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Rennaissance and Baroque

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The Renaissance and Baroque Periods Renaissance is a word of French origin and means new birth and is the name given to the period in which humans were inspired to throw away the constraints of the Middle Ages and experienced an awakening of the mind and a thirst for new knowledge. The Renaissance began in the early 15th century and is considered to be the beginning of modern history. The emergence of the Renaissance style coincided with new developments in philosophy, literature, music, and science (Renaissance, 2014). Humanist philosophy, an approach that emphasized the individual and the secular over religion, became extremely popular (MindEdge, 2014). The art of the Classical period was the foundation of Renaissance art. That tradition was transformed by the influence of recent developments and the application of newly discovered scientific knowledge. The integration of science into art was an important development. The social transformation that occurred during the Renaissance greatly influenced the arts. The change in the overall atmosphere contributed to artistic experimentation and innovation. Urbanization led to the accumulation of wealth in cities and allowed for patronage of the arts by other than the Church. The public became much more diverse with wider tastes and interests which created a new demand for a variety of artistic forms and content. Prior to the Renaissance, painting and sculpture were focused mainly on religious themes and were used solely to decorate churches and cathedrals. In the Renaissance they became respected independent art forms. Artists turned to a variety of subjects including nature scenes, portraits, mythology, and depictions of daily life. There were several notable innovations in art during the Renaissance. Renaissance artists began to use perspective in their work to give three dimensional depth and space to their work (Renaissance Art, 2014). Artists would use linear perspective by painting some objects smaller to make them seem further away and some objects bigger to make them appear closer. Another perspective tool artists used was the vanishing point. The vanishing point is the point at which parallel lines appear to converge far off in the distance. Chiaroscuro created the illusion of depth by using degrees of light and shade. Besides perspective, artists attempted to make objects, especially people, appear more realistic. Artists tried to depict the ideal human form. People looked solid and displayed real emotions. Realism allowed the viewer to perceive the thoughts and feelings of the people depicted in the artwork. Renaissance artists wanted their viewers to feel emotion when viewing their work. Following the Renaissance came the Baroque period. The Baroque period was started as a response to some of the events that occurred during the Renaissance. In 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to a church door and started a movement that would change the world forever (McKay, 2014). That movement is known as the Protestant Reformation. Luther’s criticisms of the corruption within the Catholic Church and arguments against Church doctrines spread across Europe with help from a new invention, the printing press. Many people left the Catholic Church and converted to one of the new Protestant denominations. The Catholic Church took steps to counter these developments. At the Council of Trent the Church took action to clean up some of the abuses within the Church. On matters of doctrine the Church made no concessions and reaffirmed the truth of their positions that Luther and the Protestants had criticized. This reinvigorated the Catholic Church. The Church wanted to educate its members so they would know more about their faith. This was easier said than done because most people at this point in time were not able to read and write. The Council of Trent declared that art should be used to educate the people about the dogmas of the Church. To accomplish the goal of educating people about their religion through art, Baroque art was direct, emotionally persuasive, and powerfully designed to fire the imagination and inspire the viewer (MindEdge, 2014). The visual arts saw a prominence on harmony and unity. Painters used realism in portraits and a focus on the dramatic by using rich, deep colors and contrasting between light and shadow. Baroque art also employed naturalism, the use of normal details of daily life. Sculptors placed an emphasis on representing emotion. Architecture was done on a grand scale with dramatic presentation. Baroque artists used extravagant settings and ornamentation and depicted overlapping figures and elements. The Renaissance era artists used a variety of different subjects while the Baroque artists turned back to an emphasis, although not exclusively, to religion. Artists in the Baroque era continued the Renaissance era’s use of realism, especially when painting people, but Renaissance artists tried to depict the ideal human form while Baroque artists would depict people with all their flaws included. Artists of both eras employed the use of light and shadow but to create different perceptions. Renaissance artists used degrees of light and shade to create the illusion of depth while Baroque artists used light and shade to focus on the dramatic portion of the painting. Artists of both eras wanted viewers to feel the emotions of the people portrayed in the artwork but the Baroque style of contrasting light and shadow to accent the drama as opposed to Renaissance artists using light and shadow to give the illusion of depth seemed to do a better job of portraying emotion. The use of perspective in Renaissance art, with its clearly defined planes, is opposite of the Baroque era’s use of continuous overlapping figures and elements. Examples of each style can be seen in paintings below. The first is Michelangelo da Caravaggio’s Conversion on the Way to Damascus from the Baroque period and it shows the moment of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, later to be known as St. Paul. The second painting is St. Paul Preaching in Athens by Raffaello Sanzio, aka Raphael, from the Renaissance period.

(Wikimedia, 2012)

This painting is typical of the Baroque characteristics of being powerfully designed and emotionally persuasive. Caravaggio uses rich, deep colors and shadow and light to heighten the drama of the painting. Paul is seen in bright light with arms outstretched to receive the light of God while the man and the horse are deep in shadow.

(Wikimedia, 2011) In this painting we see Paul preaching in a plaza in Raphael’s St. Paul Preaching in Athens. Raphael uses parallel lines, particularly from the steps of the plaza Paul is standing on, to create depth in the painting. The people in the crowd that appear closer to the viewer are bigger and clearer and as you get further away people are smaller and less clear. This was good use of light and shadow to create perspective. Raphael makes it appear as if the viewer is viewing the events right from the crowd as if he were next to the enthusiastic man with his hands raised in the lower right corner of the painting. In this scene Raphael created a mood reminiscent of the Classical period by integrating into the composition motifs from Roman reliefs and classical figures, buildings, and statues. The most obvious comparison of the two paintings is that they are both about St. Paul, although Caravaggio’s Paul is at a time when Paul is much younger than in Raphael’s painting Both paintings use light and shadow, but for different effects. Raphael’s use of light and shadow is to create perspective while Caravaggio uses to heighten the drama and emotion in his painting. Typical of the Baroque period, Caravaggio uses richer and deeper colors than Raphael used. Raphael’s painting of Paul preaching is much more detailed including Paul, the crowd of many people, buildings in the near and far off background and a statue while Caravaggio focuses mainly on Paul up close with just a man and a horse in the background. The Baroque era influenced later times and even current times. The Baroque period ushered in the era of ornamentation. The subsequent style called Rococo took ornamentation to the extreme. In the Rococo visual arts like painting, the subject was almost less important than the ornaments. Eventually painters and sculptors in the Neoclassical period drifted away from ornamentation, and went back to sleek, modest, sharp lines. Even today you can find Baroque influence of ornamentation in interior décor and graphic design.

McKay, B., & McKay, K. (2010, October 18). The Basics of Art: The Baroque Period. Retrieved from
MindEdge Module 3.16: Baroque Art and the Rococo Style. (2014). Available from content.php?cid=19779.
MindEdge Module 3.14: The Renaissance, Reformation Art and Mannerism. (2014). Available from
Wikimedia. (2011, March 18). Retrieved January 27, 2014, from _Raphael,_St_Paul_Preaching_in_Athens_(1515).jpg.
Wikimedia. (2012, May 7). Retrieved January 27, 2014, from The_Conversion_on_the_Way_to_Damascus.jpg.
Renaissance. (2014, January 12). In Wikipedia. Retrieved January 25, 2014, from
Renaissance Art. (2014, January 12). In Wikipedia. Retrieved January 25, 2014, from

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