The “Misshapen Pearl”: Studies in Baroque (Pt. 1)

Mannerism was followed in the late 16th Century by the Baroque period. The word Baroque is a French word for “misshapen pearl” and was applied to the period because of the garish beauty of its art and architecture. The style began in Northern Italy during around 1580 and lasted until the early 1700´s, which makes it one of the longer periods. The period reflected the brewing battle between the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic establishment.

The battle began when the Catholic Church announced a “counter” Reformation in the late 1550´s and began to use art to influence people´s opinion of the Church. The commissioned many pieces that were biblically correct and visually stunning, reaching people on a nearly visceral level. The Church used Masters like Bernini and Rubens to create dramatic paintings using revolutionary techniques like casting certain figures, who are standing in deep shadow, in bright but soft illumination. While Renaissance art was highly stylized, Baroque was much earthier and realistic. For the first time artists painted about live on the streets instead of in the palaces and the masses flocked to this art. Artists like Rembrandt, Vermeer ruled the art world in northeastern Europe and Caravaggio ruled the south. New scientific discoveries, brought on by the Renaissance and the work of men like Da Vinci and Galileo were rapidly changing the way people looked at the world. Dozens of new trade routes, with both Asia and the newly discovered Americas, with thriving colonies, had produced an entirely new form of art.

Art was only purchased by the privileged monied classes for most of history. But now that the economy had begun to create a thriving middle class, more careers in education, eventually leading up to medical advances until we now have jobs like astronauts and careers in software engineering opened up as more people could pay for school and educational levels increased, artists began to produce on a much faster scale and Baroque went through many changes through the years.

The Baroque Style, which we will study for the next several articles, is an “absolutist” style. Baroque is all about exaggeration, colossal sculptures, movement and a great deal of emotion. Like the misshapen pearl it is both more and less than it should be. We can see the influence of this period in other periods, like Gothic, surrealism, Art Deco, and many others. But the period was torn by war and religious conflict, each event which had its own influence on the period and we will explore each of these events and discuss how they changed what might have been.