The Baroque and Rococo 1575-1775

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					The Baroque: 1575-1700

        The word Baroque, derived from the Portuguese word for an irregular pearl,
barrocco, and the Italian term barocco, overly-complex pedantry, is synonymous with
the expansionist ethic of the seventeenth century; the nations established in the
Renaissance traded extensively with one another, and sought new goods and markets
throughout the world, with the great political entities of Europe creating inter-competitive
colonies in the New World. Made possible in part through scientific developments, the
ideas of Kepler, Galileo, Newton, and Descartes encouraged a new practice of science, of
empirical study of the material world, separated from theology or philosophy. This new
science, based on observation, helped to enable trans-Atlantic navigation and
standardized and reliable systems of weight and measure. Descartes, a refugee from the
heavy hand of the French Catholic Church, was allowed to publish his work in Holland;
he urged the reform of Philosophy, to question all, ”to take as false what is probable, to
take as probable what was called certain, and to reject all else.” Only the existence of the
mind can be trusted.
         The Counter-Reformation was born in the late Renaissance, fanned by the heat
generated by the founding of the preaching order of the Society of Jesus, The Jesuits, in
1547, and the renewal of the Inquisition. In response to the popular groundswell of
support for Protestantism, the Counter-Reformation of the Catholic Church called for a
simplification and an appeal to the emotions directly, which parallels the focus and
simpler message of the new theology of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Art in general was filled
with a new dramatic and realistic intensity, becoming more and more about the emotional
response of the viewer. Intensity of international relations encouraged the defining of
national character as well as experimentation with new political models. Painters
experimented with media, method and narrative content, and architects accomplished
complex, undulating surfaces and structures, extending the manner in which buildings
occupy space. Great Baroque architecture, sculpture, and painting is not content to stay
within its own boundaries, it sallies out into the space of the viewer, overwhelming the
mind via the senses. Manipulation of the senses to extremes seems in fact to be a
seventeenth-century preoccupation, in the arts, religion, food consumption, business, and
other avenues of human activity.

Globalization, Luxury, and Slavery

        The often grandiose nature of Baroque art, its sense of overkill, was fueled by a
number of things, not the least of which was a grandiose flow of money. European
interaction with the Islamic world had brought new goods north from the Mediterranean
since the rise of Islam: sugar, cotton, rice, hard grains, and a variety of other goods had
been cultivated for hundreds of years by cultures in India and the near east. Many of
these crop products needed a certain reliable schedule of warm temperatures and
moisture to flourish, and some of the Islamic world’s most innovative scientific advances
were in the realm of irrigation as they transplanted plants native to the tropics to drier
areas. Crops of sugar cane, cotton, rice, and wheat were watered by a number of
amazing systems, including a complex Persian system of underground tunnels bringing
water to fields completely through gravity. Until well into the modern era, cotton was

considered a kind of wonderful luxury fabric, and Europe developed a voracious luxury
habit for a number of exotic goods, but in many ways sugar changed the cultural and
economic landscape of the West to the greatest extent.
        Sugar cane was evidently first cultivated in New Guinea in about 8000BCE,
diffusing over the millennia to Southern Asia. The first references to sugar as a product
are from about 500BCE in India, and at various times and places during the next
thousand years the process of refining sugar developed, and finally became associated
primarily with the Islamic world. It was said that “sugar (from the Arabic Sukkar)
follows the Koran.”
        Sugar was traded during the centuries of the great Islamic civilizations, until, by
the time of the end of the crusades, a large network of production had grown around the
Mediterranean by the fourteenth century. The plague, which decimated the labor pool for
agricultural production in general, and the demand for luxury goods decline during the
1300’s in Europe, had a devastating effect on the sugar industry. The Portuguese and
Spanish, seeing an economic opportunity, began experiments in the cultivation of sugar
cane on the Atlantic Islands, Sao Tome, the Canaries, Madeira and others, establishing a
prototype of the plantation, using a combination of journeyman and slave labor to
economically produce the luxury of sweetness. Spain and Portugal, soon followed by
France, Holland, and England, began looking for cheaper and more efficient ways to
produce sugar and other non-European crops, and turned to the New World. On
Columbus’ second expedition, sugar cane was carried and transplanted to the
Caribbean. A cheap labor pool was shipped to the tropical zones, and soon a great
plantation was created to serve Europe with sugar, coffee, cacao, cotton, and tobacco.
Spain’s preoccupation with precious metals allowed other major European powers to
dominate the agricultural market initially, with Portugal choosing the vast agricultural
potential of Brazil over the lands occupied by the Inka and Aztec. The vast amounts of
wealth flowing through Europe during the Baroque were in large part the result of the
huge profits being generated by the sale of non-staple consumables, and, of course, the
growing European appetite for them. Although by the nineteenth century these goods had
become common to the middle and lower class diet, they were confined mostly in the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to the ruling classes, and the newly wealthy
merchant class. Sugar in fact was often combined with other foods such as marzipan and
rice to create elaborate sculptures for great banquets and celebration, and continues to
be a symbol of riches and plenty to this day.

Baroque Religious Experience

Ignatius of Loyola

Although he lived his life during the apogee of the High Renaissance, Ignatius’ writings,
example, and, of course, the order of the Society of Jesus he founded, formed the basis
for the religious philosophy of the Baroque. During an extended convalescence in bed
interrupting his youthful tenure in the military, (to mend a badly set broken leg), Ignatius
became engrossed in reading about the experiences of the saints, especially the graphic
tales of their physical austerity. Afterwards he undertook a prayer regimen that sought to
elevate the spirit through the depravations of the body. He recorded the fruits of his

experiences, which came to be published as the “Spiritual Exercises.” The order of the
Jesuits was recognized in 1540 by Pope Paul III, and under Ignatius’ leadership until his
death in 1556 the organization grew and acquired momentum, propelling it into a
dominant role in the Baroque church. Known both for intellectual rigor and unrelenting
directness in matters of faith, the Jesuits took the church into the New World; the
fortitude of the order of teachers both matched the ambitious energy of the new
international world of colonies, and allowed for horrific acts of intolerance. His theology
was fully integrated into the Catholic countries’ approach to missionary work by the time
of his rather rapid canonization in 1622.

St. Teresa of Avila

Teresa and her young brother Rodrigo became determined at the ripe age of seven to
venture into the land of the Moors to achieve heaven through martyrdom. When foiled by
an uncle, they built hermitages of small stones at their parents’ house in Avila, Castile,
only to be thwarted by their father at every turn. After a tumultuous period of conflict
between devotion to her father and passion for convent life, she entered a Carmelite order
near Avila. She was drawn more and more into an intensely introspective practice, and
began to have visions and communications from God. She came to be guided by various
Jesuit priests, who encouraged her in her desire for a much more austere religious life.
She reformed the Carmelites, who had acquired a reputation for being more social than
spiritual. She pursued complete vulnerability to her God, which led to ecstatic religious
experience; this spiritual wreaking of the body in joy almost perfectly mirrors the
depravations of the body and lack of social intercourse part and parcel of the new
Carmelite practice. In the end, the experience is a completely personal encounter with the
Divine, akin in spirit to the personally ambitious entrepreneurship of the capitalist
explorers of the new world.

San Juan de la Cruz

Born into the generation of Cervantes and Shakespeare, another Spanish mystic and
younger friend to St. Teresa, Juan de la Cruz, furthered the ideas of Ignatius and Teresa.
His spiritual practices made an assault on the world of the divine Trinity by aggressive
exploration of the processes of the mind, especially the imagination, much as explorers,
Popes, and bankers were exploiting politics and technology to expand their world. Juan
helped Teresa establish Carmelite convents, and worked to distribute the ideas of
experiential devotion to the greater Church. Brothers in his order imprisoned him for
more than year in 1578 for his radical ideas, confining him in a tiny cell with a ceiling so
low that he could not stand up during the entirety of his sentence. He mentally composed
many of his most famous spiritual poetry during his imprisonment, including “The Dark
Night of the Soul”, in which he described the experience of encountering God most
intimately only after the soul is totally stripped and disoriented. This, again, parallels the
great sacrifices other “explorers” were making in order to experience glory.

Italian Architecture and Sculpture

Renovations to St Peter’s Basilica, 1607-57. Shortly after beginning his papal reign in
1605 the first of the great art patrons of the Italian Baroque Church, the Borgese Pope
Paul V, commissioned Carlo Maderno to commence elaborations of the home of the
Bishop of Rome. The renovations included an elongation of the nave as well as a new
façade. Moderno’s embellishments added grandeur and drama, echoing the aggressive
spatial dynamics of the Church of Il Jesu. After his death in 1629, he was succeeded by
his peer and partner on the project, Bernini.

Gianlorenzo Bernini. 1598-1680. Born in Naples, Bernini received early training in
sculpture from father, who also encouraged him to sketch the Vatican collection of
marbles, which by this time included the “Laocoon and his Sons.” Although he
considered himself a respectful student of the art of the Renaissance, Gianlorenzo lent all
his projects a distinct and innovative sensibility of dynamic, explosive, and curvinlear
movement. He mastered the skills, techniques and ideas initiated by the innovations of
the great Renaissance artists preceding him, carrying them into another realm of drama
and majesty. He managed a large studio of apprentices, assistants, and journeymen,
which enabled him to fill the city of Rome with an impressive number of masterworks.

Baldacchino. 1624-33. When challenged by the new Pope Urban VIII to create a
dramatic focal point in the new vast space of the basilica, Bernini accented the high altar
with his famed canopy over the altar at the crossing of the longer nave, effectively
dominating the space creating by the enveloping architecture. Its twisted columns
represent the vine of the Eucharist wine climbing the pillars of the Temple of Solomon,
and the cumulative effect of the ornate composite capitals, canopy, and crown topped by
the orb of the universe represents the triumph of the Baroque Church. Bronze for the
massive decorative structure was scavenged from the roof of the Pantheon.

The Chair of Peter. 1657-1666. This immense throne houses a relic of St. Peter’s
legendary original wooden chair, illustrating the Counter Reformation interest in
fortifying the legitimacy of the Papacy. The sculptural backdrop of surging clouds,
floating cardinals and golden rays of solid light link the seat of the Pope to a dizzying
cascade of radiant energy, pulling the viewer upwards with gentle, metaphysical power.

Piazza 1656-57. Typical of Baroque urban design the building aggressively spills out into
the city, imposing the grand order of its colonnades into the chaos of Rome; it also
represents the Mother Church embracing the world in her two great arms, with the whole
complex forming a sort of huge scepter.

 David 1623. This self-portait of Bernini, captured as he sketched his contorted face in
the mirror, explodes into the measured space of the Galleria Borghese, commissioned by
a nephew of Paul V. His young hero neither indulges in a victory-induced torpor as did
Donatello’s, nor stands gracefully and confidently as in Michelangelo’s contropposto
David, but winds himself up taught as a spring, daring us to share in his raw energy.
Bernini spares no device in getting the point across; from the spiraling gesture of the

body, to the exhibitionistic ripple of muscle against bone, his David expresses shameless

Apollo and Daphne, 1622-24. Adding tenderness and sensuality to his usual repertoire
of dynamism, Bernini renders the Greek tale of the commonality of the desperation of the
pursued and the pursuer in sweeping arcs and lilting, incomplete forms. In the myth,
Aphrodite becomes infuriated with Apollo’s infatuation with the mortal girl Daphne, and
makes him repellant to her. She flees his advances as best she can, but, being only mortal,
she is doomed to fail. Both Apollo and Daphne are granted relief from a compassionate
Zeus; spared from ravishment, she is turned into a laurel tree. The humbled god gives
homage to her by wearing a crown of leaves from the immortal tree. The message,
perhaps that opposing passions can only be reconciled in the realm of the gods, is given
form by Bernini at the most fleeting of moments, when both are astonished at the
transformation. As in the David, we see the invisible moment of dynamic transition, the
highly charged moment between opposites.

The Ecstasy of St Theresa of Avila, 1645-52. In the midst of his dense Vatican renovation
schedule, Bernini was able to design perhaps the prototypical Baroque image for the
funerary chapel of Cardinal Frederico Cornaro in the Church of Santa Maria della
Vittoria. The Spanish mystic St. Theresa is known, like her friend and contemporary St.
Juan de la Cruz, for encouraging the pursuit of a direct, ecstatic union with God. She
reformed convents within the Carmelite order, preaching a return to austerity, simplicity,
and detachment from the things of this world order to attain intimacy with the divine. She
sought a personal “nakedness of the soul” to God, a kind of total submission and
vulnerability. We feel the acquiescence to divine love in this depiction of her ecstatic
vision. Her naked soul is pierced lovingly by the sensual angel, with her rapturous face
and delicate hands and feet swaddled in an ocean of ruffled fabric. This ideal, to be rapt
in an emotional experience of God, is the goal of Baroque religious art and the
preoccupation of society; artistic expression of the period sought to possess such fleeting

Fransesco Borromini, Church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Rome, 1638-67.
Borromini, nephew of Maderno, used a radical new organic approach to architectural
composition, allowing the interior shapes (extravagant ellipses) to determine the shape of
the exterior. Filled with extravagant drama, the deeply punctuated façade, dissolves into
illusionistic space, with large classical masses floating almost free of the structure. Much
like the screened walls of a Gothic cathedral, the walls of San Carlo exist only to deny
their existence. The architecture becomes like the clouded “dark night of the soul”,
seducing and disorienting the viewers’ senses into the interior of the church, where one
may attain an enclosed, womb-like sense of order, an eye within the Baroque storm.

Painting in Italy

Around 1590, painting in Italy began to go through a revolution as distinct from the
prevailing mannerist style as mannerism was from the canon of the High Renaissance.

It was marked by a revived interest in the emulation of nature in art (di natura in
opposition to di maniera) and of understandable, emotionally direct, and thematically
coherent narrative. For some artists, this meant devotion to the academic approach of
the Carracci academy, which emphasized copying of masterworks and facility with
complex narrative and figural composition, for some it meant devotion to unflinching
realism, for others it entailed painting that aroused empathetic emotion in the audience.
Some of the first great patrons of the new style, the Roman Farnese family, were also
supporters of the new spectacle of the theatre. Their palace in Rome included the famed
gallery with ceiling paintings by Annibale Carracci, and the ducal palace in Parma
housed the Teatro Farnese, designed by Giambattista Aleotti, which included the first
continuous proscenium opening used in a permanent theater.

Annnibale Carracci, Farnese Ceiling, main gallery frescoes, 1597-1601. The most
prominent of the Carracci family painters, Annibale is also though of as one of the
greatest exponents of a breakthrough into a new movement towards Anti-Mannerism. His
absolute mastery of drawing, classical mythology, and illusionistic devices are fully in
evidence in the greatest ceiling painting since Michelangelo’s Sistine frescoes. These
frescoes celebrate the Greek god of the theater, Dionysus, and his love for the mortal
Ariadne in honor of the wedding of the Duke Ranuccio of Parma, a great lover of theater.
The paintings celebrate illusion and theatricality in their seemingly infinite tropes of
visual subterfuge and flirtation. The powerful Cardinal Allessandro Farnese
commissioned the Rome Palace, as well as the great Jesuit church Il Gesu; it could be
said that the Cardinal was a great master of cultural theater. The central image of Bacchus
rescuing Ariadne is as well an artistic statement, opting for clarity of conception and form
over the excessive sentimentality of much late Mannerist painting.

Guido Reni, Aurora, 1613-14. Reni can also be considered working in the Anti-
Mannerist style, seeking harmony and grace in his delicate images. He created this piece
in a garden house in a Roman palace, exists compositionally by itself in the ceiling,
exhibits profoundly graceful, limpid, and elegant movement, with figures and spaces in
complete harmony.

Pietro da Cortona, Triumph of the Barberini, 1633-39, in the Barberini Palace, is a truly
Baroque painting, reveling in restless, overwhelming movement, deep, dizzying space,
and grandiloquent conflagrations of pagan images, Christian stories, and contemporary
political propaganda. A diadem of is brought through the gushing crowd of celebrants to
honor the bees framed by a laurel garland, symbols of the Barberini family.

Giovanni Battista Gualli, Triumph of the Name of Jesus, 1676-79 a potent mix of
painting, architecture, and sculpture, explodes through the roof of Vignola’s Church of Il
Gesu, pushing and pulling the viewer’s emotions and perceptions. Gaulli’s ceiling is a
documented case of a new entrepreneurial spirit in art. In an effort to position himself
beneficially for future commissions from the new order of preachers, the artist
volunteered to undertake the huge project with no commitment of reimbursement.
Completed by the artist at his own expense, the only records of payment extant are the
paid invoices for the scaffolding. Ironically, the patron of Il Gesu, Cardinal Farnese, was

one of the wealthiest men in Italy. In this overwhelming work, it is difficult to tell when
architecture, painting, and sculpture begin and end; perceptual reality itself is overcome
by the activity of the Jesuits’glorification of the Name of Jesus.

Michaelangelo (Merisi) di Caravaggio, 1571-1610. Caravaggio brought the Lombard
style from his hometown to Rome; the ability to paint still-life in great detail, which he
learned in his native Lomabardy, earned him a place in the studio of the Cavaliere
d’Arpino as a painter of fruits and vegetables. He soon began to attract attention, both
positive and negative, in his radical new manner of tenebrism, painting from a dark
ground, relying on dramatic impact of volumes rather than the dominant use of delicately
graded values and natural lighting. The intense physicality of his painting would seem to
echo that of his life. He skirted respectable society evidently throughout his life,
preferring the underworld of gambling houses and bordellos to the Salon. Speculation
abounds in regard to his sexuality in response to the very sensual renditions of boys, and
alleged self-portrait as a rather lurid Bacchus. Eventually he was fled Rome in 1606 after
he murdered a man in a gambling dispute, and lived the remainder of his life on the run.
In spite of this, he accomplished commissions Naples and Malta before he ran afoul of
the Knights of Malta and was grievously injured by agents of the offended Knight. His
style was wildly popular internationally, with artists in Spain, France, and the
Netherlands emulating the intense humanism embodied in his dramatic compositions.

The Calling of St Matthew, 1599-1602. His first major commission sets the spiritual event
in a seedy bar, with Matthew sitting among other gaudily dressed tax collectors,
gangsters and lowlife. The setting is stark and dirty, and all light comes from one source,
Christ. He gestures to an incredulous Matthew, that, yes, he is being called. Through its
relentless realism, the painting calls into question the relationship of the now almost
ubiquitous wealth of the global era of the Baroque, and its handmaiden, the Church of

Conversion on the Way to Damascus 1600. Caravaggio confronts us with experience
rather than narrative, with the calm physical presence of St. Paul’s horse apparently
transcending the conversion of Saul. On the road to Damascus, where he intended to
continue persecuting the followers of Jesus, he is thrown from his horse by a blinding
light, which here fills the scene like radiance from an unseen campfire. While the saint
basks in his enlightenment, the gentle, weathered face of the groom attends patiently to
the horse’s distress, uninterested in the arrogant soldier on the ground. The artist
illustrates both the pain and grace of the physical world in his intensely realistic approach
to the life of common folk.

Death of the Virgin, 1605. When commissioned by the Duke of Mantua to depict the
scene of the end of the earthly existence of the Virgin Mary, he confronted convention
and doctrine openly and directly. As was his habit, he hired local people of the street to
model, and, when unable to find the right Virgin Mary, he took the opportunity of a
prostitute’ drowning death as to use a dead female body as a model. Doctrine, as
generally accepted, portrayed the faultless Virgin as not actually dying, but simply going
to sleep and being assumed into heaven without corruption. Caravaggio’s Virgin is

clearly dead, with the body still slightly bloated and vacant of color, rendered as freshly
pulled from the river. The duke took offence, and rejected the painting. The real subject
of the scene, however, is the sincere mourning of the lowest on the ladder of society,
grieving over the loss of one of their own. No clear transcendence reigns, with darkness
threatening to envelop all. Hope lies only the in the recognition of our own suffering in
the tarnished faces of the victims of culture.

Bacchus, 1595. Caravaggio seemed to relate to the image of Bacchus, the reveler, but
moreover, the magician of reality who takes the celebrant into another realm; the painter
would seem to depict himself here, as both saint and sinner.

Artemesia Gentelescchi, 1593-1652. One of Caravaggio’s most notable followers in Italy,
Orazio Gentelescchi, brought his gifted daughter, Artemesia, into the competitive world
of Italian Baroque paining. Active in Naples, London, and Florence, her professional
progress was evidently influenced by a sexual assault by one of his father’s
contemporaries. He was protected by the guild system, and frustrated any attempts made
by her or her father at justice. She continued to produce paintings of great power and
intensity, and it is postulated that her fascination with the story of the Jewish Heroine
Judith evolved out of her experience. She became a resident of Florence and a member of
the academy, and gained the respect of her colleagues in the male dominated Florentine
art world.

Judith and Holifernes, 1615. Although not the first to take up the story of Judith, she
lends an unprecedented quality of truth to the rendition of women to her paintings. As
with the story of David, Judith was used as a symbol of Florence and her ability to
dominate larger cities through intelligence, cunning, and valor. In the story, the Jewish
army faces immanent defeat at the hands of the ruthless Assyrians, led by the brute
Holifernes. Judith’s fame as a remarkable beauty infiltrated the camp of Holifernes, and
he expressed desire for her, offering to make a deal in exchange for her favors. She feigns
acceptance, and visits the general with her maidservant in tow. When Holifernes is good
and drunk, she ends the tête-à-tête by slicing off his head. Using tenebrism to evoke the
intimacy of lamplight within a tent, Artemesia presents Judith doing the deed with aloof
dignity, mildly disgusted by the dirty thing, but tending to her duty faithfully, the calm
efficiency of the mistress in her kitchen. A narrative that often degenerated into sado-
eroticism in the hands of lesser artists becomes mythic and riveting in her versions.

La Pittura, 1638. In this forthright self portrait, she wears a golden chain, a symbol of her
solidarity with her father, turning her attention with élan and energy to the work at hand.
She addresses us as an equal, elevating the status of her vocation in the elevation of her
painting hand, and by the face on the end of the chain, a symbol of representation. She
vindicates her relationship with both her work and her father in her depiction of her
evident sheer joy in creation.

The Baroque in France

         Ruling over one of the oldest kingdoms in Europe, the kings of the Ile-de-France
had for over a thousand years controlled one of the most significant regions of the
continent. Religious civil war dominated France during the tumultuous early Baroque era
between 1562 and 1629. The alignment of the ambitious Cardinal Richeleau with Louis
XIII, and later his famous son, Louis XIV, abetted the expulsion of the Hapsburgs during
the thirty years war, and began the ascent of the Bourbon dynasty. The growth of the
French Court under Louis XIII was funded in large part through the innovative and
finally burdensome practice of venality---the sale and manipulation of royal offices---a
practice which also underwrote the expensive wars being undertaken to gird and expand
the hegemony of the French monarchy.
         In 1648, after the Regent Queen Anne of Austria and the reviled Cardinal Mazarin
attempted yet another blackmail of the officers of the judiciary, the royal party, along
with the infant king Louis XIV, were driven from Paris in a revolt that came to be known
as the Fronde. The civil disruption lasted for five years. After Louis XIV came into his
legitimate power in 1651, he was able to absorb the controversial Mazarin into his service
as an official royal adviser, and fears of a foreign usurping of the crown subsided, along
the alacrity for the regent queen’s policies. The new king began a series of programs
designed at consolidating, stabilizing and expanding French royal power.
         The French monarchy had endured a number of religious civil wars, royal
assassinations, and popular uprisings until the dawning of the Bourbon dynasty. Their
massive court came to be centered at Versailles, insulating the visiting office holders
from their local interests, flattering them by their inclusion in the elaborate rituals and
entertainment of the Bourbon cosmos. Local outdoor celebrations, over which the various
regional dignitaries normally presided in their home precincts, slowly became replaced
for the office holders by the theatrical life of Versailles. Cardinal Mazarin succeeding in
the artistic and diplomatic coup of luring the Italian master of Baroque theatrical
spectacle Giacomo Torelli away from his position at the great Teatro Novissimo in
Venice; he came to be officially commissioned to redesign the Richeleau Theatre in
1645, but was involved intimately in the general dramatization of the French Court.
Mazarin’s obsessive ambition to stage the massive “Andromeda” was fulfilled with
Torelli’s help; the production was realized with an unprecedented five acts, with full
scenery for each. A new genre of painting evolved, the Fete Galante, which
commemorated the outdoor festivities taking place in the elaborate formal gardens, and in
the elaborately decorated Salons in the palace. France began to lure great artists and
craftsmen from all over Europe to dramatize the life of the Bourbons, including masters
of the new craft of the flat mirror who were brought in from Venice to help create the Le
Brun’s great Hall of Mirrors. The court of Versailles was fascinated in large part by the
seductive glamour of its activity of amassing and manipulation of the power of the nation
within its sensually intoxicating environment of art and architecture. After Louis XIV’s
death in 1715, his regent, Phillip d’Orleans moved the court to Paris, only to have Louis
XV move the royal residence back to Versailles. The center of culture, however, began to
take root in Paris again, with newly wealthy merchants gaining political power over the
nobility in the urban culture of Paris.

        The heady atmosphere of lust and influence present in the court came to be
expressed most poignantly in the eroticism of what came to be known as Le Monde. In
what we might think of as “High Society,” Nobles, Office Holders, Bourgeoisie, and
other French men of power mingled and networked, and increasingly were expected to
engage in such luxuries as extramarital affairs; proving their prowess as lovers was seen
as an appropriate evidence of their power as leaders. Aristocratic French women
possessed a high degree of freedom in the society of Libertinism, though their access to
power and prestige through an auspicious affair was not equal to that of their male
counterparts. In the ever-shifting and complex matrix of political power during the
heyday of the Bourbons, these affairs may be categorized as temporary alignments of
power that supplant the fortuitous marriage. More seductions of the head than the heart,
such fleeting liaisons provided cement for politically advantageous situations of the
moment, subject to change as the winds of power changed.
        The Bourbon dynasty aspired to make the culture of Paris dominant over the
whole of France, to impose a grand order centered in Versailles, with cultural power
radiating out from this epicenter much like the vast formal gardens surrounding the
palace. At the beginning of the seventeenth century a small percentage of the population
occupying the geography dominated by the Royalty actually spoke what came to be the
French language. Louis XIV regulated and codified the language via the French Royal
Academy founded by Richeleau, a brilliant strategy for the solidification of his power.
Every area of enterprise became centralized, with Jean Baptiste Colbert, the Sun King’s
minister, establishing the Royal Academy of Sciences as an effort to control industry and
its innovations to the benefit primarily of the crown. The Royal Academy of Painting and
Sculpture was established in 1648, ruled with an iron hand by Colbert.
        The economy underwent massive change, in order to both stabilize the flow of
goods, and to bring the growing middle class, the Petit Bourgeoisie, firmly under the
royal thumb. France went from a heavily traditional agricultural economy, to a
Mercantile system; the guiding principle of this more modern economy was that a nation
needed to depend on its supply of precious metals, such as gold, for its stability, and that
trade should be focused on the acquisition of greater stores of the precious stuff. France,
as other great Baroque empires, began to rely more and more on exports. Cloth was an
important French product, and a wide variety of experiments in technology and labor
were undertaken in efforts to make the enterprise more profitable. Technology for the
modernization of manufacturing of trade goods advanced faster than that used in
agriculture, making France subject still to periodic food shortage and famine.

Palace of Versailles, Louis Le Vau and Jules Hardouin-Mansart, 1668-85. The
commanding palace looms as an archetypal product of the philosophies of the Royal
academy, founded in 1671. Louis XIV enlarged a chateau built by Louis XIII at nearby
Versailles, to create the palace, which can be thought of as the world’s first suburban
mall; the Sun King spawned a self sustaining enclave of power, money, and
entertainment away from the political interests of Paris. Le Vau and Mansart relied
heavily on Vitruvius, Palladio, and Vignola for the classical style of the complex.

Hall of Mirrors, Charles Le Brun, 1678. The great architect enclosed an open gallery,
adding ceiling paintings and panels of mirror to give the impression of great space,

glorifying the reign of Louis XIV. The deployment of such an indulgent quantity of very
expensive flat mirrors demonstrated the massive disposable wealth of the court, and give
evidence of a coup over the crown of rival Italy’s famous port city of Venice. The
titillating environment of the Hall must have contributed greatly to the vanity of the
libertine aura of Le Monde, with all the players in simultaneous seductions observing
themselves and one another in dramatic counterpoint.

Hyacinthe Rigaud, Portrait of Louis XIV, 1701. This infamous portrait of the apparently
vain King illustrates much more than simply idle extravagance. The considerable
theatricality of the French Royalty here is yoked inextricably to the submission of the
courtiers. What is not pictured is as important as what is; the viewer is put into the role of
one of the venial office holders in residence as part of the ritual of “The Dressing of the
King”, which could be attended by as many as forty admirers and witnesses. He takes on
clothing symbolic of all the regions of France, over which he holds sway, as we sit by
passively. He displays not only his shapely legs, but the glamorous stockings producing
by the silk workshops of Lyon. The town of Lyon, for example, flourished under his
reign, with the silk industry employing more than 60,000 people, and often hosted rich
celebrations and banquets in honor of frequently visiting royalty.

Claude Gelee (known as Claude Lorrain). 1600-1682. After studying under a painter of
harbor scenes in Rome in 1613, Claude came to specialize in idyllic, nostalgic
landscapes. He made a great number of sketches of the Tuscan landscape, which he used
in his studio, often in composites of several sites, to evoke the mood and atmosphere he
desired. The grandeur of Ancient Rome presents itself in different times of day,
illustrating the passing of time and the presence of history by the use of architectural and
arboreal compositional barriers. He worked a great deal for Pope Urban VIII, creating
vast, melancholy, and ravishing views of nature, with human subjects dwarfed by the
enormity of their situation. Even architecture is threatened, by overgrown or simply scale,
by the presence of vast forces. History itself seems a mysterious and nostalgic pursuit,
with as much obscured by observation as revealed by it.

Landscape with Shepherds, 1625. Often Claude’s work is more of an evocation than a
precise narrative enactment; the Roman’s own tendency to romanticize their origins as
simple people of the land is given heady nostalgia here, with the decaying Temple lost
almost lost in the forest, only perhaps maintaining identity by the discussion of the seated

Landscape with Hagar and the Angel, 1646-47, the story of the wife of Abraham, Hagar,
who, compelled by the jealousy of Sarah, was forced by Abraham into exile in the
Mecca Desert with her newborn son, Ishmael, who would be the ancestor of the Arab
peoples. With the help of an angel they were saved from death by dehydration by the
finding of the well of Zemzen around which the city of Mecca was later built. The artist
takes poetic license by placing the subject in a Roman setting, next to a body of water,
rather than a well.

Georges de La Tour, 1593-1652. The greatest practitioner of the style of Caravaggio in
France, de La Tour, was appointed as one of the Court Painters of Louis XIII in 1639.
From his home in Lorraine, he completed many significant commissions in his signature
style, creating intimacy, realism, and idealized form all at once. The humanism of his
work was overshadowed by the official style practiced by the members of the Royal
Academy established by Colbert.

Magdalen with the Smoking Flame, 1640. Caught in a moment of mediation, Mary
Magdalen seems to share a revelation with the viewer, indicated by the wideness of her
open eyes, and slightly parted lips. The smoke from the flame evokes both a precise
moment and the volatility of that moment: it will be gone as soon as it comes. Splitting
into two as it rises, the smoke represents as well the duality of human nature as opposed
to the unity of the light, of God. The softness of her exposed shoulder---apparently we’ve
caught her in the process of undressing---is contrasted by the human skull on her lap, and
the flog sitting on her table. Scriptures and the whip rest on a wooden cross, which are
the closest forms in the picture to the light, and the rope about her waist indicates her
state of penitence. In cinematic Baroque style, we witness a breathless moment between
emotional states. It appears that Mary is preparing to flog her exposed flesh, to make the
change in state from sinner to saved through extraordinary means of penance.

The Cheater or The Card Sharp, 1620-40. Like Caravaggio, La Tour also dramatized life
on the streets, examining some of the less respectable avenues of society. Here a wealthy
lady gets hustled, no less by the servant girl as by the boy exposing his trick to the

Nicolas Poussin, 1594-1665. Arriving in Rome in 1624, Poussin assisted Italian masters
and became steeped in the grand Italian style, but departed from its manner in his own
work. Although he found no favor in his work on Church commissions, he soon became
popular with private collectors and connoisseurs. Later in the seventeenth century his
work and writings on art became the standard for painting in the Academy; he is often
considered its first president. He established a hierarchy in art, placing historical
experience above personal experience, and emphasized the importance of sculptural
quality in painting over color or atmosphere. The severe sobriety of his painting reflects
the rigidity of class and social role promulgated by the Bourbon monarchy. As an artist,
Poussin was concerned first and foremost with stability and clarity, and the continuity of
tradition. As a political statement, however, his work constitutes another example of
France’s efforts at stealing the thunder of Italy, by magically merging classical wisdom of
Greece and Rome with contemporary France.

Rape of the Sabines, 1633-34. Some of the sculptural harness of his figures can be
attributed to his practice of molding highly detailed wax figures as models for his
paintings, searching for some kind of immutable, archaeological truth in his rummaging
of the ancient world. The actors in the legendary founding of Rome flail about in an
impressive variety of actions and gestures while remaining strangely static. The king of
Sabine sits above it all, aloof, seemingly only interested in matters higher than the
suffering of his subjects. Given that France was in the throes of almost constant class,

civil, and religious war during this era, we could interpret this painting as a tribute to
stoic devotion to duty during the violence necessary to achieve lasting cultural

Landscape with Diogenes, 1640. Like Claude, Poussin found fascination in the ancient
landscape of Rome, but, unlike his contemporary, always had pedantic aims. In this
painting, the great Greek Cynic philosopher, who had so little social pretense that he was
content to live in a barrel, is known best for his snub of Alexander the Great. When the
mighty emperor stood over Diogenes, who was resting in his barrel, and graciously
offered to grant him a favor, all that the Cynic asked for was that Alexander move out of
his light. Poussin places Diogenes in a lush, untamed landscape, teaching a young
follower to scavenge all the acorns they have spilled. The shaded arbor shields them from
the harsh, sharp-edged perfection of the city in the distance. The painter celebrates the
clarity and economy of the no-nonsense Greek’s approach to life, seeking to emulate it as
an artist.

Holy Family on the Steps, 1648. Painted at the height of his style, this work aspires not to
a realistic rendition of a plausible, even in a contemporary sense, setting. The assemblage
of elements attempts to capture human perfection. The viewer is situated a low point of
view, gazing up at an unreachable, heavenly scenario, where each detail possesses the
clarity of precision, rather than the movement of life. The two families form a stable
triangle, with the apex of the heads of Mary and Jesus leading the eye up over the barrier
of the “steps”, which are the path to enlightenment. Mary seems to be trying to prevent
the infant Jesus from the apple being offered by John the Baptist; with the form of his
mother Elizabeth echoing and supporting that of her son. Uninvolved, Joseph seems rapt
in calculation, but we would have to step over him to achieve heaven without addressing
the central group. The world’s valuables lie at the level below the holy actors, except for
a jar of oil under Mary’s left foot. In this superficially quiet and pious painting, complex
subterfuges await the viewer, with a variety of possible interpretations.

Antoine Le Nain, Peasant Meal, 1642. The three brothers, Antoine, Louis, and Mathieu,
all signed their paintings simply “Le Nain,” and shared a fascination with memorializing
the downtrodden and common people of seventeenth century France. In spite of their
humble circumstances, the subjects all exhibit dignity, forbearance and pride, presenting
themselves with an almost royal detachment; they are in no way begging.

Scientific Thought in the Baroque

Johannes Kepler

Assisting the Royal Astronomer Tycho Brahe in Benatky Castle outside Prague, Kepler
picked up where the great observer left off at his death. His painstaking records of
planetary movements, based on ideas and methods derived from the work of Copernicus
and Brahe, led him to the inescapable conclusion that the orbit of Mars must be elliptical.
He improved his calculations of the orbits of planets by refining the measuring system of
barrels of wine used in shipping, improving both science and international trade.

Galileo Galilei

Galileo took up residency in 1591 as Professor of Mathematics at Padua University, a
hotbed of controversial scholarship and publishing since the arrival of moveable type in
nearby Venice. His father failed in the volatile textile market, leaving the son with less
money but more freedom to seek his success in other businesses. The younger Galilei
was interested most in solving the problem raised by Tycho Brahe: if there were no
crystalline spheres, then why didn’t the stars and planets fall down from the heavens? His
most lasting contribution to science was that he posited the radical idea that the forces
that govern motion on earth and in the heavens were exactly the same. This idea, which
perhaps more than anything else caused his trouble with Church fathers, was assertively
described in his infamous The Dialogue on the Two Chief Systems of the World. He
shared the status of scientific heresy with others, especially the mystic Giordano Bruno,
who stated openly his belief that the universe was infinite. He was burned at the stake for
“practicing magic.”

Rene Descartes

By 1658 all of the Dutch provinces and cities were recognized by Spain and the Vatican
as a sovereign entity, and were freed from the rigid control of the Church. Holland came
to encourage individual liberty, with each person pursuing their own interests without
interference from church or state. This attitude encouraged innovation in a variety of
areas, allowing the Dutch to flourish in science and business, and for scholars and artists
to explore concepts forbidden in Catholic counties. Descartes found refuge from
persecution in his native France in Holland, where his revolutionary book The Discourse
on Method revolutionized intellectual discourse in Europe. In his Method, he exhorts the
reader to consider that all things in the world were to be doubted, and at the same time
that all things could be known. Mathematics, scripture, even the senses were not to be
trusted, since all things are susceptible to false perception; only thought itself was certain.
“Cogito, ergo sum” declares that only thought proves one’s existence, and that all things
need to doubted until such proof is uncovered. He saw the mind as a kind of theatre,
which the individual needs to observe and analyze to understand exactly what is “going
on.” The modern notion that the mind has a reality separate from the cosmos grew from
Descartes work. His critical method led to innovation in science and mathematics: he
created the x/y axis graph when he observed a fly during a conversation with colleague
Mersenne, and realized that he could plot the fly’s position at any time by the intersection
of two lines at right angles. This invention greatly reduced the laborious computations
used by Brahe and Kepler, and radically altered European thought on a number of fronts.

Isaac Newton

The desire to find the universe as a rationally functioning machine was made most clearly
manifest in England by Newton. He pursued the question of “How?” rather than “Why?,”
inventing a system of calculus to understand the complex matrix of forces at work in his
predecessors’ theories. He refined the casting of the prism, the first person to break light

into a series of eight colors. We consider there to be only seven colors in visible light;
Newton interpolated an eighth between blue and violet, “indigo”, in concert with the
eight notes in the major musical scale. His belief in the possibility of a unified theory
explaining all things in the universe overrode the ideal of perfect critical thought.

Flemish Baroque

Flanders, unlike its sister Holland, remained under the political dominion of Spain during
the Baroque, except for a brief period between 1598-1621 under the Hapsburg dynasty.
Tied both economically and religiously to Spain, Flanders was similarly fertile ground for
grandiose art celebrating the Church and monarchy, combining an Italian sense of
grandeur with the emotional immediacy of Spanish art. Flemish culture shared a great
deal with France as well, in politics, trade, and culture.

Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640. The first of the great Netherlandish painters under the
restored Spanish Catholic regime, Rubens was a citizen of the world. He traveled in Italy
extensively, and was appointed to the court of the Duke of Mantua, which paved the way
for his future diplomatic and artistic careers. The versatile artist had a lively and rich life,
relishing his activities in his large studio, in foreign courts, and with his family all
evidently equally. He was able to unite a closely observed realism with a sense of sheer
physical pleasure and presence in the service of grand ideas and themes. Netherlandish
culture took pride in their ability to secure the necessities of life in abundance, and
enjoyed a high standard of living. The famous voluptuous curves of his female figures
testify to this joy of abundance as much to the symbolism of wealth embedded in it.

Raising of the Cross 1610-11. This overpowering triptych’s composition does not sit
politely within each respective panel, it flows from one to another as if the divisions do
not exist at all. Rubens organizes explosive forms of flesh over a taught, precise
geometric grid, adding to the tension and pathos of the moment. The restless and
aggressive anatomy of Christ seems about to catapult into the lap of the viewer.

 Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus, 1619. One would be hard pressed to find a starker
contrast to the painting of the same subject by Poussin as the explosive, large scale-in-
every-way counterpart by Rubens. The youthful softness of the girls is stretched taut over
an implied diagonal line between them, as the soldiers coolly and rather smugly observe
their spoils. The horses, symbols of aggressive, sexual power, are held in check by small
cupids, perhaps telling us that this is actually a scene of love of some sort. It can also be
read as a portrayal of national ambition, with the Baroque masters of commerce taking
what they will from the world.

Presentation of the Portrait of Marie de Medici, 1621-25. Commissioned as part of the
celebration of the marriage of Henry IV of France’s marriage to Marie de Medici, this
important painting in the cycle commemorates the moment that Henry falls in love with

her portrait. The group of large paintings flatter the otherwise unremarkable woman, in a
number of ways, often as a goddess. It is a great political painting, marking the important
intimate alliance of France with Italy after a long period of instability in the late

The Three Graces, 1638-40. Faith, Hope, and Charity are isolated for our viewing as a
message of temperance from the wealthy Rubens; without the morality of these virtues,
their richness and beauty are in vain.

Anthony Van Dyck, 1599-1641. One of the few of Rubens’ students to succeed in
creating a stylle of his own in Rubens’ long shadow, Van Dyck’s technical skill allowed
him to experiment with his strongest genre, portraiture.

Charles I at the Hunt, 1635. This famous product of Van Dyck’s lucrative career as
English court painter to Charles I adds a new sense of ease and casual environment to
official portraiture. The king looks over his shoulder at us, who have apparently surprised
him as he surveys his domain. Charles faces us, but his eyes are focused to our left, in the
same direction as the groom tending the royal mount. Perhaps we, as viewers, are put in
the position of being at the head of a group, perhaps visiting dignitaries. The viewer must
be presumed to be of some importance, but less than that of the king, who would not
interrupt his leisure to greet us formally at his house. The painting suggests a new fashion
in the expression of power, that of casualness, of ease, while at the same time giving the
ruler more personal dimension; he is a person as well as a position.

Holland/The United Dutch Republic

The wealth of Holland rapidly grew in the seventeenth century as free thinkers from
across Catholic Europe took sanctuary in the libertarian atmosphere of the newly
liberated Republic. The Dutch West Indies Company was founded to beat the aggressive
Portuguese at their own game in the new world, assertively competing for colonial riches.
Amsterdam had become the financial center of Europe, making long-term loans that
funded the expansion of Europe into the New World. They had also revolutionized
shipping itself with their invention of the Dutch fluytschip, making short-haul movement
of goods between European capitals economical and convenient. Although it was home
to John Calvin, founder of the most austere of the Protestant movements, the attitude of
Holland was essentially live-and-let-live. Descartes found himself at home in this milieu,
and artists experimented likewise with form, subject, technique, and marketing in order to
survive and flourish in this new land of freedom. This freedom, unfortunately, also meant
freedom from lucrative church commissions, and painters in particular often had to take
on other sources of income to support their liberty.

Frans Hals, 1580/85-1666. Hals benefited from the Catholic traditions of Utrecht, and its
experiments in Caravaggesque techniques, in his adventurous approach to portraiture.
Hals added a completely unprecedented sense of life to his subjects, with his flying
brushmarks completely visible, animating the surface. Even when confronting the

starchiest of sitters, Halls finds a way, with composition, technique, or pose, to make it
clear to the viewer that these are living, breathing human beings.

Christina Hooft and Her Nurse, 1620. Hals manages to capture fleeting expression and
lifelike demeanor in a spontaneous moment of human interaction between the young girl
and her nurse. The child, in her resplendent gold dress and stiff collar, is still a child, and
we can easily imagine her running off and making a mess of her formal attire at play at
any moment.

Young Man and Woman at Inn, 1628. Paintings of goings-on at inns became more and
more frequent, in part due to an increased interest in depictions of everyday life, genre
paintings, and in large part to artists’ need of supplemental income in the new secular
economy. It was not unusual for artists to run bed and breakfast inns as a means to pay
the rent and make ends meet between sales and portrait commissions. Here Hals captures
a jovial couple who seems to have just met at the bar; the eager dog represents not
fidelity, but a casual, convivial affection between the two. Full of joi de vivre, they seem
to embody the seventeenth century Dutch experience of pure pleasure in good food, good
drink, and good company, as well as freedom of association between men and women in
an informal setting.

Judith Leyster, Self Portrait 1635. Influenced by the Utrecht school, Leyster excelled in
the common trope of conveying moral messages through images of daily life. She
achieved sufficient prominences to become a member of the Haarlem artists’ guild of
Saint Luke, and competed with Frans Hals for commissions and sales. Confident, relaxed,
and self-sufficient, she exemplifies the modern Dutch woman, with, interestingly, the
male violinist (her muse?) in a subservient role; she is maestro in her studio.

Rembrandt Van Rijn, 1606-69. Originally trained and apprenticed in his native Leiden,
Rembrandt eventually settled into a highly successful career in Amsterdam, fetching high
prices, especially for his portraiture. He became the primary competition to Rubens in the
Netherlands for the patronage of Prince Fredrick Henry, and dominated Dutch art of the
period. He experimented a great deal with technique, building up thick layers of oil paint
in impasto over soft, luminous glazes, rubbing the surface with a rag or even applying
paint with his fingers to achieve the right effect. Rembrandt’s acumen in drawing out a
deeply human core in his subjects, registering their pleasure, pain, and life experience in
with a compassionate hand would seem to be unsurpassed to this day. With money,
however, his hand was less talented. Spending his considerable commissions before they
could collect dust in his drawer, he bought and furnished a large townhouse lavishly at
the height of his powers, only to go bankrupt while still a popular painter. He died in a
small rented room in 1669, without the material success of the most popular painter in

Captain Frans Banning Cocq Mustering His Company (The Night Watch), 1642.
Fraternities of local merchants and leaders came to replace the confraternities of Catholic
Europe, greasing the wheels of business and politics. These clubs in Holland were

originally formed for community defense, but soon turned to their more central role as
social assemblies necessary for the managing of power. Patronage of these groups was
one of the most stable forms of income for painter, with the members desiring
documentation of both their membership and the noble aims of the club. Rembrandt turns
the often tedious fraternity portrait into a dynamic, almost mythological event.
Composing the characters in the drama first with regard to compositional interest and not
standing in the club, the painter received some initial disapproval for the final piece. The
soldiers brandish largely symbolic weapons in largely symbolic armor, and appear to be
guarding mysterious mythological figures in the center of the room bathed in golden
light. The girl would seem to be angelic, though she has a chicken attached to her belt,
and she frolics with a boy (?) decorated by a laurel wreath and a horn. Dogs and other
children flit between the legs of the self-important soldiers as well, pointing out that this
really is a community, not a military, organization. The accessory figures surely carry
symbolic weight that perhaps only fraternity members understood.

Supper at Emmaus, 1648. Evidently profoundly affected by the new human tenderness
professed by some Protestant sects, Rembrandt often created very personal works of
faith. The setting is humble, with each person bathed in the same light as Christ, his
surprising appearance as a glorified, resurrected being gently revealed to the apostles. His
friends had met him on the road, going home for the evening meal, and were unaware of
his identity until the bread was broken. Christ’s miraculous revelation descends upon us
gently, without intimidation.

The Three Crosses, 1663. Printmaking processes became popular and economically
viable in Holland, much like they were in Germany, where humanistic learning and the
Protestant emphasis on the written word as equal or superior to the image made works on
paper a more permanent statement. Rembrandt reveled in combinations of drypoint and
etching on metal plates, which suited translation of his painting techniques into a
repeatable format. These methods rewarded physical reworking of layers of lines, values,
and forms with rich tonal variation and presence. This famous image was printed in more
than one state, letting us experience multiple emotional contexts for the same
composition. Jesus is depicted poignantly as a common person, part of the larger crowd,
almost anonymous in his suffering. Being able to sell multiples of one artwork was also
good business in the market economy of Holland, with disposable wealth spread more
equally among a wider population of middle class entrepreneurs.

The Jewish Bride 1665. Referring to some esteemed biblical couple, Rembrandt’s tender
treatment of the couple is a far cry from the stiff formality of the wedding portraits of the
Renaissance. This is about two people, not two families or businesses, coming together.
The groom gently touches his wife’s breast in a traditional homage to her fertility, and
they seem to be aware of each other almost spiritually, their eyes unfocused in the
emotion of the moment. Rembrandt was evidently a devoted mate to both his wife Saskia,
and his mistress after Saskia’s death, Hendrikje, so perhaps this compelling image
commemorates his own sentiments.

Self Portraits, 1640, 1652, 1658, 1669. We don’t know for certain Rembrandt’s rationale
for leaving behind such an extensive documentation of his personality at different points
in his life---perhaps they were simply practice between commissions---but the power of
this series of engrossing insights into his spirit is certain. Sometimes consciously
costumed in a role as a burgher or courtier, sometimes as the bohemian artist, he always
reveals his state of mind and emotional tenor at that point in his life. We instinctively
identify with the traces of optimism, pride, fascination, humor, grief, and enlightenment
that live in the creases and corners of his face. He continued painting himself until the
year of his death, where he seems to have reconciled the opposites in his life into a kind
of serenity.

Jacob van Ruisdael, 1628/29-92. Van Ruidsdael, a popular Haarlem landscape master,
takes the symbolic idea of the still life vanitas painting, juxtaposing images of life and
death next to one another, but using objects and atmospheres of the environment instead
of table-top objects.

The Jewish Cemetery, 1655-60. In the foreground we city Jewish tombs on a parallel with
a broken tree crossing a rushing creek, which in turn seems to lead into the distance to a
rainbow emerging from a stormy sky. We are seeing the scene as revealed just after a
rainstorm, with the crumbling cathedral near the rainbow and the tombs illuminated in the
widening sunlight. The message would seem to be that hope and resurrection exist
beyond the institutions of humanity.

Johannes Vermeer, 1632-75. Although he was well known by other Dutch artists as a
connoisseur of Italian art, Jan Vermeer lived his entire life in Delft, and painted evidently
only for patrons in his hometown. Unlike many of his contemporaries, his output was
very modest, with only 35-37 paintings known and attributed to him. In his day, he was
referred to as just another painter of genre scenes, a member of the local artists’ Guild of
Saint Luke, but is hailed in the modern era as one of the most innovative and gifted artists
in Western culture. He lived most of his adult life with his wife Catherine Bolnes and her
mother, Maria Thins, using the household as his primary subject. His income was derived
from helping to run his father’s textile business, trading paintings, and to a lesser extent,
sales of his own work. His wife’s family evidently suffered from financial problems,
which he tried to alleviate, but was apparently unsuccessful, finally leaving his wife and
ten children in bankruptcy after his death. His bereft estate was settled by a friend, Antoni
van Leeuwenhoek, a maker of microscopes and lenses; van Leeuwenhoek wrote a treatise
expounding his belief that matter and light were composed ultimately of “globules.”
Vermeer’s paintings seem to break up light into fragments, and the apparent precision of
his work can be attributed in large part to the way he seemed to “see” like the camera, in
light, not in line. The precursor to the camera, the dark box known as the camera obscura
was known to Vermeer, and he likely used it, as his colleagues did, to study the effects of

The Little Street, 1657-58. An early painting finds Vermeer out in the open light of the
street, exploring the relationship between people engaged in everyday activities and their
architectural environment. One of his most successful strategies is in evidence here, his

penchant for presenting things in part rather than whole, inviting us to wonder about the
unseen portion of the world in front of us. Even in the straightforward pattern and texture
of the brick facades, light and shadow appear and disappear, leading us into the painting
and out again. Though the human figures themselves are small, the spaces of the street
are “about” them, each place within the picture has the potential for human involvement..

View of Delft, 1662. Seventeenth century Delft was a prosperous but an orderly,
provincial city, not given to extremes. Cities were commonly memorialized through
painted views published with accompanying maps, but Vermeer’s city goes far beyond
such pedestrian representation. The city seems compressed, like a jewel catching
fragments of light as the sun breaks through the clouds here and there. Ships come and go
from its port quietly, almost magically, while the residents on the banks are oblivious,
engaged in conversation. The painter creates a unique push-pull between the atmospheric
perspective and the glints of light dancing off of even the distant buildings. The city is
conscious, beautiful, and unknowable.

A Woman Holding a Balance, 1662-64. Woman with a Pearl Necklace, 1664. The basic
set-up here, a woman absorbed in common, yet slightly inscrutable activity, is a common
Vermeer composition. Precedents abound in Baroque Dutch Genre painting, with figures
or groups illuminated through a window on the left of the picture plane, but none have
the powerful unity as painted statements as do the master of Delft. Vermeer’s paintings
seem to demonstrate the Cartesian “Theatre of the Mind”, where personal thoughts play
out in the head like actors in a play; Jan gives us an offstage view, a privileged and
private vantage point on an individual human drama. These two paintings, from the same
period in his work, address ideas of beauty and fate very differently. In the first, the
woman ignores the pearls and other valuables spilling from cases on the table, and
considers an empty balance, while Christ balances the saved and damned in the painting
behind her. She seems content with the balance in her own life, with her slight smile
placing her out of normal time and space, rather like the divine event in the judgment
painting. In the second piece, the woman strains to see herself in the mirror as she fastens
the ribbon holding the string of pearls around her neck. Pearls were clear evidence of
success in overseas trading, as is the fir-edged coat almost covering her pregnant belly.
Often Vermeer depicts women alone, waiting for their husbands to return from trading
voyages; the active Dutch Trading Company certainly made extensive travel a fact of life
for many citizens of Holland.

 Allegory of Painting, 1666-7. The artist is costumed in colorful antique clothing as he
begins painting the girl (she is Clio, allegory of History, and is crowned with fame) by
first laying out her glorious laurel leaves. The map of the United Dutch Republic,
establishes this painting as an examination of the relation of the artist, history, and the
fame he brings to his country. The oil chandelier represents both the passing of time, and
relates to Dutch ingenuity in science; the principles of hydraulics and fluid displacement
that make the lamp work are the same that makes Dutch boats float.

The Lacemaker, 1669-70. The intensity of concentration necessary for lacemaking are
directly related to the impressive focus of Vermeer’s painting. Research has shown that

this constitutes a faithful depiction of the contemporary process of lacemaking, perhaps
glimpsed in his father’s business. The image is realized through visual details; threads
merge in and out of masses, with highlights precisely focused at areas of high relief. In
the end, however, we do not see the lace being made, for Vermeer has shown us that the
real miracle is the act of making itself.

Rachel Ruysch, Flower Still Life, 1700. One of the highest paid still-life painters in
Holland, Ruysch gives us a wonderful example of a“natural science” depiction of nature;
the flowers painted here were both assiduously studied and sensually loved by the
painter’s hand. The species presented do not naturally bloom at the same time of year,
making this painting an artificial document. An international financial crisis came in the
wake of “Tulip Mania,” where the ubiquitous Dutch tulip became the subject of
economic speculation; many fortunes were made and lost through the humble tulip at the
center of Ruysch’s composition. Introduced in 1550 from Turkey, the bulbs of the tulip
became a prized and hyped commodity in Holland, much as sugar had become in the rest
of Europe.

Baroque Spain

Ruled by the Habsburg dynasty of Phillip III, IV, and Charles II, Spain ruled a vast
though often unstable empire during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, holding
sway over Flanders, the Kingdom of Naples, Holland, and Portugal (though the latter two
declared independence in 1579 and 1640, respectively), as well as vast tracts of the New
World. Concentrating their imperialistic ambitions on the acquisition of gold and
precious metals, Spain enjoyed great autonomy and influence during the first flush of the
Baroque, with disposable wealth available for the commissioning of artworks under the
cultural umbrella of both the Jesuit-dominated central church, and the experiments in
personal spirituality of the great Spanish mystics. Through contacts with artists in Naples,
the style of Caravaggio became wildly popular on the Iberian Peninsula, the strong
chiaroscuro style of El Greco already established and influential for devotional pictures.

 Francisco Zubaran, 1598-1664. Working much of his life in the heavily Caravaggio-
influenced city of Seville, Zubaran brought a more contemplative mood to the evocation
of the tortures of the martyrs.

 St Serapion, 1628. Serapion was a member of one of the new monastic order developed
in Spain, the Mercedians. Following the dictates of his order, he offered his life in
exchange for those of Christian captives of the Moors. We see here not tortured pain, but
peace and otherworldly tranquility.

Jusepe de Ribera, 1591-1652. The church promoted the religious experiences of martyrs,
who became closer to God through depravations of the body and poverty in spirit,
spurring dramatic renditions of these suffering saints. Saints Andrew, Serapion
Bartholemew, (Nathaniel), all suffered dramatic harrowings of the body, and were
popular subject for paintings. Barthelemew, one of Ribera’s subject, was flayed (skinned)
alive, and subsequently became the patron saint of trappers.

St. Andrew, 1632. The apostle first called by Jesus, Andrew, brought in Peter into the
company of Jesus, and whose asceticism was considered to be a good guide for the
church of Peter to come back to its roots. Ribera’s work is a strong link between
Spanish popular subject matter and the dramatic style of Caravaggio.

Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez, 1599-1660. The greatest artist of the
Caravaggesque School of Seville, the well educated young Velazquez, gained early fame
with his intensely naturalistic genre paintings. His talent was admired at the Madrid
court, and he was subsequently hired by Phillip IV to paint the royal family. His skills as
a courtier were clearly as strong as those as painter to have secured such an enviable
position. After Rubens’ visit to Madrid in 1628, Velazquez pleaded with his patron for
funds to travel to Italy to study the mastery that the Flemish master had described to him.

The Water Carrier of Seville, 1619. The hot streets of the city of Seville were served by
the necessary water sellers, who brought herb and fruit tinged water to the thirsty public.
The artist makes the dignified man visible; such a person occupying this common and
very low class occupation would be almost invisible to the aristocratic gaze. A dramatic
stacking of viscerally present volumes and masses in this composition makes the tattered
man a kind of graceful, living temple.

The Toilet of Venus, 1625. The nude female figure was forbidden in Spain, but
Velazquez painted the first such nude in Spanish art. Surely intended as a private
painting, this work presents a real Spanish woman in the role of a goddess, observing
herself in a fashionable, expensive, flat mirror. The artist explores technique freely,
allowing fluid brushstrokes to float and play on the surface, coming fully together only at
viewing distance.

 The Forge of Vulcan, 1630. Clearly influenced by his first trip to Italy, this is one of a
series of large scale mythological paintings from this period of growth for the artist. We
are shown the moment at which Apollo tells Vulcan that his wife Venus is betraying him
with Mars. With the exception of the glowing Apollo, all the keepers of the forge are
clearly Spanish working men, perhaps even forge workers for his patron. Naturalism is
combined with a classical sense of counterpoise seamlessly, creating a vivid evocation of
both passing and endless time.

The Infanta Margarida, 1655. Velazquez painted the King, his son Carlos, members and
attaches to the court numerous times. This, one of several portraits of the young princess
Margarida, contrasts the buoyant, childlike presence of the girl with confining layers of
formal drapery.

Las Meninas, 1656. He paints little Margarida, who will soon be betrothed to Louis XIV
of France, again in this later work, but places her more informally as part of the
household. She is being dressed by her attendants, being entertained by dogs and dwarfs.
Dwarfs had been introduced into the court to cheer Phillip after the death of his beloved
son Carlos, and had remained a welcome part of the entertainment of the family. The

setting, a vast room filled with other paintings, gives us a glimpse into the real life of the
family. While the artist commands a huge canvas thrusting through space, we see the
king and queen reflected in a mirror on the back wall; we are watching Diego paint the
royal persons, as the daughter watches. The artist rules this space, the figure around
which the vast space revolves. The red Cross of Juan Diego on his chest was added to this
painting, which hung in the king’s private room, when he was knighted with the great
honor well after the painting was finished.

English Baroque

James I 1603-25, ascended to the throne in 1603, succeeded by his son Charles I in 1625,
followed by James II in 1449. This catholic dynasty ruled over a united Scotland and
England, patronizing the arts and expanding English influence in the New World until the
Glorious Revolution of 1689, when Protestant political interests succeeded in a bloodless
coup of the English throne.

Inigo Jones, 1573-1652. Working under the principles of Palladio, this influential
architect and scene designer rebuilt the Whitehall Palace Banqueting Hall 1630-35, in
style evocative of classical models. After fire destroyed the original building, he created a
unique kind of gathering hall, one that is clearly influenced by his design and
organization of court Masques. The façade is deceptive, since it indicates the presence of
two stories when in fact the interior is only dominated by one. He uses delicate decorative
elements to elegant effect, making the entire building a playful “mask.” The coffered
ceiling is graced with large paintings from Rubens’ studio.

Christopher Wren, 1632-1723. Wren became the most influential architect in London
after Jones. Well versed in a variety of disciplines, including astronomy, and became
fascinated by architecture after meeting Bernini in Paris as the Italian visited to consult
on work underway on the Louvre. His affection for French Baroque is evident in his
design for the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral in 1675-1709 In essence, he brought the
expansive drama of St Peter’s to a crowded London street, introducing a new approach
to large scale decoration and design to English building.

Development of Baroque Theatre

        All art forms in Baroque Europe underwent expansion, elaboration, or revolution,
as society itself went through intense growing pains. The practice of Theatre, in writing,
acting, and in physical design and special effects, began to take forms familiar to
contemporary audiences. The earliest permanent theatre in Europe, the Teatro Olimpico
was constructed in Vincenza in 1585, to a great deal modeled after the recent
translations of the Roman theorist and historian Vetruvius, who testified as to some of the
specifics of theatrical practice in classical Rome. The architect Palladio, and his partner
Scamozzi, used these texts as the basis for residential and official architecture, and for
his design for the Teatro Olimpico. For this theatre, they widened the central arch of the
Frons Scenae, (the five door façade inherited from ancient Greek Drama) allowing for a

continuous landscape backdrop to be more easily. By 1618 Giambattista Aleotti’s design
for the theatre in the Palazzo Farnese merged the five doors of the scenae into one wide
space we now refer to as the Proscenim Arch.
         In 1545 Sebastiano Serlio published his influential Archittetura volume, which
interpreted Vetruvius’ texts into the realm of perpecive rendering and scenic painting for
the stage. The system of perspective used in scenography depended on the designing of
the scene around a privileged audience member’s point of view: that of the Prince. The
idea of linear perspective, then, is rooted in class consciousness, especially to the new
class of self-made made man exemplified in the Prince.
         Translation and publication of the Greek Grammarian Pollux’s Onomasticon
from the 2nd century CE original published in Venice in 1502 helped to fuel and inform
the interests of many artists, such as Leonardo, who experimented with designing sets
and machinery for the stage. The Florentine Bastiano da San Gallo (1481-1551)
facilitated practical applications of Pollux’s theories in Italian theatre. In particular, he
revived the idea of the Periaktoi, rotating, vertical, triangular columns that could provide
quickly changing painted scenes. In 1638 Nicola Sabbatini assembled a wide range of
experience and knowledge into what would become the standard reference for scenic and
mechanical stage construction, the Practica di fabricar scene e machine ne’ teatre,
known often as simply the “Practica.” Increased use of large indoor theatre spaces also
led to experiments in focused, artificial stage lighting and special lighting effects, that
were reflected in the dramatic spotlight effects in Baroque painting.
         The full force of these innovations came to bear on the Intermezzi, originally light
comic acts performed in between longer, serious, and moralistic dramatic works of
Commedia Erudite, the frivolous Iintermezzi soon became elaborate spectacles. Great
court festivals grew out of these entertainments, which Macchiavelli prescribes in The
Prince as useful in encouraging deference and awe for the new secular leader of
capitalist society.

Galli da Bibiena, Designs for the Stage, late 17th century. Son of the altarpiece painter
Giovanni Maria, Ferdinando, came to be a great master of Baroque illusionism, and was
in great demand for his designs for theatre and court festivals across Europe. He wrote
several treatises on architecture, and was the first designer to “break” the proscenium
arch, extending the scenery on stage out into proximity of the audience. His sons
Alessandro, Guiseppe, Antonio, and grandson Carlo became leaders in scenography,
architecture, and painting in the courts and theatres of Europe through the end of the
eighteenth century.

        Great playwrights emerged in England, Spain, and France; Shakespeare wrote
Macbeth in honor of the ancestors of James I of England, performed at court in 1606.
Much of Shakespeare’s and his older contemporary Christopher Marlow’s plays explore
shifting identities and alliances in human affairs, paralleling the necessary changing of
customs, manners, and identities in the fluid world of the late sixteenth and earliest
seventeenth centuries. Elizabeth I laid the groundwork for the burgeoning commercial
theater industry of London by forbidding religious drama in 1574. In Spain, Cervantes
explored the illusions of ambition, identity and prestige, while Lope de Vega affirmed a
more traditional social order in reputedly more than 1,500 plays. In France Racine

brought classical Greek principles of drama into contemporary French culture,
contrasted by Moliere, who, under the protection of Louis XIV, created the conventions of
the Comedie Francais in his send-ups of hypocrisy and aristocratic folly, adapting ideas
of the recently imported Italian Commedia dell’ arte.

Music in the Baroque

         Music, like the visual arts, was marked by the expression of intense emotion and
dramatic effect, developing the use of the ground bass line and excessive ornamentation.
In Florence, the Society of the Camerata revived elements of Greek drama into Italian,
and created the form of the opera, with Monteverdi and Gabrieli reveling in polychoral
and exclamatory effects. Musical forms multiplied, with the sonata, suite, concerto
grosso, opera, oratorio, and cantata being played in a variety of venues with an
increasing variety of instruments. High Baroque composers such as Corelli and Vivaldi
in Italy, J.S. Bach in Germany, and Handel in England created grand aural altarpieces.
Music for both large scale and intimate settings was written and performed; chamber
music’s more personal scale can be thought of as analogous to the interest in direct,
personal human emotion of genre painting.


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