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What Is Baroque Art?

Vatican City, which is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, incorporates many Baroque structures.
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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
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  • Last Modified Date: 25 August 2014
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Baroque art is a style of painting and sculpture believed to have originated in Italy in the mid-1500s. It is characterized as a more expressive, theatrical style of art than the Renaissance style that preceded it. Baroque artists, such as Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Bernini, and Vermeer are known for their often-striking uses of light and shadow, elaborate scenes and structures and dynamism. Baroque art is often considered to be very invested with strong emotions.The style is believed to have emerged under the Roman Catholic influence in Italy, but, as the Baroque style spread to the northern, Protestant areas of Europe, depictions of ordinary life began to occur. The label Baroque is generally applied to any works of art produced in Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Germany between the years of about 1600 and 1750.

Art historians typically recognize three primary types of Baroque art. Many artists, notably Peter Paul Reubens, preferred to explore religious themes, whether Catholic or Protestant. Others, notably Flemish artists such as Vermeer, chose to depict scenes from daily life. Some artists, notably Caravaggio, depicted both types of scenes, but employed dramatic contrasts between light and shadow in their works, a method known as chiaroscuro. All of these types of Baroque art depict scenes of almost exaggerated vibrancy, perhaps in keeping with the social and cultural environment created by the Age of Enlightenment and the emergence of a prosperous middle class.

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Most Baroque artists relied on an implied sense of dynamism, emotion, and psychological tension to bring immediacy to their work. Baroque paintings and sculptures alike are known for illuminating figures against a dark, shadowy background, as can be seen in the works of artists like Rembrandt and Caravaggio. Works of Baroque art, especially from Italian artists, generally depict action-packed Biblical scenes or scenes of battle. While Baroque pieces from northern artists like Vermeer may not appear quite as dramatic on the surface, they generally also depict people and objects in motion, adding a sense of urgency to the work.

In addition to deep shadows and brightly illuminated figures, Baroque artists generally painted or sculpted their works in excruciating detail. Vivid colors were seemingly popular among Baroque artists. Figures from legend and folklore, such as Old Man Time, were often depicted in Baroque painting and sculpture, but religious figures and characters from everyday life can be said to be equally represented in many artists' works.

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