cathedral, castle, and opera were integrated into a whole, the streets laid out so as to draw the individual toward the town's major foci.
Typical of baroque luxury was the cult of the garden. In the South these featured cascades of water falling from rocky heights into sculptured basins, surrounded by grottos and pavilions. In the North they were turned into mazes and labyrinths of glades, clipped groves, shaded alleys with Greco-Roman statues, long latticed arbors, lakes, ponds, flower beds worked into various patterns, hedges, fountains with Nereids and nymphs spouting jets of water.
Spirit. The baroque began from the matrix of the Renaissance, but its impetus came from the urge to break out of the formal boundaries that Renaissance classicism honored. The baroque took as its starting point a restless, even chaotic world, on which order had to be imposed without doing violence to the richness of reality.
This imperative has been seen as the result of a profound cultural breakdown that occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries—the Reformation, which forever sundered the religious unity of the West; the consequent religious wars; a radically new perspective on the world, brought about by geographical discovery; and a radical new view of Earth itself in the context of the whole universe, as a result of the Copernican heliocentric theory. All of these rendered obsolete the measured, harmonious, finite world represented in medieval and Renaissance art.
Thus the baroque sensibility was characterized by restlessness, by nervous aspiring energy, by mass in motion, by a looming sense of power conveyed through sheer size. The universe itself, in accordance with the new astronomy, was now seen as an infinite and unbroken space with no true center. In baroque buildings the eye's inability to encompass the whole reinforced the sense of infinity. The baroque style valued the dynamic over the static, the restless over the peaceful. It reveled in contradictions, was immersed in fantasy and spectacle, and employed extravagant modes of expression. Love of paradox was thus at the heart of the baroque sensibility, conveying truth through artistic illusion, by means ostensibly designed merely to delight.
Certain central motifs of the baroque become discernable when contrasted to the motifs of the Renaissance—memento mori (remember death) over carpe diem (seize the day), the vanity of earthly pleasure over the enjoyment of life, instability over confidence in oneself, movement and change over a fixed untroubled attitude, dissimulation, disguise, confusion, madness and simulation of madness.
There was a clash between Christian mores and the values of aristocratic society. The frequency of duels, which were condemned by the Church, is an example. Ostentatious honor, generosity, and detachment for secular motives were pushed to the levels of heroism and virtue on the spiritual plane, as chastity, virginity, widowhood, suffering, martyrdom—saintly virtues little esteemed in the Renaissance—were exalted. These motifs were presented within the framework of larger tensions: duty versus passion, love versus renunciation, virtue versus intrigue, right versus might, hope versus despair, the finite versus the infinite, time versus eternity.
At the same time the contrast between Renaissance and baroque should not be exaggerated because, despite its violations of classical rules, the baroque adhered strictly to certain rules of its own, most readily seen in its more restrained French manifestations and in poetry. Part of the baroque exploitation of illusion was the fact that apparent confusion masked an often rigid order.
As with all art, the creations of the baroque cannot necessarily be taken as directly mirroring the interior state of their creators, a fact that imposes caution on any postulation that the artists of the age personally experienced some unique anxiety arising from social and cultural dislocations.
The ultimate undoing of the baroque style was perhaps its very fascination with display and illusion, so that it sometimes seemed that the spiritual had been turned into the material rather than the reverse. The striving for greater and greater dramatic effect eventually led to a shallow sensationalism, with religious statues encrusted with jewels or provided with human hair. The baroque style was the last great manifestation of truly religious art in Western civilization, but its excesses also led to the kinds of tasteless, sentimental popular religious art common in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Increasingly, especially as the style was adopted for political uses, the baroque sense of triumph was less a celebration of spiritual victories and more a vehicle for worldly display. In its multiplication of vivid images, its dramatic contrast of light and shadow, and its ability to convey a sense of motion, the baroque has been seen as anticipating the art of the modern film.
Specific Manifestations. Architecture. Among the earliest baroque buildings are the two great churches of the Society of Jesus in Rome. The interior of the Gesu is still almost a continuation of Renaissance style in its geometric and stereometric forms, together with the linear arrangement of the walls and the straight continuation of the longitudinal nave into the apse, the whole covered by a mighty but simple dome whose baroque interior was painted much later. The church of San Ignazio, on the other hand, is fullest baroque, with all forms picturesquely segmented and merged into a dream world where the flowing lines of the solid walls, the painted curtains and balustrades, the real windows and their painted sills and columns cannot be distinguished.
The same differences can be found in Renaissance and baroque church facades, for instance, Santa Maria Novella in Florence and Borromini's San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane in Rome. The former is seen as a plane, all decor arranged along the surface in a two-dimensional order, whereas the latter suggests a moving wave in its line of concave and convex forms, restless and recessional, and in its front with broad curves. A Renaissance church, as a building of "closed" form, fits into the house front of a city street, but a baroque church (such as the Val de Grace in Paris, the Stift Melk in Austria, and Santa Maria della Salute in Venice), as an "open" building, belongs to the landscape, where foreshortenings offer to the viewer, from various points of observation, towers and cupola, frontal and lateral walls in ever new aspects.
Sculpture. Baroque statues seem to leave their niches and to give the viewer an opportunity to see them from different angles, in this regard analogous to the "open" baroque of architecture. The spirit of the Council of Trent and the introduction of new Spanish saints to the whole Catholic world gave statuary a different flowering on monuments and tombs, as occured in secular ways through the adulation of princes of Church and state.
The religious statues of Europe and Latin America followed the ideal of polychrome sculpture as exemplified by Juan Martínez Montañés (1568–1649), a tradition in Spain that reached its peak in Alonso Cano (1601–67). The plastic clouds surrounding the Blessed Virgin on Bavarian and Austrian columns represent the same exuberance. In Italy the highest achievement of baroque sculpture was Bernini's marble statue of the almost trembling body of St. Teresa, her heart pierced by the golden arrow of a cherub, in Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.
Painting. If picturesqueness is a hallmark of baroque in architecture and sculpture, it is preeminently so in painting. Renaissance painters such as Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci stressed drawing almost too much to appear painterly. But the Mannerists painted so that contours were effaced and objects fused with their surroundings, as in Michelangelo's Last Judgment. Baroque painters included Pietro da Cortona (1596–1669), famous for effectual foreshortening; Guido Reni (1575–1642), known for the characteristic uplifted eyes of his figures; and the painters of elongated figures, culminating with El Greco (1541–1614) in Spain.
The High Renaissance in Italy gradually yielded to the colorful Venetian Renaissance of Paolo Veronese (1528?–88) and Titian (1488?–1576) and culminated in the naturalism of Caravaggio (1565–1609). Moreover, in accordance with the perspectivist compositions of Tintoretto (1518–94), Roman influences appear in the chiaroscuro murals of Federico Barocci (1526?–1612) and the Würzburg frescoes of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770).
What had, however, become mere technique in Italy reached a new height under the Flemish influence of Pieter Brueghel (1525?–69) and Rubens. Its powerful sensuality was expressed in theatrical groupings of nudes in grandiose environments. Spanish artists replaced colorfulness by the impressionistic brush strokes, color spots, and tonal gradations of the ingenious Velázquez, whose military and courtly subjects were to have technical parallels in the Madonnas of Bartolomé Murillo (1617–82) and the monks of Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664). Velázquez's subdued baroque also had certain parallels in the North. Closest in style to his interiors were those of Jan Vermeer (1632–75). Closest to the military display of his Surrender of Breda (1635) is the chiaroscuro Night Watch of Rembrandt (1641), with its stress on golden chains, fur, and feathered hats.
The same baroque impressionism is found in the dream-light atmosphere of the French stage landscapes of Claude Lorrain (1600–82).
Music. Historians of music use the term "baroque" when discussing the invention of opera, the oratorio, the instrumental concert, the cantata, sonata, fugue, prelude, and organ music, these "novelties" of the baroque era reaching from Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643) to Henry Purcell (1659–95), Bach, and Antonio Vivaldi (1675?–1741). A line of Renaissance, exclusively vocal a cappella music culminating in Palestrina, was extended into the baroque by the ecclesiastical stile antico.
Theoreticians, however, understand by baroque music a certain secular stile moderno. Unlike the musica gravis of the Renaissance, where a clear line and axis of polyphonic harmony stressed by the tenor voices oriented all the contrapuntal voices, the baroque musica luxurians had recourse to another leading principle—that of the general basso or bassus continuus, in which the leading upper voices were reflected according to movement, chords, cadences, and even dissonances, while the middle voices merely filled out the harmony without any contrapuntal significance. The basso and soprano furnished the skeleton of the composition. The consequence of this novelty was a monodic polarity between fundamental and ornamental instruments, with the stress on the deep-toned cembalo, violoncello, viola da gamba, and viola da braccio.
Another baroque principle, comparable to the principle of openness in the graphic arts, was the combination of measured with free music as introduced by Giulio Caccini (1550?–1618) and Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583–1643). According to this principle the polyphonic choir followed the traditional preestablished measurement, while the two leading voices and the bassus continuus were free to hover (senza battuta ) above the measured parts of the cantata or madrigal. This baroque novelty had a number of consequences: the recitative, or speech-song, as well as the strutting aria; the virtuosity of the coloratura and the dependence of minor and major keys on passions provided in the libretti; the hunting for castrati to combine in the voices boyish charm with virile decision; and the opportunity for mezzo-sopranos to match the new deep-toned instruments. The baroque combination of music and poetry in the opera is a parallel to the combination of baroque architecture and painting in church interiors.
Poetry. The baroque in poetry appeared as tension between the secularism of the Renaissance and new spiritual trends, manifest in conflicting attitudes of escape, revolt, and interior consent to the ideals of the Catholic reform. As early as 1550 a transformation of Renaissance love poetry was leading to the praise of a spiritualized, rather than a real, lady, as in the sonnets of the Portuguese poet Luís de Camões (1524–80). There is even the mystical shift to divine love, called in Italy spiritua1e and in Spain a el divino. The new baroque tendency was present in the poetical works of St. John of the Cross. The further shift, that of the central motif from love to death, resulted in remarkable poems of disillusionment by Francisco Quevedo (1580–1645), as well as in the English Metaphysical poets.
Sometimes a deeper insight into the destructive effects of human passion, thanks to the new spirituality, inspired a baroque lyricism of repentance, as in many poems of Lope de Vega (1562–1635) and Tasso. Baroque poetry culminated in the biblical and liturgical paraphrases and imitations of the Spaniard Fray Luis de León (1527–91), and in the French poets Pierre Corneille (1606–84) and Jean Racine (1639–99), as well as in the quasi-mystical alexandrines of the German Catholic convert Angelus Silesius (1624–77).
Prose. The secular-spiritual tension apparent in baroque poetry occurred also in prose. Within the pastoral novel Diana by Jorge de Montemayor (1521?–61) in Spain, as in Astree by Honoré d'Urfé (1568–1625) in France, appeared a love casuistry in which platonic friendship won out against sensuous relations. The type, taken up in France by Bishop Pierre Camus (1584–1652), led to the secularized but strictly moral psychological novel, which reached its zenith in La Princesse de C1eves by Marie de La Fayette (1634–93). Baroque novels, in a certain parallel to art, also exhibited formal innovations. The psychological questions discussed at length allowed a unified and open form, with a larger extension of the plot than had the short, multiple stories of the Renaissance, closed within an artificial frame.
The frame ostensibly burst under the impact of the interlocked and inseparable episodes of the Don Quixote of Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616), imitated in Germany by Hans Jakob von Grimmelshausen (1620?–76) in his Simplicius Simp1icissimus. Cervantes's novel also illustrated a tension, so characteristic of the baroque, between self-willed idealism and unrestrained materialism, neither of which can satisfy man, who is looking for something that transcends both, namely, sanctity. The baroque, particularly with Cervantes, created a new prose style. A preference for directness and terseness, a kind of Tacitean style, was applied to the vernacular in the Essais of Michel de Montaigne (1533–92), and both tendencies merged in Cervantes's rhythmic, Italianate, but popular style. At the same time, an elaborate pulpit eloquence was revived by the Ars praedicandi (1562) of Lucas Baglioni. Sacred oratory reached high peaks in the Spanish preacher Hortensio Felix Paravicino (1580–1633), in the Portuguese Jesuit Antonio Vieira (1608–97), and most of all in the "Eagle of Meaux," the French court preacher Jacques-Benigne Bossuet (1627–1704), who transcended hackneyed themes in his famous funeral orations and sermons.
Literary Theory. A fundamental tension in literary theory was evident in a trend that, following strictly the "rules" of Aristotle's Rhetoric and Poetics, at the same time prepared for a break from them. Not only was the question of unity of action, place, and time raised, but under the new religious trends the problems of verisimilitude and decency appeared, especially the question whether literature ought primarily to instruct or delight. The question was summarized by the Poetics of Antonio Possevino, SJ (1595), and the answer given in the fusing of instruction and delight in a profitable higher pleasure.
On the question of how to achieve this fusion, literary theories differed. In Spain, Baltasar Gracián (1601–58), in his Agudeza y arte de ingenio, found the solution in a wholesale imagery that was required to reveal at the same time intelligence and wit. Nicolas Boileau (1636–1711) in France, in his Art poetique, and Martin Opitz (1597–1639) in Germany, believed that by following the great literary patterns of the past, one would find a dignified and sublime circumlocution in which reason prevailed, rather than a profusion of metaphors.
Drama. The baroque epoch was preeminently the age of drama, because of the tensions hitherto described. The contrasts between virtue and sin, will and passion, were foremost in the minds of theologians. Discussions concerning grace, free will, and their mysterious interrelationships attracted Lope de Vega, William Shakespeare (1564–1616), Corneille, Racine, and the Dutchman Joost van den Vondel (1587–1679).
In the variegated baroque drama, man was always shown within the limitations of his condition, on the stage of the world, while God was the unseen stage director. The motif of life as a dream occurred in Pedro Calderón de la Baraca's (1600–81) El gran teatro del mundo but it was likewise discernible in Shakespeare's Macbeth. The dream motif became famous through Calderón's La Vida es Sueflo, but the convention is evident also in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Tirso de Molina's (1571?–1648) hero in El condenado por desconfiado came to realize that a proud hermit, who tried to get to heaven by his own effort, could be surpassed by a fundamentally charitable robber who, aware of his own weakness, ultimately relied on God.
Racine's heroine in Phedre (1677), worn out by an adulterous love and feebly resisting, let her will be so weakened that she caused murder and committed suicide out of jealousy and despair. Thus in the age of casuistry the passions were tracked to their roots. The jealousy of suspicious husbands led to the killing of their innocent wives in Lope's and Calderón's versions of El medico de su honra, as well as in Shakespeare's Othello.
But the baroque drama also had a formal counterpoint. Progressive cutting of secondary actions from plays led, as in the visual arts, from multiplicity to unity. Dramatic unity was achieved through plots knit so tightly that they could end in catastrophe within the shortest imaginable time, a psychological time even less than the 24 hours thought to have been prescribed by Aristotle.
Stagecraft. The gigantic baroque opera stage featured the supernatural, the miraculous, the unusual, the bizarre, the sumptuous, the limitless, and the grandiose. Here, the illusion of space verging on infinity was created by showing only half the theater building to the spectators, who were enclosed in boxes, arranged in horizontal and vertical rows of great heights. The other half belonged to a deep platform where, with the help of mechanical devices, the same illusions of perspective could be produced as in the painted heavens of baroque churches. If a building could not house all the splendor of ballets and cavalcades, an open-air theater was created for such performances, and naval battles were enacted on artificial lakes. The baroque stage, with its illusions and surprises, was one of the typical creations of an age when ostentation played an enormous role, despite the fact that the dichotomy between outer show and inner worth was felt as a defect.
Language. Literary language centered around paradox as the supreme figure of speech: life is death and death is life; love of God is hatred of the world; martyrdom is sweet and freedom is bitter; one is dying from not dying; one is victorious in defeat; chaste in nakedness; proud in humility; desperate in hope; one receives the brightest light from the darkest night. The paradox metaphor became a myth-creating force—striking, fresh, eloquent, grandiose though artificial. Metaphor and paradox joined to create gigantic antitheses. The whole epoch might be said to stand between light and shade, night and day, reason and faith. Epigrammatic condensation vied with lush description. Playful, pleasant, and grotesque elements became counterparts of the grandiose, the majestic, and the magnificent, as when Blaise Pascal declared man to be a thinking reed and a beast that tries to play the angel and Don Quixote was called the "wise fool."
Another device was the impressionistic blurring and gradual clarification of an event. In Velázquez's Las Lanzas the movement was from the indistinct background of a military camp, to a middle ground of dim contours, and finally to the foreground of distinguishable soldiers and horses. In this way Cervantes and Luis de Góngora y Argote described the meetings of people, revealing personality by progressively clearer bits of conversation, until names and professions were clarified and the persons moved to a goal, for instance, a wedding feast first vaguely discussed; then apprehended from noises, illumination, and music; finally confronted in detailed reality.
Philosophy. The term "baroque" has been applied to 17th-century philosophy, in part because the century's discovery of an unshakable mechanism in the physical world, alongside the Catholic belief in moral liberty, set up a tension so difficult to bridge that it affected even the theological discussions on free will and predestination between Jesuits and Jansenists.
The oratorian Nicolas de malebranche (1638–1715), a disciple of René descartes (1596–1650), the most influential philosopher of the early part of the century, tried to overcome the dichotomy by a general principle of divine order that works differently in the material and the spiritual worlds, so that miracles follow a principle of order that the human mind is not able to discover.
The tension between matter and spirit offered itself in a quite different way to Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646–1716), who started, in the medieval Scholastic way, from God as the immovable First Cause and Master of the material as well as of the moral-spiritual world. Both worlds are subject to His plan and purpose. There is a preestablished harmony between the macrocosm of creation and the microcosm of the human soul, which works out its destiny in liberty within the best imaginable of worlds, a world that pleads for the bounty of God (Theodicy, 1710).
Blaise pascal (1623–62), without achieving a philosophical system, was perhaps the 17th-century man who felt most acutely these tensions within himself. He rejected Descartes's approach and resolved his own tension by distinguishing three "orders"—the world of geometry, of "finesse" (art, life), and of charity (religion).
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j. f. hitchcock]
"Baroque, The." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 10, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/baroque
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