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Art & Theory in Baroque Europe

Christopher L.C.E. Witcombe


  • personal style (e.g. Rembrandt, Poussin, Rubens, Bernini, etc.)
  • period style (e.g. High Renaissance, Mannerism, Baroque)

Mannerism and Baroque
Rubens, Descent from the Cross, 1611-12
  • grandeur of conception
  • power of feeling
  • both unite to produce an air of epic tragedy
  • actions of figures are natural and appropriate
  • grief and horror of those closest to Christ
  • physical strain and effort of those lowering the dead body
  • night scene [evening?]
  • but the compact group around cross is illumined by a supernatural light
  • contrasting colours
  • livid, bloodless colour of Christ's body
  • vivid red of St. John's mantle
Roger de Piles [Conversations sur la connaissance de la peinture, 1677, page 135]: "the painter [Rubens] has entered so fully into the expression of his subject that the sight of this work has the power to touch a hardened soul and to cause it to experience the sufferings endured by Jesus Christ in order to redeem it."

Mannerism and Baroque
Agnolo Bronzino, The Deposition, c. 1545-50
  • elegant conception
  • strangely inexpressive and detached
  • agitated composition, full of incidents
  • but, little sense of dramatic unity
  • figures elongated and have energetic, angular postures
  • arranged to create a decorative pattern
  • no strong emotions
  • shallow space
  • forms tend to adhere to the vertical plane
  • removes the event from the realm of flesh and blood
  • Mannerist refinement and artifice prevail over nature and feeling

Gianlorenzo Bernini, The Fountain of the Four Rivers, 1648-51
  • robust naturalism
  • free deployment of forms in space
  • River Gods disposed in lively attitudes on an irregular, deep-cut rocky base
  • craggy mass appears inadequate to support weighty obelisk on top
  • complexity and multiplicity of parts
  • but, possesses a powerful unity
  • spectacular, exuberant monument
  • also served as symbol of universal triumph of the church

Bartolomeo Ammanati, Neptune Fountain, 1560-75
  • gigantic marble Neptune standing on a high pedestal in centre
  • bronze figures on smaller scale placed around perimeter
  • lacks impressive visual unity of Bernini's fountain
  • figure of Neptune flat and ungainly, to be seen primarily from front
  • Neptune appears unrelated to bronze figures
  • bronze figures "best parts of work"
  • slender, graceful, elegantly posed, extravagant attitudes
  • typical products of Mannerist fantasy

  • elegant
  • refined
  • artificial
  • courtly style

Parmigianino, Madonna del Collo Lungo, 1533-40

  • art created in Rome roughly in the period 1620-1680, then spread elsewhere
  • 'rhetorical'
  • aim was to strike astonishment and admiration in the spectator

in painting:
Pietro da Cortona, Glorification of the Reign of Urban VIII, 1633-39
  • dynamic composition
  • irrational lighting and chiaroscuro
  • dramatic gestures
  • ecstatic poses
  • miraculous effects

in sculpture:
Bernini, Ecstasy of St. Theresa, 1648-52
  • same kinds of poses and gestures
  • sometimes combined with coloured marbles and trompe l'oeil imitations

in architecture:

  • Bernini, S. Andrea al Quirinale, 1658-70 (ext.)
    1. effects of movement by means of curving walls and incomplete spaces
    2. preference for ovals or polygons
    3. dramatic and concealed lighting
    4. effects of false perspective
    5. lavish introduction of coloured marbles and gilding
    6. skillful siting

  • © Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe