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Artist movement series: Baroque

In the early 1500s, Europe was in turmoil. Rome was sacked in 1527 by the Holy Roman Emperor. Plague followed soon after. Religious reformation was sweeping through the continent, challenging the authority of the Catholic Church and the monarchies of nations. 

Europe was changing, and artists were changing along with it. They needed new ways to describe the world around them.

The culmination of this continental change came with the Thirty Years War, lasting between 1618 and 1648. It was one of the bloodiest, longest and most destructive wars to take place in Europe. The Baroque art movement sought to capture the extent of the extensive cultural, religious and political shifts that were taking place.

Reubens, Queen Anna
Reubens, Queen Anna

The Baroque style is difficult to pinpoint. There was no specific doctrine or school directing it. Instead, it incorporated a wide range of styles into a fusion of artistic mediums.

In fact, more than a few art scholars do not even recognize it as a separate art movement at all, stating that it is simply the end of the one that preceded it: the Renaissance.

However, there are some characteristics that are common throughout the movement, including the use of deep colour, dramatic use of light and shadow and dark backgrounds. Whereas the Renaissance sought to emphasize rationality, the Baroque focused on passion and tension.

There were a few techniques that were developed or furthered by Baroque artists:

Quadro riportato

Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring
Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring

Quadro riportato is Italian, which translates to “transported” or “carried” painting. It describes paintings that are painted as a fresco but still have a frame around them. Often used in ceiling paintings, the artwork was painted directed onto the surface with the frame acting as a kind of illusion.


Quadrature describes the act of painting directly onto a surface, whether it be a ceiling, a wall or other similar surface. Often the painting acts as an illusion, seemingly used to extend the room it is in, using architectural features of the room to give it a more expansive feel.

Trompe l’oeil

Trompe l’oeil was another illusory painting technique. It was used to give painted elements a three-dimensional quality.

Each of these techniques, when used together, helped create some of the most beautiful and visually stunning ceiling paintings in Europe.

Rembrandt, Prodigal Son
Rembrandt, Prodigal Son

The Baroque was heavily influenced by the Renaissance, especially by those who were commissioning work from Baroque artists. Many of those commissioning works were of the royal or ecclesiastical background, and therefore, wanted art that depicted their lives. Portraits of royalty, religious scenes and representations of higher society still made up the bulk of Baroque art. 

But the Baroque also brought new focuses as well. Landscapes and historical paintings grew in prominence. When working on their subject, Baroque artists also tended to focus on the moment before an event rather than the event itself, a push to emphasize the tension within the buildup towards a historical or social moment.

The movement lasted well into the 1700s. As Europe through the Scientific Revolution and into the Age of Enlightenment, new artistic movements were founded to describe an ever-changing world.

By Nathan Durec


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