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Baroque Art
(ca. 1600 - c. 1730)

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The baroque style is characterized by an emphasis on unity among the arts. With technical brilliance, the baroque artist achieved a remarkable harmony wherein painting, sculpture, and architecture were brought together in new spatial relationships, both real and illusionary, often with spectacular visual effects. Although the restrained and classical works created by most French and English artists look very different from the exuberant works favored in central and southern Europe and in the New World, both trends in baroque art tend to engage the viewer, both physically and emotionally. In painting and sculpture this was achieved by means of highly developed naturalistic illusionism, usually heightened by dramatic lighting effects, creating an unequaled sense of theatricality, energy, and movement of forms. Architecture, departing from the classical canon revived during the Renaissance, took on the fluid, plastic aspects of sculpture. 

At the start of the 17th century in France, the Mannerist school of Fontainebleau was still active in commissions for the Château de Fontainebleau, where projects such as the decoration of the Chapel of the Trinity with paintings (1619) by Martin Fréminet continued earlier traditions. Mannerism is also found in the prints of Jacques Callot and Jacques Bellange. 

The candlelit scenes of Georges de La Tour, however, suggest the influence of Caravaggio. 

France 1966. Baroque Art. Georges de la Tour.

Italy 1973. Baroque Art. Caravaggio.

Baroque naturalism developed with artists such as Valentin de Boulogne, who had lived in Italy, and with those who had contact with Flemish realism, such as the Le Nain brothers and Philippe de Champaigne. Of greatest importance for the history of French Baroque painting is the classicism of Nicolas Poussin. Although he lived in Rome for most of his creative life, Poussin's impact -- and that of his fellow expatriate Claude Lorrain -- in his own land was enormous. Late in the century classicism was combined with a High Baroque manner, as in Charles Lebrun's frescoes at the Palace of Versailles. In the late Baroque paintings of Antoine Coypel, the pervasive influence of Rubens is strongly apparent, especially in those for the Royal Chapel at Versailles. 

France 1994. Baroque Art. Nicolas Poussin.

France 1973. Baroque Art. Charles Le Brun. France 1980. Baroque Art. Louis Le Nain. Burundi 1965. Baroque Art. Nicolas Poussin.

Paraguay 1971. Baroque Art. Caracci.

The origins of the word baroque are not clear. It may have been derived from the Portuguese barocco or the Spanish barueco, indicating an irregularly shaped pearl. The word itself does not accurately define or even approximate to the meaning of the style to which it refers. However, by the end of the 18th century the term "baroque", carrying associations with the grotesque, had entered the vocabulary of art criticism as a label for a style of 17th-century art that many later critics regularly dismissed as too bizarre or strange to merit serious study. 

Writers such as the 19th-century Swiss cultural historian Jakob Burckhardt considered this style the decadent end of the Renaissance; his student Heinrich Wölfflin, in Principles of Art History (1915; translated 1932), first pointed out the fundamental differences between the art of the 16th and 17th centuries, stating that "baroque is neither a rise nor a decline from classic, but a totally different art".  

  • Paraguay 1971. Caracci. 

A little known Dutch Baroque painter, who deserves being mentioned here, is Carel Fabritius (1622-1654). whose few remaining works show him to have been the most gifted of the artists who studied under Rembrandt. His short career was spent in Delft, where he joined the painters' guild in 1652; his career was cut short by the explosion of Delft's gunpowder factory in 1654, in which much of his work was destroyed and he was killed. His earliest existing work,  "Raising of Lazarus" (c. 1643, National Museum, Warsaw), is reminiscent of Rembrandt's work in composition and gesture but lacks the master's psychological depth. 

His later works (only a small number remain) are more original, concentrating on realistic perspective and the depiction of bright daylight effects. The Goldfinch (1654, Mauritshuis, The Hague), with its careful composition, brilliant background, and precise colors, prefigures the technique of Jan Vermeer, who may have been Fabritius's pupil. 
  • The Netherlands. Carel Fabritius:  "The Goldfinch".  The stamp is part of a sheet of 10 stamps "Tien Uit de Kunst".  Dutch paintings from the 17th century. 

The Netherlands 1999. Baroque Art. Carel Fabritius.

At the occasion of Siemens' 125th anniversary Siemens Nederland is the main sponsor of a special exhibition of the works of Carel Fabritius in the Mauritshuis Museum, The Hague, in the period 25th September 2004 - 9th January 2005.  On 24th September 2004 the Dutch TPG/POST has issued a wonderful sheet of 10 stamps, showing 10 paintings by Carel Fabritius.  

The layout of each stamp in the sheet is quite interesting.  It shows all ten paintings lined up one after another behind the foreground painting, so that the viewer can have a sense of all ten paintings at once, yet keeping focus on the one in the foreground.  Click on the sheet to see it full screen (151 Kb).  The link will open in a new window.  Many thanks to Mr. Jan Doggen (The Netherlands) for providing the scan. 

 The Netherlands 2004. Baroque Arty. Carel Fabritius. Sheet.

Mercurius and Argus, c. 1645-1647.  Oil on linen, 73,5 x 104 cm. Gift of the Ahmanson Foundation.  Self Portrait, c. 1645.  Oil on linen, 62,5 x 51 cm.
Alte Pinakothek, Munich (Germany).
Mercurius and Aglauros, c. 1645-1645.  Oil on linen, 72,4 x 91,1 cm.  Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (USA).  Portrait of Abraham de Potter, 1645.  Oil on linen, 68,5 x 57 cm.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (The Netherlands).
Hagar and the Angel, c. 1645-1645.  Oil on linen, 157,5 x 136 cm.  Residential Gallery, Salzburg (Austria).  The Sentinel, 1654.  Oil on linen, 68 x 58 cm. 
Stately Museum, Schwerin (Germany). 
Hera, c. 1643.  Oil in linen, 77 x 67 cm.
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow (Russia). 
Self Portrait, 1654.  Oil on linen, 70,5 x 61,5 cm. 
National Gallery, London (Great Britain). 
Self Portrait, c. 1647-1648.  Oil on linen, 65 x 49 cm.
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (The Netherlands). 
The Gold Finch, 1654.  Panel, 33,5 x 22,8 cm. 
Mauritshuis, The Hague (The Netherlands). 

Baroque art crosses vast regional divides. It may seem confusing, for example, to label two such different artists as Rembrandt and Bernini as Baroque; yet despite differences, their work has certain Baroque elements in common, such as a preoccupation with the dramatic potential of light.

The development of Baroque style, in all its various forms, must be seen in its historical context.  The 17th century could be called the first modern age. Human awareness of the world was continuously expanding.  Many scientific discoveries influenced art; Galileo's investigations of the planets, for example, account for astronomical accuracy in many paintings of the time.  By 1530, the Polish astronomer Copernicus had committed to writing his belief that the planets did not revolve around the Earth; his work was published in 1543, but only fully accepted after 1600.  The realization that the Earth was not at the centre of the universe coincided in art with the rise of pure landscape painting devoid of human figures.  The active trade and colonization on the part of many European nations accounted for numerous portrayals of places and peoples that were exotic to Europeans. 

Spain 1960. Baroque Art. Murillo Postcard 1. Spain 1960. Baroque Art. Murillo Postcard 2.

Religion determined many aspects of Baroque art.  The Roman Catholic Church was a highly influential patron, and the Counter Reformation, launched to combat the spread of Protestantism, enlisted emotional, realistic, and dramatic art as a means of propagating the faith.  The simplicity sought by Protestantism in countries such as the Netherlands and northern Germany likewise explains the severity of the architectural styles in those areas. 

Italy 1985. Baroque Art. Se-tenant set of three. World Exhibition in Rome 1985. Italy 1985. Baroque Art. First Day Cover. World Exhibition in Rome 1985.

Political situations also influenced art.  The absolute monarchies of France and Spain led to the creation of works that, in their size and splendour, reflected the majesty of Louis XIV and Philip IV. 

Within Sculpture, Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), the single most important artistic talent of the Italian baroque. Although most significant as a sculptor, he was also highly gifted as an architect; painter; draftsman; designer of stage sets, fireworks displays, funeral trappings, and playwright. 

The Vatican 1980. Baroque Art. Bernini's effigy at his 300th death anniversary. Canopy over the main altar in St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome.  80 Lire.

His art is the quintessence of high baroque energy and robustness. His ability to suggest textures of skin or cloth as well as to capture emotion and movement in sculpture was uncanny. 

Bernini reformed a number of sculptural genres, including the portrait bust, the fountain, and the tomb. His influence was widespread throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.  

  • The Vatican 1980. Bernini's effigy at his 300th death anniversary. The stamp shows a canopy over the main altar in St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome.

Similar stamps with face values of 170, 250, and 350 Lire were issued in the same set, but with other of Bernini's works in St. Peter's displayed in the golden circle to the right of his portrait. 

Italy 1980. Baroqque Art. Bernini. Monaco 1998. Baroque Art. Bernini.

Bernini was the first sculptor to realize the dramatic potential of light in a sculptural complex. This was even more fully realized in his famous masterpiece Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1645-1652, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome), in which the sun's rays, coming from an unseen source, illuminate the swooning saint and the smiling angel about to pierce her heart with a golden arrow. Bernini's numerous busts also carry an analogous sense of persuasive dramatic realism, whether they are allegorical busts such as the Damned Soul and Blessed Soul (both 1619, Palazzo di Spagna, Rome), or portraits such as those of Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1632, Galleria Borghese) or Louis XIV of France (1665, Palace of Versailles). 

Bernini did not begin to design churches until he was 60 years old, but his three efforts in ecclesiastical architecture are significant. His church at Castelgandolfo (1658-1661) employs a Greek cross, and his church at Ariccia (1662-1664), a circle plan. His third church, Sant' Andrea al Quirinale (1658-1670) in Rome, is his greatest. The church was constructed on an oval plan with an ovoid porch extending beyond the facade, echoing the interior rhythms of the building. The interior, decorated with dark, multicolored marble, has a dramatic oval dome of white and gold. 

Also dating from the 1660s are the Scala Regia (Royal Staircase, 1663-1666), connecting the papal apartments in the Vatican Palace to Saint Peter's, and the magnificent Piazza San Pietro (designed 1667), framing the approach to the basilica in a dynamic ovular space formed by two vast semicircular colonnades. Bernini's most outstanding fountain group is in the spectacular Fountain of the Four Rivers (1648-1651) in the Piazza Navona in Rome. 

  • Italy 1998. Italy's Artistic Heritage. 400th birth anniversary of Bernini. "Ecstasy of Santa Teresa". 

Italy 1998. Baroque Art. Italy's Artistic Heritage.  "Ecstasy of Santa Teresa" by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Bernini remained a vital and active artist virtually up to his death. His final work, Bust of the Savior (Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia), presents a withdrawn and restrained image of Christ indicative of what is now known to have been Bernini's calm and resigned attitude toward death.

Sources and links:

Alphabetical listing of the most well known Baroque painters and architects, whose works have appeared on stamps.  Click on either of the active links to go to the individual artist's page. Those marked with an asterisk are represented on this page. 

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Revised 24-jul-2006. Ann Mette Heindorff
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