Baroque: Art, Definition & Style of an Era | Artland Magazine (2023)

“The Baroque… endlessly produces folds. It does not invent things: there are all kinds of folds coming from the East, Greek, Roman, Romanesque, Gothic, Classical folds…..Yet the Baroque trait twists and turns its folds, pushing them to infinity, fold over fold, one upon the other.”

The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, Gilles Deleuze

The term Baroque, derived from the Portuguese ‘barocco’ meaning ‘irregular pearl or stone’, refers to a cultural and art movement that characterized Europe from the early seventeenth to mid-eighteenth century. Baroque emphasizes dramatic, exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted, detail. Due to its exuberant irregularities, Baroque art has often been defined as being bizarre, or uneven.

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Baroque: origins & key ideas

The Baroque era was very much defined by the influences of the major art movement which came before it, the Renaissance. So much so that many art history scholars have argued that Baroque art was simply the end of the Renaissance and never existed as a cultural or historical phenomenon. Others have disagreed and argued that the events of the Protestant Reformation and the devastation of the Thirty Year’s War changed the way Europeans and European artists saw and engaged with the world shifted the directions of the arts and cultures, therefore implicating a clear distinction from the Renaissance.

It’s the sheer scale and importance of events as well as the contrasting painting styles over the course of the era that make it hard to pin an idea to Baroque. Europe was encountering one of its greatest shifts in society, especially with the challenge to the Roman Catholic Church; yet, through the early Baroque artists Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini, the Baroque art movement began with the commissions of masterpieces from the Vatican and the social and religious circles around it. The Renaissance architectural mode went from linear to painterly, and Renaissance ideas of perfection, completion, and conceivability were challenged with ideas of becoming, paint likeness, endlessness, and limitlessness.

Key Period: 1590-1740
Key Regions: Europe: France, Italy, Netherlands, Germany
Key Words: Grandeur, color, reformation, drama, non-linear
Key Artists: Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Francesco Borromini, Annibale Carracci, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Sebastian Bach, Pierre Puget, Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens, Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco), Johannes Vermeer van Delft, Antonio Vivaldi.

“I would define the baroque as that style that deliberately exhausts its own possibilities”.

(Video) Baroque Art

Jorge Luis Borges

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Style & characteristics

The Baroque art movement had no real directive or specific school driving it. Instead, it consisted of many great schools and artists across Europe throughout the 150 or so years of the Baroque Era encompassing a wide range of styles. Additionally, the quantity of genius-level artistry coming from different countries, schools, styles, and fields injects an added level of subjectivity to what Baroque may mean for an observer of the art movement. The best way to approach the mapping of Baroque art characteristics is therefore often the interaction with specific schools, artists, and artistic mediums. Generally, the main features of Baroque painting manifestations are drama, deep colors, dramatic light, sharp shadows and dark backgrounds. While Renaissance art aimed to highlight calmness and rationality, Baroque artists emphasized stark contrasts, passion, and tension, often choosing to depict the moment preceding an event instead of its occurrence.

Baroque painting

The most prominent Baroque painters originated from the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain. Generally, they were concerned with the human subjects or subjects and depicted similar scenes. The renaissance spheres of power still dominated the art directions of their cultures, and, accordingly, most of the commissions were portraits of royals, religious scenes, depictions of royal life and society. However, with the Baroque era came a rise in history and landscape paintings, as well as, portraits, genre scenes and still lives.

Such paintings flourished specifically in the Netherlands. Great Dutch Baroque painters included Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, and Peter Paul Rubens. Their mastery of the medium was sought after by royal houses all over Europe. So great were the talents of the Dutch painters that Carl Klaus and Victoria Charles remarked ‘he [Rubens] is the only one who came near to Michelangelo in acting out drama’ and that “as a colourist, Rubens even perhaps overshadowed Michelangelo”.

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Rivaling with the Dutch and Spanish artists of the caliber of Diego Velazquez, Italian Baroque painters were imbued with the legacy of Renaissance and Mannerist style. Two of the leading painting schools in Italy were the so-called ‘eclecticism’ of the Carracci family and their academy on the one hand, and Naturalism on the other – a revolutionary style founded by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, which broke the barriers between religious and popular art and avoided the idealization of religious or classical figures, depicting to also ordinary living men and women in contemporary clothing.

Baroque sculpture

Many great Baroque artists were architects as well as sculptors, and common traits can be seen in their oeuvre. A key similarity is the rejection of straight lines, resulting in increasingly pictorial sculptures where movement and expression are emphasized.

Baroque sculpture was primarily concerned with the representation of Biblical scenes spurred by the church but also by the beliefs of the sculptors themselves, as many worked on uncommissioned portrayals of biblical epics as well. Be it scenes from the old or new testaments, the desire of most Baroque sculptors was to portray pathos, as well as movement. The leading figure of Baroque sculpture was certainly Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Baroque architecture

At the start of the 17th century, Italian architects were the dominant talents of Europe. Immense competition for the contracts offered by churches and the Vatican between Gian Luca Bernini, Francesco Borromini, Baldassare Longhena and others drew the rest of Europe’s attention, soon spreading the style across the continent. Royal courts were desperate to commission projects from the great Italian architects. Baroque architecture is characterized by intricate details and extreme decoration. Elements of Renaissance architecture were made grander and more theatrical, emphasized by optical illusions and the advanced use of trompe-l’œil painting. With the beginning of the 18th century, the European architectural focus shifted to France. There Jules Hardouin-Mansart broke away from the Baroque style and reverted to classicism, while Charles Le Brun brought the style and its traditions to new heights with his designing of the Galerie des Glaces in the Palace of Versailles.

Baroque furniture

Inspired by the Asian decorative techniques brought back to Europe by Dutch, Portuguese, and English traders and explorers in the early 17th century, the furniture makers of the Low Countries (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) combined these new techniques with those from the Renaissance to satisfy the needs and wishes of their customers. This technical progress then spread to the other furniture-making hubs of France, Germany, England, and Italy. Twisted columns, ornate details, foreign or domestic woods, and heavy gilds of varying metals all defined baroque furniture, all put together in an effort to create a harmony of movement and singularity.

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Unlike the other art mediums of the Baroque period, the Baroque furniture style was limited to the 17th century. Thereafter, furniture was dominated by the lavish tastes of King Louis XV of France who, with his craftsmen, developed the Regence and Rococo styles. The king’s taste soon became the rest of Europe’s taste, even in England where furniture makers tried to resist the asymmetrical designs of Rococo.

Baroque music

The baroque era was a time of musical innovation. Today baroque music is world-famous for the German composers George Fredrich Handel and Johann Sebastian Bach, but at the time Italian composers dominated the scene. Their legacy lives on through the music of Antonio Vivaldi, Claudio Monteverdi, Arcangelo Corelli, and their expressive scores. In order to create music on par with the classical Greek and Roman dramas of the past, Italian composers implemented new ways of playing and introduced new aspects of composition. Seeking dynamics and emotion in the place of regal static-ness, they developed a new musical language that enabled great dramatic interpretation. Most of this musical language is still used to this day, and also forms such as cantata, concerto, sonata, sinfonia, and opera originated in the baroque period.

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Learn more about other essential art movements and styles:
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Wondering where to start?


What is the main theme of Baroque art? ›

The Baroque was a movement that exhibited tremendous themes as monumental spectacles: intense light, grand visions, ecstasies and death, religious conversions, martyrdom, and a commitment to religious commemoration.

How will you describe the painting of Baroque period? ›

In its most typical manifestations, Baroque art is characterized by great drama, rich, deep colour, and intense light and dark shadows, but the classicism of French Baroque painters like Poussin and Dutch genre painters such as Vermeer are also covered by the term, at least in English.

What is the best word to describe Baroque? ›

synonyms for baroque
  • florid.
  • ornate.
  • rococo.
  • flamboyant.
  • gilt.
  • grotesque.
  • rich.
  • bizarre.

What are 3 characteristics of Baroque art? ›

Some of the qualities most frequently associated with the Baroque are grandeur, sensuous richness, drama, dynamism, movement, tension, emotional exuberance, and a tendency to blur distinctions between the various arts.

What are the different techniques and styles used in Baroque art? ›

The Baroque style contained images that played with the interaction between light and dark to create dimly lit scenes that produced a dramatic atmosphere with high-contrast between the focal points of the art vs the background. This referred to as the chiaroscuro technique.

What illustrated the key elements of Baroque painting? ›

Baroque painting illustrated key elements of Catholic dogma, either directly in Biblical works or indirectly in mythological or allegorical compositions.

What are three things the Baroque style emphasized? ›

Baroque ushered in a new era for European sculpture, led largely by the work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, which emphasized sensual richness, dramatic realism, intense emotion, and movement.

What is an example of Baroque style? ›

Some of the best examples of Baroque architecture in Paris are Les Invalides, Luxemburg Palace, and surprisingly, the Louvre Museum! Yes, the east façade of the Louvre museum is a classic blend of French Baroque and Italian Baroque styles.

What are the 7 characteristics of Baroque art? ›

Some of the qualities most frequently associated with the Baroque are grandeur, sensuous richness, drama, dynamism, movement, tension, emotional exuberance, and a tendency to blur distinctions between the various arts.

What does Baroque actually mean? ›

Baroque came to English from the French word barroque, meaning "irregularly shaped." At first, the word in French was used mostly to refer to pearls. Eventually, it came to describe an extravagant style of art characterized by curving lines, gilt, and gold.

What is the original meaning of Baroque? ›

Derived from the Portuguese barroco, or “oddly shaped pearl,” the term “baroque” has been widely used since the nineteenth century to describe the period in Western European art music from about 1600 to 1750.

What are the elements of Baroque design? ›

Other characteristic qualities include grandeur, drama and contrast (especially in lighting), curvaceousness, and an often dizzying array of rich surface treatments, twisting elements, and gilded statuary. Architects unabashedly applied bright colours and illusory, vividly painted ceilings.

What are the five major concerns of Baroque art? ›

What are the five major characteristics of Baroque art? Motion, Space, Time, Dramatic use of light and passionate theatricality.

What technique is a well known trait of Baroque art? ›

The chiaroscuro technique is a well-known trait of Baroque art. The technique refers to the interplay between dark and light and is usually used in paintings of dimly lit scenes to produce a professional atmosphere and high-contrast.

What are the most important arts during Baroque period? ›

Famous Baroque Paintings
  • The Battle of the Amazons (c. ...
  • The Calling of St Matthew (1600) by Caravaggio.
  • Judith Slaying Holofernes (c. ...
  • Education of the Princess (1625) by Peter Paul Rubens.
  • The Abduction of the Sabine Women (1634) by Nicolas Poussin.
  • The Judgment of Paris (c. ...
  • The Night Watch (1642) by Rembrandt van Rijn.
Feb 18, 2022

What were the most popular styles in the Baroque period? ›

Long dresses with a close-fitting bodice, known as gowns, were the most common attire for women. The silhouettes gradually softened as hard corsets from the Renaissance were replaced by flexible stays. The neckline was low, and lace collars were used for decoration.

What types of themes are found in Baroque art? ›

Themes of Baroque Painting
  • A de-emphasis of the figure.
  • A mastery of light and shadow.
  • Realism in all things.
  • And new subjects like landscapes, still life and self-portrait.
Apr 29, 2022

What did the Baroque style most importantly reflect? ›

A sense of drama

An important feature of Baroque art and design is its use of human figures. Represented as allegorical, sacred or mythological, these figures helped turn the work into a drama to convey particular messages and to engage the emotions of the viewer.

What was the Baroque era known for? ›

Baroque period, (17th–18th century) Era in the arts that originated in Italy in the 17th century and flourished elsewhere well into the 18th century. It embraced painting, sculpture, architecture, decorative arts, and music.

What is the common subject of Baroque paintings? ›

Due to this Baroque art tends to focus on Saints, the Virgin Mary, and other well known Bible stories. Religious painting, history painting, allegories, and portraits were still considered the most noble subjects, but landscapes, still life, and genre scenes rapidly gained notoriety.

What is modern Baroque style? ›

In the 20th century, acclaimed interior designer Dorothy Draper invented a popular style known as Modern Baroque, which was a bold take on the classics that used elements of bling, bright colors, and an updated take on Rococo detailing that became popularly known as Hollywood Regency.

What are the texture of Baroque? ›

Baroque music uses many types of texture: homophony, imitation, and contrapuntal combinations of contrasting rhythmic and melodic ideas. Even when the texture is imitative, however, there are usually distinct contrasts among voices.

What is the main theme of art? ›

The definition of theme in art is the message that the artist wishes to convey through the artwork. Theme is not simply the subject matter of the piece of art; rather, it is the abstract idea being portrayed by both the artist's design and the subject matter that is created.

What is very important in the Baroque painting? ›

In its most typical manifestations, Baroque painting is characterized by great drama, rich, deep color, and intense light and dark shadows. Caravaggio was an important figure in early Baroque painting during the 16th and 17th centuries and inspired many followers, known as Caravaggisti.

What is the common subject of Baroque painting? ›

Due to this Baroque art tends to focus on Saints, the Virgin Mary, and other well known Bible stories. Religious painting, history painting, allegories, and portraits were still considered the most noble subjects, but landscapes, still life, and genre scenes rapidly gained notoriety.

What are the 7 themes of art? ›

There are seven main elements of art that artists can use to create their work.
The seven elements of art are:
  • Line.
  • Shape.
  • Space.
  • Value.
  • Form.
  • Texture.
  • Color.
Aug 25, 2015

What is purpose of art in simple words? ›

Art can uplift, provoke, soothe, entertain and educate us and is an important part of our lives. At its most profound level, it takes us from the everyday to a place of introspection and contemplation, to see the bigger picture of the human condition.


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