Interesting Facts About Baroque Painting
In painting, the baroque period reveled in the effects of light and shadow, employing many-hued grays, browns, and greens, rather than clear colors. It explored the subtleties of individuality in portraying landscapes and the human face. Among its distinctive traits were the gradual elimination of distinct outlines and the use of quantities of pigment heavy enough to make the brushstrokes visible.
Except for England and Germany, all the great European nations produced marvelous painters during the baroque period. At the beginning we again find the Italians in the lead. Guido Reni (1575–1642), who produced the famous Aurora, and Pietro da Cortona (1596–1669), creator of the frescoes in the Palazzo Barberini in Rome, gave us some of the most jubilant baroque picture.
Spain produced Diego de Silva y Velázquez (1599–1660), one of the greatest painters of all time. His work was thoroughly baroque, evolving from a relatively rigid style toward a much looser and more dashing treatment. The Surrender of Breda (1635) and his many portraits reveal his masterly psychological insight.
The Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) was closely allied with the baroque painters of Italy and Spain. He painted with a verve and a sense for the glittering beauty of colored surface that makes him unique in the history of Western painting. Rubens undertook to dissolve the fixed and isolated figures of Renaissance painting. Pathos and sensuality were combined to fill his paintings with dynamism, life, and a kind of cosmic unity in every part.
France also produced a remarkable group of baroque painters, more restrained than the Italians but equally dramatic, especially Nicolas Poussin (1593–1665) and Claude Gellée, called Lorrain (1600–1682). They both spent most of their lives in Rome, but their work displays a typically French refinement. Poussin's efforts were directed toward portraying dramatic scenes of great commotion, such as the Bacchanal (after 1630) and the Rape of the Sabine Women (1637–1639). Lorrain was the lyrical master of luminous scenes of quiescent mood, the incomparable master of sunsets casting a golden sheen on the waters of quiet harbors. Other artists of the French classicist baroque were Eustache Le Sueur (1616–1655), Charles Le Brun (1619–1690), and Philippe de Champaigne (1602–1674), whose work appears more academic but is truly baroque in conception.
No other nation in Europe could rival the Netherlands in the rich variety of baroque painting. The incredible welter of brilliant talent produced there was the culmination and fulfillment of baroque painting. Among the outstanding painters were Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1606–1669), Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), Frans Hals (1580?–1666), Adriaen van Ostade (1610–1685), Jan van Goyen (1596–1656), Meindert Hobbema (1638–1709), Jacob van Ruisdael (1628?–1682), Jan Vermeer (1632–1675), Jan Steen (1626–1679), and Philips Wouverman (1619–1668).
All the baroque painters of the Netherlands are overshadowed, however, by Rembrandt. In his work, baroque art and painting achieved universal significance. Such masterpieces as The Night Watch (1641), sometimes called the greatest baroque painting, and The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp (1632) struck out against all idealizing. With startling realism, Rembrandt depicted the human body and face without regard to age and beauty, eventually achieving a new spirituality by investing all that is human with an inner life. His expressive handling of light and dark and his baroque efforts at unity and universality were unique. Color and light, surface and space were used to render visible the hidden meaning of nature and humankind. His life became tragic as his willful disregard of all conventions, and his uncompromising insistence on what he saw as the truth, alienated even his most devoted patrons.
Rembrandt's famous Portrait of an Old Lady (1639) is completely indifferent to the conventions, seeking only to capture the quintessence of a human being. His numerous self-portraits, of such rich variety and at times of such pathetic sorrow, have been the source of ever-renewed wonder and admiration. A final and perhaps ultimate combination of all Rembrandt's originality was revealed in The Return of the Prodigal Son (1668–1669). Rembrandt's intense religious feeling, beautifully conveyed in his sketches and etchings of the life of Christ, was here given its highest expression. In this painting, as in the greatest music of Johann Sebastian Bach, the ultimate spirit of the baroque was achieved.