It's not clear where the word "baroque" came from. Many experts think it came from the Portuguese word barroco, which means an imperfect or oddly shaped pearl. Some people, like the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, thought it came from the Italian word "Barocco," which was used in the Middle Ages to describe a problem in formal logic. When the term was first being used more and more, it had negative connotations. The art that fit into this category was seen as strange and sometimes showy. But in 1888, Heinrich Wolfflin's book Renaissance und Barock (1888) made it official to use the term to describe a distinct art style.
The Baroque period didn't start in a single moment. Instead, it was a collection of new ideas that came together in the late 1500s. These ideas came from Caravaggio's painting style, the Bolognese School led by Annibale Carracci, and Giacomo Della Porta's architecture. Counter-Reformation, led by the Catholic Church, was a big reason why the movement was so big and powerful.
The Counter-Reformation tried to bring back the Church's authority after the Sack of Rome in 1527 and stop Protestantism's spread. In 1545, Pope Paul III called for the first Council of Trent. This meeting brought together church leaders and theologians to set doctrine and condemn heresies of the time. Until 1563, Pope Paul III and his two successors, Pope Julius III and Pope Pius IV, led the Council. They met 25 times. Visual art and architecture became a part of the reform campaign. The Council set rules for art that included depicting religious themes like the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the Virgin that were unique to Catholic dogma. This was done to reposition the church's importance in the public eye. But these rules also meant that artists could be in trouble if a church official thought their works were offensive because they showed religious things. One of the earliest examples was when the Venetian Renaissance painter Paolo Veronese was brought before the Inquisition to defend his painting "The Last Supper" (1573). He was accused of including "buffoons, drunken Germans, dwarfs, and other such scurrilous things" in it. When the piece was renamed "The Feast in the House of Levi," which sounds like a scene from the Bible where sinners were present, it was accepted.
The Protestant Reformation was against using images in religious worship. Still, the Counter-Reformation said that such art had a teaching purpose and called for a new kind of visual representation that was simple but dramatic, realistic in its depictions, and clear in its story. The movement's leaders said that art should be easy for ordinary people to understand and make them feel strong, which would make them more religious and respect the church more. Even though the church and its leaders had been important patrons of art since the Gothic period, a new patronage program was pushed all over Europe. As part of the reform movement, the government encouraged new religious orders like the Jesuits, the Capuchins, and the Discalced Carmelites to become important art patrons. This unique Baroque style quickly spread across Europe. The Catholic Church, led by the Pope in Rome, and Catholic rulers in Italy, France, Spain, and Flanders, did most of the work to make this happen. It spread even more through the extensive network of monasteries and convents run by powerful religious orders.
The High Baroque began around 1625 and ended around 1700. It was grand and focused on movement and drama. Gian Lorenzo Bernini led and ruled the time, and his sculptures set the standard for the Baroque style. Cardinal Scipione Borghese was one of Rome's wealthiest and most influential people. Bernini's first sculptures were made for the Borghese Palace, owned by the Cardinal. His works like The Rape of Proserpina (1621-22) and Apollo and Daphne (1622–1625) focused on dramatic realism, strong emotions, and movement.
Spanish Baroque was known for its unique style. At the time, most people in Spain were severe and sometimes even sad. The Eighty Year War (1568–1648), in which Spain tried but failed to keep control of the Netherlands, and the Anglo–Spanish War (1585–1604), in which the Spanish Armada attempted but was unable to invade England, drained Spain's finances and caused an economic crisis. At the same time, the harshness of the Inquisition shaped the Catholic faith. In architecture, the grandeur and wealth of the church were emphasized. The Jesuits, who were known for their intellectual support of the Counter-Reformation and their efforts to convert people to Christianity, came up with a way to use a lot of decorations to emphasize the glory of religion.
In contrast to the emphasis on Catholic splendor in Spanish Baroque architecture, Spanish Baroque painting focused on the limits and pain of human life. It was known for putting a lot of emphasis on realism based on careful observation. It was less interested in theatrical effects and more interested in a compelling sense of human drama. Francisco Ribalta and Jusepe Ribera were influenced by Caravaggio early on, but most Spanish artists took chiaroscuro and tenebrism as starting points and made their style. In his later work, like The Holy Family with St. Catherine, Ribera emphasized a layer of silver on top of warm golden tones (1648).
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo created the Estilo vaporize, or "vaporous style," which used a light color palette, softened lines, and a veiling effect of silver or gold light. His works, like The Immaculate Conception (1678), were both religious and genre paintings, like The Young Beggar, which showed people on the street (1645). His work was prevalent because it was both elegant and emotional. In 1660, he helped start the Seville Academy of Fine Art with another artist. After he died, Juan de Valdes Leal became the most famous painter in Seville, even though most of his work was dramatic. For example, The End of Worldly Glory (1672), an allegory of death, was one of his most famous paintings. Francisco de Zurbaran was called "the Spanish Caravaggio" because of his religious paintings like The House of Nazareth (1630). However, his compositions were more severe and restrained and often focused on a single ascetic figure.
Diego Velázquez was the most famous painter of the Spanish Baroque period. His work included genre paintings like Old Woman Frying Eggs (1618), historical images of recent events like The Surrender of Breda (1634-1634), religious works like Christ Crucified (1632), famous portraits like Portrait of Innocent X (1650) and Las Meninas (1656), and one of the few Spanish nudist paintings, The Rokeby Venus (1644-1648), which was not allowed in At first, he used tenebrism. Still, he developed his masterful style over time, which used a simple color palette but focused on tones and different brushwork.
The French Baroque was mainly shown through architecture. In France, this style was called "Classicism," It rejected fancy in favor of geometric proportions and less complicated facades. French painters also moved toward a more classical type of restraint. Even though they worked in Rome, Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin were the most famous French painters. Lorrain's work focused on landscape and the effects of light. His subjects, religious or classical, were not the focus of the work but rather the reason for it. Poussin started painting in the Baroque style, but by the time he was in his mid-30s, he had begun to develop his kind. Images like Landscape with Orpheus and Eurydice (1650–1651) showed calm rationality that influenced the later development of Neoclassicism.
Other French artists, especially Georges de la Tour, were influenced by Caravaggio's tenebrism but moved away from dramatic action and effects. He mostly painted religious themes and experimented with nighttime light by using geometric compositions and simple shapes to show a calm and thoughtful spirituality. King Louis XIII, Henry II of Lorraine, and Cardinal Richelieu supported La Tour's work. This shows how important it was at the time. Genre painters like the Le Nain brothers also used the baroque style in new ways. Louis, Antoine, and Mathieu Le Nain worked together on most of their works. Their genre scenes, like The Blacksmith at His Forge (around 1639) and Peasants' Meal, showed how real everyday work was (1642).
Painting made the Flemish Baroque stand out, and its unique style came from historical and cultural factors. In 1585, Catholic forces from Spain took back the city of Antwerp in Flanders, now Belgium. The Catholic area was then separated from the Protestant Dutch Republic. So, Flemish artists painted both religious subjects from the Counter-Reformation and landscapes, still lifes, and other types of art that were still based on the Northern European tradition.
Peter Paul Rubens was a leader in the growth of Baroque painting in Flanders. His religious paintings, like Descent from the Cross (1614), were done in the High Baroque style, which is known for its bright colors, sensual vitality, and movement. His non-religious paintings, like the Judgment of Paris, were done in a different style (1636). His images of naked women from mythology and the Bible were especially well-known and influential because they mixed sensuality with many allusions and symbols. Anthony van Dyck was Rubens' most famous student. He is best known for his portraits, which have a courtly elegance. In 1630, he was named court painter to the Princess of Orange. Because he had connections to the royal family, he also became the court painter for the English court and was knighted by King Charles I of England in 1632. Flemish artists also painted genre scenes. Adriaen Brouwer, Jacob Jordaens, and David Teniers the Younger were the most well-known of these artists.
Dutch Baroque, also called the Dutch Golden Age, was the only time the Baroque style was used in a Protestant area. As a result, Dutch architecture and painting were very different. Around 1648, when the Thirty Years War ended, the Dutch Golden Age began. In 1588, the Dutch Republic broke away from Spain and became its own country. In the decades that followed, the Republic became an economic powerhouse with a growing middle class. This was made possible by the fact that it dominated world trade. Dutch Baroque architecture was mainly based on the work of Andrea Palladio, a Venetian Renaissance architect. This style is often called "Dutch Palladianism" and has a restrained, monumental look. Dutch art focused on scenes of everyday life and nonreligious themes. It also led the way in the landscape, still life, and genre painting. In printmaking, religious themes were most often used to illustrate Bible stories. At the same time, some of the best Dutch artists, like Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer, and Salomon van Ruysdael, used chiaroscuro and tenebrism to paint in the Baroque style. Rembrandt's Night Watch shows this (1642).
Rococo began in Paris around 1720, the Baroque era's end. Some scholars call Rococo "Late Baroque," but it had an enjoyable and entertaining style tied to a court's life. Even so, Baroque artists were still crucial during the Rococo period. For example, Rubens affected Jean-Antoine Watteau, Francois Boucher, and Jean-Honoré Fragonard.
Within fifty years, the Rococo style was replaced by the Neoclassical style, and many Baroque artists were forgotten. In the 1800s, Rubens and Rembrandt were rediscovered. Rubens influenced the Romantics, Théodore Géricault and Eugène Delacroix, Rembrandt influenced the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, and Velázquez had a significant impact on Édouard Manet, Pablo Picasso, and Francis Bacon.