The Baroque PeriodThe Baroque period can be considered to have started around 1600 and to have overlapped with the Mannerists until its extinction around one hundred and fifty years later. In its earliest days the most notable exponent was Michelanglo Merisi da Caravaggio, a highly individual artist who is still noted for his strongly contrasting use of light and shadow to model his figures (the term for this is chiaroscuro).
The Baroque style found early favour in France, especially at the court of the Sun King Louis XIV, who encouraged its opulence to enhance his own splendour, and as he ruled for 72 years the style became deeply entrenched in the French psyche. His undisputed favourite artist, to whom he granted immense power over the arts, was Charles Lebrun, who painted magnificent portraits of the king, his mistresses, and his entourage. His contemporary, the French artist Nicholas Poussin, was more interested in the intellectual and classical approach, and did not find favour in his homeland or with his monarch, whose interest in excessive over-elaboration was the rule of the day. Elsewhere, in Britain, Scandinavia, and the Protestant Netherlands, Baroque was not taken up to any degree as it was considered too Catholic and excessive.
Northern Baroque was a style favoured in Catholic countries like Germany, Austria, and the Catholic parts of the Netherlands. There one of the world's most important artists, Peter Paul Rubens, lived for much of his life after travelling in Italy and Spain. There he saw the work of High Renaissance and Baroque artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Titian for himself. He settled in Antwerp, and worked as court painter to the Spanish Governors of the Netherlands. His output was prolific: it had to be to meet the demands of the huge number of commissions which rolled in. The sheer amount of work was far too huge for him to handle alone and he gathered a studio of apprentices around him to do the bulk of the background, working from his sketches. He would then do the detail himself.
As Baroque played itself out with ever increasing profligacy, the excess finally began to stultify and people grew tired of it. Gradually a general toning down started and the style mutated gently into the more refined Rococo.
Contributed by Gifford, Katya
12 April 2001