|Themes > Arts > Painting > Two Hundred Years of the Baroque > Catholic Baroque|
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), known simply as Carravaggio, rejected Renaissance classicism in favor of a more naturalistic interpretation of the scriptures; his "saints with dirty feet" were, at first, considered irreverent by many clerics.
Caravaggio, above all, wanted to create a convincing copy of the optical world as a vehicle of spiritual meaning, a way to bring the Catholic faith down from the heavens and make it relevant to the everyday man on the street.
The Conversion of Saint Paul shocked many of his contemporaries, the artists as well as the clergy; the stark dramatic lighting and the fact that St. Paul is seen rolling around in the dirt of an old stable attacked both the prevailing ideas about painting as well as offending the religious sensibilities of the church. But his so called "Dark Manner" would influence all of Baroque painting. (Its' echoes can be seen on any movie or television screen today.)
The painting was hung directly above a small altar, so that as one kneelt to pray you looked up to the altar, the bottom edge of the painting was just above your eye level, making the "worms eye view" an extension of your own space.
And in the Doubting Thomas, our disciples look like anything but holy men chosen by Christ. Thomas ashamed of even doubting starts to pull away and Christ has to grab his hand to steady him while the others look on in a kind of morbid curiosity.
His largest and most impressive single project is the piazza in front of St. Peters, but if you have seen pictures of Rome, you have seen Bernini. His Fountain of the Four Rivers, like Effel's tower in Paris, has become a symbol of the "Eternal City" (Rome). And water would seem to be a perfect vechical/metaphor for Baroque Rome, or for Rome itself; for the waters of the fountain have a consistent shape, it's shape dictated by the shape of the outflow of the fountain, but within that shape the content is constantly changing. Think about it.
It was as the painter of the Catholic camp that Rubens rose to prominence. He accepted commissions from the Catholic rulers of Flanders, from King Louis XIII of France, from King Philip III of Spain and King Charles I of England. When traveling from court to court as an honored guest, he was often charged with delicate political and diplomatic missions.
Which brings us to the idea of allegorical art. To our modern eye, many of Ruben's works seem overly theatrical, almost bordering on being "hammy," but, like opera, you can sing/paint things that might otherwise be difficult to communicate.
The combined violence and ecstasy of Ruben's interpretation is reflected in the formal excitement of the painting itself. Crowds of human figures in contorted poses either participate in the crime against St. Lieven or turn upward toward the light from Heaven; horses rear, and angels appear in a swirl of cloud formations. On the lower right, a soldier turns in a dance like motion, as if arrested by his recognition of the light. The shifts from light to dark and color to color enhance the motion of the poses and gestures and create a feeling of intense urgency. It's the Baroque technique of involving the observer directly in the picture's space, and therefore in the narrative, that results in this sense of immediacy.
At the center of the picture, one of the robbers holds the tongue in a pair of tongs and offers it to an eager dog. Just below the robber and slightly to his left, the saint is depicted as a combination of suffering and ecstatic transport.
Meanwhile, in democratic and predominantly Protestant Holland in the seventeenth century, the traditional patrons of the arts (the Church and aristocracy) were conspicuous by their absence. Calvinism (a Protestant sect) opposed imagery in church buildings. This absence of traditional patrons meant that, for the first time, the artist was thrown on the open market! To say this would have an enormous effect on the arts would be a classical understatement. Despite the wars with Spain, France, and England, the Dutch were extremely prosperous.
Not only did this prosperous middle class want paintings, everyone wanted paintings. Peter Mundy, a British visitor to Amsterdam in 1640, at the height of Dutch artistic activity, wrote:
"As for the art off (I know 'off' should be 'of'.. but Mundy wrote it, I am just quoting him) Painting and the affection off the people to Pictures, I thinke none other goes beyond them,... All in general striving to adorne their houses, especially the outer or street roome, with costly pieces, Butchers and bakers not much inferiour in their shoppes, which are Fairely sett Forth, yea many tymes blacksmiths, Coblers, etts., will have some picture or other by their Forge and in their stalle."
In this new, highly competitive market artists started to specialize in Portraiture, Genre (scenes of everyday life), Still-life, and Landscape painting; the best of these became known as the 'Little Dutch Masters'. But first we'll look at the Greatest and best known of the Protestant Baroque painters, Rembrandt Van Rijn: The Great Dutch Master.
Lynn University Art Appreciation
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