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Style aspects of Baroque Art and Music essay
← Ways of Seeing. The new Art of the American wingThe Counter Culture Movement →

Style aspects of Baroque Art and Music. Custom Style aspects of Baroque Art and Music Essay Writing Service || Style aspects of Baroque Art and Music Essay samples, help


This paper is going to prove that Baroque era stands for extravagant, highly detailed, flamboyant art and music of the period dating from roughly 1600 – 1750. The paper is also going to show the connection between the style aspects of Baroque visual art and Baroque music.

 Spanish novelist and poet, Juan Goytisolo, in his essay “Problemas de la novella” wrote: “A contemporary artist can use the findings of all epochs and all styles, from the most primitive literary expressions up the most refined products of the baroque” (Goytisolo, 1990). Light and dark, divine and human, violent and gentle, religious and secular became the foremost features in Baroque arts. Artworks and musical compositions of this era are manifestations of this turmoil: their bright, emotional, theatrical and energetic compositions are featured by expressive and intense movement (Charles, 2009). Such artists like Gianlorenzo Bernini, Rembrandt, Rubens, Velazquez, Caravaggio, Vermeer, Bach, Vivaldi, Monteverdi, Purcell and Handle invented inimitable Baroque style have illustrated intense emotions and created characters that seem to be alive, often appealing to the viewer’s feelings. Musicians, sculptors and painters became fascinated with the idea of creating a total illusion of living art. They exploited their talent, feelings and emotions to expand the dramatic potential of light, color, sound, space and contrasts; to create so baroque and simultaneously emotional, logical and natural world that is still ruled by an invisible hand of God.

Baroque Historical Background

The Baroque was complex and contradictory. A lot of ambivalent arts were created for the Church and monarchy. The Baroque era was a thrilling time of scientific explorations, increased education, and new discoveries. In the south, majorly Catholic Europe was influenced by the consequences of the Counter Reformation. Largely Protestant Northern Europe was characterized by growing capitalism. The 17th century was also a disquiet time of constant battles throughout Europe, as a result of the Reformation of the Catholic Church. With the pretentious prosperity of monarchs and increased cruelty of priesthood in some regions of Europe and growingcapitalism; the spiritual, sensual as well as simultaneously scientific and logical the Baroqueperiod was an era of remarkable contrasts (CMS, 2002).

Origination of the Baroque Era

The Baroque Era was an era of increasing emotionality, secularization and naturalness. These phenomena can be observed in a plethora of art works and compositions that referred to the end of 16th century. In visual art, it was for instance, “Feast at the House of Levi” painted by Paolo Veronese in 1573; initially the painting was conceived by the artist and painted for the Dominican order as a scene of the Last dinner. However, Paolo Veronese was pursued by the Catholic inquisition for depicting the irrelevant commoners, drunk Germans, buffoons, and even dogs and other scurrilities. Therefore, Veronese was forced to change the name of the painting. Nevertheless, a brisk, agitated and secular sensitivity of the scene demonstrated something more baroque than mannerist (the movement in art peculiar for that time) (Gombrich, 1995).

In music, an example of growing secularity, naturalness and emotionality was the “Euridice” composed byJacopo Peri (very influential composer and singer of that time) and Giulio Caccini. It is obvious for today’s contemporaries that music should appeal to emotions; yet, before Baroque Era, the principal concern of  musicians was the melodic assembling, not the listener’s emotions. In 1580, The Camerata Bardi, all together, decided that to evoke emotions only one voice should sound at a time; so monody was invented (one singing emotional voice accompanied by simple adequate chords). The “Euridice” is the earliest opera that was published; so its release in 1600 celebrates an epoch-making turning point in the European history, such as the start of the Baroque era (Germain, 1998).

Early Baroque

The Greek and Roman classical arts became extremely popular during Renascence and stayed popular during Baroque period; so artists and musicians continued creating their works of art guided by the Greek mythology motifs.

Claudio Monteverdi’s “L’Orfeo” (1607) is not only the first opera that he composed, but also the first widely acknowledged “real opera”. The tragic story of Orpheus and Eurydice attracted many composers. Although the plot remains the same, the setting and performance has changed. For example, Peri’s Eurydice and Monteverdi’s Orfeo have only popular motif in common, but the embodiments of the story are completely different. Monteverdi has used in this opera synthesis of all musical genres and expressive devices available to him at that time. During the course of the opera, there are madrigals, emotional solos (new Baroque era movement of rising popularity) and popular at that time rhythmic dance. Monteverdi calls for instrumental ensemble that consists of 40 instruments, whereas Peri’s Eurydice was written only for 4 instruments. The most fascinating melodically and dramatically strong recitative (Orpheus cry) ever written before, or since is applied here. Due to the new technique of emotional solo singing, the audience feels the despair of Orpheus in every fibre of their being (Charles, 2009). Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo is associated by its emotions with “Orpheus in the Underworld” (1594) painted by Flemish artist Jan the Elder Brueghel (1568-1625). Jan Brueghel shows Orpheus in the underworld. This painting still has features of mannerism, but bizarre and graceful posturing of underground creatures is actually truly natural and absolutely appropriate here. Moreover, masterly applying light, darkness and shadows Brueghel was able to depict the horror and drama, which explains why Orpheus could not resist the temptation of making sure that Eurydice follows him. The dark scene represents enslaved and tortured people; a lot of reptiles throughout the entire composition represent the evil, delusion and death. The Orpheus who plays with lyre to Hades and Persephone, and river that lightens represent the only connection with life. Brueghel contrasts the strong dark background colors of the underworld with Orpheus, Hades and Persephone who are depicted in the pastel shades (Sartorious, 2012).

Caravaggio and Handle

Motif of extreme naturalism and unification of secular and religious themes was one more characteristic of Baroque era. Spanish painter Caravaggio invented a new “naturalism” in art history. Caravaggio painted religious stories as everyday scenes with people of plebeian background; he depicted their poor and dirty clothes. His invention of tenebrism, or the skillful usage of light, shadows and darkness was adopted by other prominent painters. In his “Judith DecapitatingHolofernes”, an intense ray of light gives an impression of time stoppage as Judith’s sword slices into the general’s neck. Such usage of light emphasizes the horror of the moment and demonstrates the naturalism, which is a main feature of Caravaggio’s unique artistic style. Caravaggio underlines the gloominess of the scene by making the background so dark, that it is impossible to see any detail except the main action again reinforcing the dramatic impact. Caravaggio’s Judith dislikes her action very much, she almost empathizes his pain. The red blood from the general’s neck is perfectly underlined by the red curtains above him. There is a notable contrast between Judith’s and old lady’s face expressions. Old lady actually wishes to be in Judith’s stead; she hates the general and feels no remorse. However, Caravaggio is faithful to his principles and focuses the audience’s attention on the seventeenth-century clothing; it seems that he contraposes the ordinary aspects to the biblical event (Marceau, 1995).

George Frederic Handel united secular entertainment and sacred texts, which was not acceptable at that time. Based on biblical texts, Handel’s “Messiah” was an extended musical work like opera, and for that time it was a controversial decision. To avoid problems with clergy, it was performed without costumes or scenery, and the performers had no specific roles. The scene “the annunciation to the shepherds” Handel took from the Gospel of Luke: “There were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night” (Gospel of Luke, 1741).This phrase is “secco”, notably complimented by the continuo. It is solo soprano, and it is recitative. Handel emphasizes lines by expanded coloraturas. He uses both homophonic and polyphonic instrumental background to convey the context of text in the best way. Timpani highlight the closing movement Part II, Hallelujah. Handel applied four voice parts, bass, tenor, soprano and alto in the choral movements. During Hallelujah Handle uses melisma, multiple repletion of the word “Hallelujah. He also applies cantus firmus on prolonged repetitive notes to underline majesty and grandeur of the scene (Sartorius, 2012).

Gentileschi and Purcell

Motifs of death and doom were one more characteristic of Baroque era. Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 – 1653) was influenced by Caravaggio’s naturalism and dramatic usage of tenebrism. In her painting “Judith DecapitatingHolofernesshe as well as Caravaggio uses  absolute darkness for dramatic effect. The terror of the scene emphasized through blood that flows from the general’s neck and bloodstained sheets. Gentileschi depicts the young woman who is performing the murder with a sense of confidence and resolution, which were untypical of the traditional concept on feminine character at that time. Some historical facts indicated that Artemisia was raped; so, maybe for reason her Judith image is empowered with physical strength in a way that allows the audience to sense her superiority in this concrete situation. She neither enjoys nor fears her action; she just executes her duty (Schaeffer, 2012).

In Henry Purcell’s aria that Dido performs in his “Dido and Aeneas” exactly before her suicide, the audience hears over and over the baseline descends, which is a musical icon for death. Moreover, because the melodic material is set in minor, the impression is reinforced by the clear similarity to the funeral march that emphasizes the rhythm of the aria. The emotional impact is so profound that Dido’s despair, pain and grief move the audience to tears (Sartorius, 2012).

Rembrandt and Vivaldi

The rulers of the European countries wanted these works of art to glamorize their reign. Therefore, the greatest baroque artists were commissioned to create pieces of work that glorify power of their patrons. Rembrandt van Rijn (1606 - 1669) was an extremely popular painter. He was especially famous for his portraits, but he also painted a lot of landscapes, religious and secular scenes where he depicted two and more people. In his “The Night Watch”, the guardsmen and officers celebrate a visit of Maria de Medici to Amsterdam in 1638. “The Night Watch” is not only natural but also filled with the vivacity and dynamism that are peculiar to a company which is anticipating a noteworthy event. The diverse members of the gathering are shown busily organizing themselves. Rembrandt made skillful use of tenebrism, chiaroscuro as well as intense and dramatic lighting to animate his painting (Charles, 2009).

Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) concertos (“The Four Seasons”, “Pleasure”, “The Hunt and Storm at Sea”) were extremely successful, especially in France. The “Spring” was a steadfast favorite of French King Louis XV, who was listened it again and again and asked orchestra to perform this masterpiece for him almost every day. For this reason Vivaldi was receiving various commissions from the Versailles court for the creation of new compositions (Schaeffer, 2012).

Bach and Rubens

Great French composer and writer Pierre Schaeffer once said: “Has it struck you that the music which is regarded as the most sublime in western civilization, which is the music of Bach, is called baroque” (Schaeffer, 2012). Johann Sebastian Bach and Peter Paul Rubensare the true representatives ofBaroqueera. Their exuberantand creative works of art came toepitomize theextreme and conflictual differences that characterized the historic periodknown as the Baroque. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) created over 1100 compositions. There are works for voice, organ, harpsichord, different solo instruments, canons and others. Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) produced about 2,000 paintings in his lifetime;his paintings depicted religious, classical (Greek and Roman mythology), and secular scenes. Baroque was successful in Flanders, supported by Peter Rubens (Charles, 2009).


The Baroque style mirrors its time-period. As science discovered new things and Galileo published his heliocentric theory people started to be less and less devoted to God. Therefore, art was getting less and less religious by context. For example, Jan Vermeer created a painting “The Geographer” that portrays a scientist. Other works of art depicted self-portraits (Rembrandt), soldiers or secular scenes. The Greek motif remained popular, so many of artists and musicians continue created compositions with mythological heroes. However, some artists continued creating religious paintings and compositions like “The Raising of the Cross” by Rubens and “Hosanna” by Bach, the well-known sculpture “The Ecstasy of St. Teresa” by Bernini. Baroque sculptors, architects, painters and musicians sought the ways to reflect their emotions and feelings in a variety of movements and devices. Such Baroque featured as grandeur drama, opera, pomposity, vitality, action, tension, flamboyance, exuberance erased the distinction between the different kinds of art. The Baroque Style was characterized by intense contrasts and daring ornamentation that added drama and action to the art.

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