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The artistic style of Baroque was first and foremost a product of 17th century Rome, then Italy and only decades later did it finally encompasses all of Europe. Its beginning is dated in the mid 15th century, and it lasted until the mid 17th century, chronologically placed between the Mannerism style and the Rococo style that came after it. Many periods in history are marked at their borders with a strange mix of old and new. This century encapsulated the merging of wildly dissenting belief systems, some within the arena struggle of a deeply religious schism, and others- just as violently upheld- between God and His new demonic rival; Science. The Renaissance has taught us the significance of epitomizing humanism, centering on the belief in man and the creative power of man's mind, and so it is only fitting that we consider for a moment the heroes of this period, all champions of individuality- Bacon, Descartes, Spinoza, Hobbes, Leibnitz and Locke the philosophers, Galileo and Kepler, Newton, Boyle and Napier,the discoverers and inventors. It was in this century that Shakespear changed the tenor of the English language. The oratio and opera came of age with Monteverde and Alessandro Scarlatti. A single year, 1685, saw the birth of Bach and Handel.
Many of the old ways were crumbling, the secularization of the fine arts in particular. During the Renaissance the main cause of this had been the weakened hold of the Church over artists generally. It is said that if art was the handmaiden of theology during the Middle Ages, then in the Renaissance it became the mistress of princes. Secularization took place as artists rediscovered the world of man and nature, and the material world became a valid source of inspiration for plastic and literary invention for the first time in Western history. It is therefore a common characteristic of this period to see not only religious and secular themes in tandem, but also combined. Two main innovations of technique to be seen from this period are use of light and realism. Backdrops and scenes are no longer exemplified as a place of natural light, but one of darkness, in which the painter treads forward, showing us selected highlights. And figures are painted with a realism that allows for simplicity and earthiness to be represented, alongside icons of godliness and piety. Many are depicted as hovering above the ground; many are in sensational attitudes, poised artistically towards Heaven..
The age, above all, had been taken by surprise. It had to face a totally new non-geometric world view. Where the center is lost, excess and eccentricity are molded into the new norm. It is perhaps here that religion was finally replaced by art, atleast to an extent logical to the application of a still deeply religious populace. On the one hand stood the old, Ptolemaic, geometric world picture, which had spoon-fed a sense of order and dignity to man, and on the other stood a new, Copernican, heliocentric view, that put it's faith in the empirically convincing, and henceforth suffered the repercussions: a moral displacement, a deep philosophical disorientation. This is allowed for outrageously polar variations in the artistic style of the period; a huge number of artists, in all artistic mediums, creating a diverse array of art work..
Baroque is characterized with extravagance; great drama is exemplified by bold composition, strange juxtapositions of content and use of bright elementary colors. This highly decorative style seeped into all medias, including the traditional fine arts of painting, sculpture, music and architecture but also poetry and literature. This reactionary approach disdained the austere, majestic detachment of the Mannerists that preceded it- it spoke directly, and intensely, to the viewer in a way that had never been seen before in painting. It became a tool of the various religious factions in the Counter-Reformation using art to reach the devout directly. It held a new wealth of details and was saturated with a new kind of religious fervor.
Whereas up until then the range of art medias had been separate, this new style mixed medias and capitalized on the scientific advances of the period- a new understanding of optics and optical illusions. Galileo's telescope in 1609 brought within our ken the satellites of Jupiter and the possibility of even further investigation into the framework of the heavens. It would be hard to overestimate the effects on the human mind and imagination of the “Tuscan artist's optic glass”. With the help of New Science, the world seemed to expand and deepen, and this quality of history became inherit in the arts. The sky was now open to our sight, and more minutely, a new world was being discovered through a microscope. These two inventions- the telescope and the microscope- added in a single century as much to man's accurate knowledge of physical phenomena as all the previous centuries combined.
The big names of the period are, of course, Michelangelo de Caravaggio, Aniballe Carracci and Gianlorenzo Bernini- all of whom sustained Rome's reputation for still being the art center of the world. This would change soon enough, with more and more talent being drawn to France, and finally with Louis XIV's outright attempt to founder the most extravagant court in Europe.
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