Background

From the 1600s to the 1700s, the Baroque style rapidly spread from Rome throughout Europe. While the Renaissance is defined by a sense of harmony, stability, and realism; Baroque art is known for highly dramatized, intense, and ornate works of art. During this period in history, the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation played an influential role in the development of art. Ultimately, the Catholic Church encouraged Baroque art that communicated religious themes and emotional involvement in direct contradiction to the Protestant Reformation’s view that art should be secular.

Characteristics

  • Images are dramatic representations of intense moments
  • Draws the viewer in by breaking the picture plane and encouraging engagement with the scene
  • Depictions are physically and emotionally intense, feeling grandiose, yet real
  • Settings are extravagant and highly ornamented
  • Chiaroscuro: Dramatic use of color, high contrast, light and dark, highlight and shadow
  • Overlapping elements and figures creating a sense of tension

The Ecstasy of St. Teresa

Bernini, 1652
This sculpture designed by Bernini takes the principles of Baroque art to a new level. Focusing on the moment the angel is about to penetrate St. Teresa with an arrow, she throws her head back in a moment of ecstasy infused with pain. The viewer is drawn into this moment of spiritual bliss sharing in St. Teresa’s intensity and passion.
The Ecstasy of St. Teresa, by Bernini, 1652

The Entombment of Christ

Caravaggio, 1603-1604

One of Caravaggio’s most admired and monumental alter pieces, this painting is an excellent example of chiaroscuro. The morning figures fade into the black abyss, while Christ’s body being lowered into the tomb is intensity bright. The corner of the tombstone juts out at the picture plan and Nicodemus (holding Christ’s legs) gazes out at the chapel, drawing the viewer into the composition. The gestures and faces of the mourners almost scream out in this powerful moment.
The Entombment of Christ, by Caravaggio, 1603-1604

Judith Beheading Holofernes

Artemisia Gentileschi, 1614-1620

Gentileschi was one of the few female Caravaggisti, followers of Caravaggio’s artistic style. (Note the use of chiaroscuro). Being a woman, Gentileschi plays into the “wiles of women” by placing Judith front and center, above Holofernes rather than next to him. Comparing this to Caravaggio’s painting of the same subject, Judith appears powerful and strong in this violent moment. Rather than appearing fragile and innocent, she is using all her strength to overpower Holofernes.
Judith Beheading Holofernes, Caravaggio
Caravaggio
Judith Beheading Holofernes, Artemisia Gentileschi, 1614-1620
Gentileschi

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