In the arts, the Baroque (pronounced /bə'rɒk/) was a Western cultural epoch, commencing roughly at the beginning of the 17th century in Rome, Italy. It was exemplified by drama and grandeur in sculpture, painting, literature, dance, and music.
The popularity and success of the Baroque style was encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church which had decided at the time of the Council of Trent that the arts should communicate religious themes in direct and emotional involvement. The aristocracy also saw the dramatic style of Baroque architecture and art as a means of impressing visitors and expressing triumphant power and control. Baroque palaces are built around an entrance of courts, grand staircases and reception rooms of sequentially increasing opulence. In similar profusions of detail, art, music, architecture, and literature inspired each other in the Baroque cultural movement as artists explored what they could create from repeated and varied patterns. Some traits and aspects of Baroque paintings that differentiate this style from others are the abundant amount of details, often bright polychromy, less realistic faces of subjects, and an overall sense of awe, which was one of the goals in Baroque art.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word baroque is derived from the Portuguese word "barroco", Spanish "barroco", or French "baroque", all of which refer to a "rough or imperfect pearl", though whether it entered those languages via Latin, Arabic, or some other source is uncertain. In informal usage, the word baroque can simply mean that something is "elaborate", with many details, without reference to the Baroque styles of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Beginning around the year 1600, the demands for new art resulted in what is now known as the Baroque. The canon promulgated at the Council of Trent (1545–63) by which the Roman Catholic Church addressed the representational arts by demanding that paintings and sculptures in church contexts should speak to the illiterate rather than to the well-informed, is customarily offered as an inspiration of the Baroque, which appeared, however, a generation later. This turn toward a populist conception of the function of ecclesiastical art is seen by many art historians as driving the innovations of Caravaggio and the Carracci brothers, all of whom were working in Rome at that time.
The appeal of Baroque style turned consciously from the witty, intellectual qualities of 16th century Mannerist art to a visceral appeal aimed at the senses. It employed an iconography that was direct, simple, obvious, and dramatic. Baroque art drew on certain broad and heroic tendencies in Annibale Carracci and his circle, and found inspiration in other artists such as Caravaggio, and Federico Barocci nowadays sometimes termed 'proto-Baroque'.
Some general parallels in music make the expression "Baroque music" useful. Contrasting phrase lengths, harmony and counterpoint ousted polyphony, and orchestral color made a stronger appearance. (See Baroque music.) Similar fascination with simple, strong, dramatic expression in poetry, where clear, broad syncopated rhythms replaced the enknotted elaborated metaphysical similes employed by Mannerists such as John Donne and imagery that was strongly influenced by visual developments in painting, can be sensed in John Milton's Paradise Lost, a Baroque epic.
Though Baroque was superseded in many centers by the Rococo style, beginning in France in the late 1720s, especially for interiors, paintings and the decorative arts, Baroque architecture remained a viable style until the advent of Neoclassicism in the later 18th century. A prominent example, the Neapolitan palace of Caserta, a Baroque palace (though in a chaste exterior) that was not even begun until 1752. Critics have given up talking about a "Baroque period."
In paintings, Baroque gestures are broader than Mannerist gestures: less ambiguous, less arcane and mysterious, more like the stage gestures of opera, a major Baroque artform. Baroque poses depend on contrapposto ("counterpoise"), the tension within the figures that moves the planes of shoulders and hips in counterdirections. It made the sculptures almost seem like they were about to move. See Bernini's David (below, left).
The drier, chastened, less dramatic and coloristic, later stages of 18th century Baroque architectural style are often seen as a separate Late Baroque manifestation. (See Claude Perrault.) Academic characteristics in the neo-Palladian architectural style, epitomized by William Kent, are a parallel development in Britain and the British colonies: within doors, Kent's furniture designs are vividly influenced by the Baroque furniture of Rome and Genoa, hieratic tectonic sculptural elements meant never to be moved from their positions completing the wall elevation. Baroque is a style of unity imposed upon rich and massy detail.
The Baroque was defined by Heinrich Wölfflin as the age where the oval replaced the circle as the center of composition, balance replaced organization around a central axis, and coloristic and "painterly" effects began to become more prominent. Art historians, often Protestant ones, have traditionally emphasized that the Baroque style evolved during a time in which the Roman Catholic Church had to react against the many revolutionary cultural movements that produced a new science and new forms of religion—the Reformation. It has been said that the monumental Baroque is a style that could give the papacy, like secular absolute monarchies, a formal, imposing way of expression that could restore its prestige, at the point of becoming somehow symbolic of the Catholic Reformation. Whether this is the case or not, it was successfully developed in Rome, where Baroque architecture widely renewed the central areas with perhaps the most important urbanistic revision during this period of time.
A defining statement of what Baroque signifies in painting is provided by the series of paintings executed by Peter Paul Rubens for Marie de Medici at the Luxembourg Palace in Paris (now at the Louvre) , in which a Catholic painter satisfied a Catholic patron: Baroque-era conceptions of monarchy, iconography, handling of paint, and compositions as well as the depiction of space and movement.
There were highly diverse strands of Italian baroque painting, from Caravaggio to Cortona; both approaching emotive dynamism with different styles. Another frequently cited work of Baroque art is Bernini's Saint Theresa in Ecstasy for the Cornaro chapel in Saint Maria della Vittoria, which brings together architecture, sculpture, and theater into one grand conceit
The later Baroque style gradually gave way to a more decorative Rococo, which, through contrast, further defines Baroque.
The intensity and immediacy of baroque art and its individualism and detail—observed in such things as the convincing rendering of cloth and skin textures—make it one of the most compelling periods of Western art.
The architecture, sculpture and fountains of Bernini (1598–1680) give highly charged characteristics of Baroque style. Bernini was undoubtedly the most important sculptor of the Baroque period. He approached Michelangelo in his omnicompetence: Bernini sculpted, worked as an architect, painted, wrote plays, and staged spectacles. In the late 20th century Bernini was most valued for his sculpture, both for his virtuosity in carving marble and his ability to create figures that combine the physical and the spiritual. He was also a fine sculptor of bust portraits in high demand among the powerful.
Saint Theresa, the focal point of the chapel, is a soft white marble statue surrounded by a polychromatic marble architectural framing. This structure works to conceal a window which lights the statue from above. In shallow relief, sculpted figure-groups of the Cornaro family inhabit in opera boxes along the two side walls of the chapel. The setting places the viewer as a spectator in front of the statue with the Cornaro family leaning out of their box seats and craning forward to see the mystical ecstasy of the saint. St. Theresa is highly idealized and in an imaginary setting. St. Theresa of Avila, a popular saint of the Catholic Reformation, wrote of her mystical experiences aimed at the nuns of her Carmelite Order; these writings had become popular reading among lay people interested in pursuing spirituality. In her writings, she described the love of God as piercing her heart like a burning arrow. Bernini literalizes this image by placing St. Theresa on a cloud while a Cupid figure holds a golden arrow (the arrow is made of metal) and smiles down at her. The angelic figure is not preparing to plunge the arrow into her heart— rather, he has withdrawn it. St. Theresa's face reflects not the anticipation of ecstasy, but her current fulfillment.
This is widely considered the genius of Baroque although this mix of religious and erotic imagery was extremely offensive in the context of neoclassical restraint. However, Bernini was a devout Catholic and was not attempting to satirize the experience of a chaste nun. Rather, he aimed to portray religious experience as an intensely physical one. Theresa described her bodily reaction to spiritual enlightenment in a language of ecstasy used by many mystics, and Bernini's depiction is earnest.
The Cornaro family promotes itself discreetly in this chapel; they are represented visually, but are placed on the sides of the chapel, witnessing the event from balconies. As in an opera house, the Cornaro have a privileged position in respect to the viewer, in their private reserve, closer to the saint; the viewer, however, has a better view from the front. They attach their name to the chapel, but St. Theresa is the focus. It is a private chapel in the sense that no one could say mass on the altar beneath the statue (in 17th century and probably through the 19th) without permission from the family, but the only thing that divides the viewer from the image is the altar rail. The spectacle functions both as a demonstration of mysticism and as a piece of family pride.
In Baroque architecture, new emphasis was placed on bold massing, colonnades, domes, light-and-shade (chiaroscuro), 'painterly' color effects, and the bold play of volume and void. In interiors, Baroque movement around and through a void informed monumental staircases that had no parallel in previous architecture. The other Baroque innovation in worldly interiors was the state apartment, a processional sequence of increasingly rich interiors that culminated in a presence chamber or throne room or a state bedroom. The sequence of monumental stairs followed by a state apartment was copied in smaller scale everywhere in aristocratic dwellings of any pretensions.
Baroque architecture was taken up with enthusiasm in central Germany (see e.g. Ludwigsburg Palace and Zwinger Dresden), Austria and Russia (see e.g. Peterhof). In England the culmination of Baroque architecture was embodied in work by Sir Christopher Wren, Sir John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor, from ca. 1660 to ca. 1725. Many examples of Baroque architecture and town planning are found in other European towns, and in Latin America. Town planning of this period featured radiating avenues intersecting in squares, which took cues from Baroque garden plans.In Sicily, Baroque developed new shapes and themes as in Noto, Ragusa and Acireale "Basilica di San Sebastiano"
In theater, the elaborate conceits, multiplicity of plot turns, and variety of situations characteristic of Mannerism (Shakespeare's tragedies, for instance) were superseded by opera, which drew together all the arts into a unified whole.
Theater evolved in the Baroque era and became a multimedia experience, starting with the actual architectural space. In fact, much of the technology used in current Broadway or commercial plays was invented and developed during this era. The stage could change from a romantic garden to the interior of a palace in a matter of seconds. The entire space became a framed selected area that only allows the users to see a specific action, hiding all the machinery and technology - mostly ropes and pulleys.
This technology affected the content of the narrated or performed pieces, practicing at its best the Deus ex Machina solution. Gods were finally able to come down - literally - from the heavens and rescue the hero in the most extreme and dangerous, even absurd situations.
The term Theatrum Mundi - the world is a stage - was also created. The social and political realm in the real world is manipulated in exactly the same way the actor and the machines are presenting/limiting what is being presented on stage, hiding selectively all the machinery that makes the actions happen.
The films Vatel, Farinelli, and the staging of Monteverdi's Orpheus at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, give a good idea of the style of productions of the Baroque period. The American musician William Christie and Les Arts Florissants have performed extensive research on all the French Baroque Opera, performing pieces from Charpentier and Lully, among others that are extremely faithful to the original 17th century creations.
The privilege given to external forms had to compensate and balance the lack of content that has been observed in many Baroque works: Marino's "Maraviglia", for example, is practically made of the pure, mere form. Fantasy and imagination should be evoked in the spectator, in the reader, in the listener. All was focused around the individual Man, as a straight relationship between the artist, or directly the art and its user, its client. Art is then less distant from user, more directly approaching him, solving the cultural gap that used to keep art and user reciprocally far, by Maraviglia. But the increased attention to the individual, also created in these schemes some important genres like the Romanzo (novel) and allowed popular or local forms of art, especially dialectal literature, to be put into evidence. In Italy this movement toward the single individual (that some define a "cultural descent", while others indicate it as a possible cause for the classical opposition to Baroque) caused Latin to be definitely replaced by Italian.
In Spain, the baroque writers are framed in the Siglo de Oro. Naturalism and sharply critical points of view on Spanish society are common among such conceptista writers as Quevedo, while culterano authors emphasize the importance of form with complicated images and the use of hyperbaton. In Catalonia the baroque took hold as well in Catalan language, with representatives including poets and dramaturgs such as Francesc Fontanella and Francesc Vicenç Garcia as well as the unique emblem book Atheneo de Grandesa by Josep Romaguera. In Colonial Spanish America some of the best-known baroque writers were Sor Juana and Bernardo de Balbuena, in Mexico, and Juan de Espinosa Medrano and Juan del Valle Caviedes, in Peru.
In the Portuguese Empire the most famous baroque writer of the time was Father António Vieira, a Jesuit who lived in Brazil during the 18th century. Secondary writers are Gregório de Matos and Francisco Rodrigues Lobo.
In English literature, the metaphysical poets represent a closely related movement; their poetry likewise sought unusual metaphors, which they then examined in often extensive detail. Their verse also manifests a taste for paradox, and deliberately inventive and unusual turns of phrase.
For German Baroque literature, see German literature of the Baroque period.
The term Baroque is also used to designate the style of music composed during a period that overlaps with that of Baroque art, but usually encompasses a slightly later period. Antonio Vivaldi, J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel are often considered its culminating figures.
It is a still-debated question as to what extent Baroque music shares aesthetic principles with the visual and literary arts of the Baroque period. A fairly clear, shared element is a love of ornamentation, and it is perhaps significant that the role of ornament was greatly diminished in both music and architecture as the Baroque gave way to the Classical period.
It should be noted that the application of the term "Baroque" to music is a relatively recent development. The first use of the word "Baroque" in music was only in 1919, by Curt Sachs, and it was not until 1940 that it was first used in English (in an article published by Manfred Bukofzer). Even as late as 1960 there was still considerable dispute in academic circles over whether music as diverse as that by Jacopo Peri, François Couperin and J.S. Bach could be meaningfully bundled together under a single stylistic term.
Many musical forms were born in that era, like the concerto and sinfonia. Forms such as the sonata, cantata and oratorio flourished. Also, opera was born out of the experimentation of the Florentine Camerata, the creators of monody, who attempted to recreate the theatrical arts of the Ancient Greeks. Indeed, it is exactly that development which is often used to denote the beginning of the musical Baroque, around 1600. An important technique used in baroque music was the use of ground bass, a repeated bass line. Dido's Lament by Henry Purcell is a famous example of this technique.
The term "Baroque" was initially used with a derogatory meaning, to underline the excesses of its emphasis. In particular, the term was used to describe its eccentric redundancy and noisy abundance of details, which sharply contrasted the clear and sober rationality of the Renaissance. It was first rehabilitated by the Swiss-born art historian, Heinrich Wölfflin (1864–1945) in his Renaissance und Barock (1888); Wölfflin identified the Baroque as "movement imported into mass," an art antithetic to Renaissance art. He did not make the distinctions between Mannerism and Baroque that modern writers do, and he ignored the later phase, the academic Baroque that lasted into the 18th century. Writers in French and English did not begin to treat Baroque as a respectable study until Wölfflin's influence had made German scholarship pre-eminent.