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9.3: Italian Baroque (1580s– early 1700)

  • Page ID
    56317
  • Italy pioneered the Baroque period when the artists combined the great painting style of the renaissance with the emotional drama of the Mannerism period. Italy was the center of art for over two centuries, and the Baroque period was no exception as it spread throughout Europe. Caravaggio, Gentileschi, and Bernini created the styles of the Baroque period with an added emphasis on emotional art.

    One of the most persuasive contributors to Baroque art was Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), who was born in Milan, Italy. Using a process he revolutionized, Caravaggio created illuminated lighting, the stark contrast between the light and dark areas to produce dramatic religious scenes where the human form emerged out of a deep shadow. Tenebrism, with its powerful distinctions of light and dark, became the painting process used for Baroque in Italy.

    Scorning the traditional idealized interpretation of religious subjects, Caravaggio took his models from the streets and painted them realistically. In the Crucifixion of Saint Peter (9.7), Caravaggio shows the rising of Saint Peter's cross, right in front of the viewer. Caravaggio was a master at secularizing religious art by depicting ordinary people, dirt, and all. It almost seems like he intentionally painted to shock and offend the viewer, making the painting even more captivating.

    The Crucifixion of Saint Peter
    9.7 The Crucifixion of Saint Peter
    Calling of Saint Matthew
    9.8 Calling of Saint Matthew

    The Calling of Saint Mathews (9.8) illustrates the moment Christ calls on Mathew as they glance across the room at each other, their positions highlighted by a shaft of light. The light appears outside the frame, contrasting the men at the table in light and dark shadows. The harsh use of light illuminates the sections of the painting that Caravaggio felt was important, such as Christ's hand pointing at Mathew, and then casts the non-essential elements in deep shadows. The dramatic effect is bold, intense, and captures the moment Christ supposedly stated, "Follow me".

    The first feminist painter, Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653), followed Caravaggio in style and theatrical illumination. Gentileschi was the first woman painter to become famous in her own time, depicting paintings of feminist subjects. Using the chiaroscuro methods from the renaissance, and combining them with Caravaggio's use of light, Gentileschi created Judith and her Maidservant (9.9). In most of her paintings, she portrayed the women as the protagonist who is courageous, powerful, and rebellious, and without the common feminine traits of weakness and timorous. In this powerful painting, the two women have just killed Holofernes, and his head is in the basket she carries. Standing triumphant after the decapitation, they know the danger, yet do not show fear. Esther before Ahasuerus (9.10) follows the same theme, Esther, and the Jewish heroine appears before the king to plead for her people, fainting from the stress of her actions.

    Judith and Her Maidservant
    9.9 Judith and Her Maidservant
    Esther before Ahasuerus
    9.10 Esther before Ahasuerus

    Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), one of the greatest sculptors of the 17th century and perhaps one of the most impressive architects in Rome, designed sculptures for different parts of Rome’s churches, including Saint Peters. Bernini created a romantic style of sculpture in the Baroque period, expressing emotion and motion for the first time. He carved his statues in story form, walking around the sculpted figures revealed the tale, a story told in stone. Bernini was strongly influenced by the Greek and Roman antiquity marble sculptures he studied, yet he took it a step farther. The baldacchino (a canopy on four pillars) (9.11) over the main altar in St. Peters is constructed of four enormous twisted and fluted marble pillars, soaring above the altar, adorned with cherubs and twisted branches of olive and bay. The capitals on the top each pillar have carved angels holding garlands, the whole structure joined at the top with a cross and golden globe.

    Bernini’s baldacchino
    9.11 Bernini’s baldacchino

    One of Bernini's most significant accomplishments and most distinguished work is located in Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria Della Vittoria, Rome. The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (9.12) is the culmination of Bernini's ability to use architecture, sculpture, and theater set design to create an altarpiece set like a stage performance, constructed of stone.

    Ecstasy of Saint Teresa
    9.12 Ecstasy of Saint Teresa

    The stage was set with a reclining Saint Teresa floating on a cloud of stone (9.13). Carved out of brilliant white marble, she is in the exact moment right before she is struck with the angel's dart of divine love (9.14). The long-gilded streams of gold behind the saint are lit by a hidden window giving the illusion of light from the heavens.

    Angel and Saint Teresa
    9.13 Angel and Saint Teresa
    Reclining Saint Teresa
    9.14 Santa Teresa
     Side boxes
    9.15 Side boxes

    Bernini created the theatrical experience for all church members by creating 'opera' boxes on each side of the saint (9.15). Many members of the Cornaro family can be found in the boxes carved in many different poses, engaged in deep conversation, prayer, or reading a book. The complex arrangement tells a story, reviving Christ's passion, and inviting the viewer into the scene.