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Unit Four Part Five

Baroque and Rococo



Our study covers the art of the Baroque and Rococo periods in several countries. Our first two
works predate the Baroque, but show stylistic developments which lean toward the Baroque style.

This is a late Italian Renaissance piece, The Last Supper by Tintoretto. Compared to The Last
Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, it is more emotional in content and theatrical in lighting and
composition. This style, encouraged by the Catholic Church as part of the Counter-Reformation
movement, is the forerunner of the Baroque style. The Catholic Church had lost members to the
Protestant movement and wanted to counter this in part through the use of art. Renaissance art,
was thought to be too cool and intellectual, so artists working for the Church were directed to
create strong emotion in their work, to appeal to the hearts of Christians and lead them back to
the Catholic faith.

This work is Resurrection by El Greco. Its style is Mannerism, which developed out of the Late
Renaissance. The term comes from the Italian maniera, meaning style or stylishness. As
shown in this particular painting, characteristics of the Mannerist style include elongated figures
and twisting S-shaped poses, which foreshadow the Baroque. Mannerism also features a
shallow, compressed picture space, filled with an illogical number of figures.

Baroque

The Baroque style stands in sharp contrast to the Renaissance, which tends to be calm,
symmetrical, intellectual, and reserved in coloring and in its use of lights and darks. Baroque art
is characterized by: strong emotional content, vivid colors, extreme use of lights and darks to the
point of being theatrical, rich ornamentation, and dynamic compositions, which often feature a
strong diagonal line.

This is the Entombment of Christ by Caravaggio. Note the diagonal composition and the dark
background, balanced by the theatrical lighting of the figures. This work was designed to hang
over an altar at such a height, that when the priest held the Communion wafer over his head,
speaking the words of Christ at the Last Supper: This is My body, the wafer would be directly in
front of the body of Christ in the painting.

This work by Peter Paul Rubens is called The Raising of the Cross. Rubens was Flemish, but
had traveled to Italy to study the works of Italian masters, including Caravaggio. Here again is a
diagonal composition, this time crowded with figures, including a dog in the lower left corner!
Typically Baroque are the writhing S-curves of the figures.

This is Judith and Maidservant with Head of Holofernes part of a series from the biblical story
of J udith. J udith was an Israelite widow who rescued her people from the invading Assyrian
general Holofernes by inviting him to a banquet, letting him drink himself into a drunken stupor,
and then beheading him. The drama of the event depicted in the painting is heightened by the
strong use of light and shadow. The artist is Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the few women known
to make a living as a painter at this time.

This is Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor), by Diego Velzquez. Velazquez was court painter to
King Philip IV of Spain. The focal point of the work is the young princess in the center,
surrounded by her attendants. To the viewers left partially in shadow, is Velazquez himself,
standing at the canvas. Reflected in a mirror on the far wall are the king and queen. Another,
unknown figure stands in the doorway. The light in this painting acts almost like a spotlight on a
stage, revealing the princess, and to a lesser extent, the maids of honor. The artist has chosen to
leave himself in shadow, except for his face and hands. A curiosity of this painting, at least to
modern eyes, is the female figure to the right, who is apparently a dwarf. Having a court dwarf
was a sort of status symbol.

The Night Watch by Rembrandt is more properly called Sortie of Captain Banning Cocqs
Company of the Civic Guard. However the painting became known as The Night Watch
because years of varnish, smoke, and dirt had cause the painting to appear dark, as if it were a
night scene. The work was cleaned in the mid-20
th
century, revealing a much lighter painting.
The subject is a private militia, originally formed to protect the city from Spanish invaders. By the
time of this painting, militias were largely ceremonial, but still much respected. They served as
civic organizations, like todays Rotary Club, and all of the most important men of the town
belonged to one. Militias often commissioned a group portrait such as the one seen here. The
most important figures are in the center; others are given a degree of visibility in keeping with the
amount of money they chopped in for the painting.

This is Woman Holding a Balance by J ohannes Vermeer. The full meaning of this work is
revealed in its background. On the wall behind the woman is a painting of the Last J udgment.
The balance represents the weighing of souls, the jewelry on the table earthly treasure, the mirror
next to the window, self knowledge. Domestic interior scenes of this sort are typical of Dutch
Baroque.

This is the Palace of Versailles, substantially rebuilt by the Sun King, Louis XIV of France. In
1661 Louis Le Vau made some addition; in 1678 J ules Hardouin Mansart took over the work.)
Versailles occupies about 200 acres, including the extensive gardens and several chteaux.

Rococo

Rococo style, which originated in France, is an extension of the Baroque period. It dates to the
first half to three quarters of the 18
th
century. The term rococo is a play on the word baroque. It
also refers to the French word for rocks or shells, motifs that often appear in Rococo furniture and
architecture. Rococo differs from Baroque in that it is more intimate and better suited to domestic
interiors that to cathedrals. Its colors are more pastel and its scale smaller and more playful
Baroque light!

The Embarkation for Cythera by Watteau was painted in1718, at the beginning of the Rococo
period. Dreamy images of romantic couples in a pastoral setting are typical of Rococo art, which
was painted for a sophisticated French aristocracy weary of the formality of court life.

The Pursuit is part of a set of four paintings called The Progress of Love. Commissioned by
the Countess du Barry from the artist Fragonard, this work is from the end of the Rococo period,
1771-73. When Fragonard presented his finished work to the Countess, she rejected them as
being too old-fashioned and sentimental. Rococo had run its course, to be replaced by
Neoclassicism.