The age of Baroque, between absolutism and the Enlightenment, is acknowledged as the last all-European style. Long regarded as merely as eccentric offshoot of the Renaissance, Baroque presents a complex and dynamic variety of form and expression in stark contrast to the controlled moderation of Neoclassicism.
Worldly joys and sensuality, religious spirituality and stringent asceticism, wide formal diversity and strict regulation all went hand in hand. At the same time, theatricality and stagelike settings entered the world of art with the advent of illusionism. Pageantry, pomp and courtly ceremony were not simply an expression of Baroque exuberance, but also an artistic device in the portrayal of crowd scenes.
In Rome, Caravaggio succeeded in achieving a decisive breakthrough with his dramatic use of chiaroscuro, while in Balogna it was the Carracci who established the Baroque style of painting. French art was dominated by the heroic landscapes of Poussin the night pieces of La Tour, and Claude Lorrain’s lyrical handling of light. In Spain, we find the warm colority of Murillo, the contemplative piety of Ribera and Zurbarán and the forcefully expressive court portraits by Velázquez, while Germany’s contribution to Baroque painting reached its zenith in the delicate landscapes of Adam Elsheimer.
In the 17th century, following the division of the country, painting in the Netherlands blossomed in what came to be known as its Golden Age. Rubens in the Catholic south of the country and Rembrandt in the Protestant north represent the contrast and kinships of Baroque painting at its zenith.
Whereas Rubens, with his monumental creations for nobility and the Church, forged a link between the mortal, earthly world and the realms of Heaven or Olympus, Rembrandt’s subtle chiaroscuro revealed the hidden depths of the human soul, creating a new dimension in portraiture.
Alongside these artists of genius, we also find the outstanding portraiture of Frans hals and van Dyck, the landscapes of Ruisdael, van Goyen and Hobbema, the allegories of Jordaens, the still lifes of Heda and Kalf, the genre scenes of Brouwer, Steen, Terboch and de Hooch. The painting of the era culminates in Vermeer’s interiors- masterpieces in the handling of light and harmony of colour.