I have selected a few works from the baroque period which show this epoch in all its glory. These range from sculpture to art portraits to start off with.
The first one is Bernini’s David, a sculpture of incredible beauty with various aesthetic aspects that are original and very direct. The second is The Conversion of St John by Caravaggio, probably one of the finest examples of painting in the chiaroscuro theme and which reveals incredible and intrinsic beauty. Finally I chose Rembrandt’s ‘David and Bathsheba’, probably another of the finest representations of Renaissance art which demonstrates the lust between a man and a woman. All three exhibits are in museums and although they have changed locations several times, they have been in their present locations for quite a long time and are symptomatic with their position in the art world (Alexander, 2006). Sculpture is an art form which demonstrates beauty and focus whilst there is also a sense of inevitability in the way Bernini’s David is composed. Although there may be comparisons with other similar statues of the period, Bernini’s focus remains top notch and pretty much the seminal work against which all other sculptures of this kind are judged.
This sculpture is definitely one of the greatest ever conceived and includes various facets which are typical of the artist in question. David’s poise is intrinsically beautiful with some aspects of homo eroticism in it and one can definitely identify with the sculpture in question.
The sculpture shows David gathering momentum causing a strain in his body and his face conveys willpower and concentration. The biblical David was a common theme among artists in the Renaissance period for instance Michelangelo and Donatello. Though connecting with these works, Bernini’s David varies from them in some substantial ways for example, the sculpture relates with the space around it. Bernini’s influence was prevalent during the 17th and 18th centuries. His sculpture wants us to convey the image not only in our minds but also our bodies; to relate to the image physically.
The Conversion of St Paul by Caravaggio
This is perhaps one of the most famous of Caravaggio’s paintings in the sense that it applies the methods that we are consistently familiar with especially the chiaroscuro which is one of the hallmarks of this artist. In this great painting we observe several of the facets which have made this artist famous and although the subject is biblical we can observe some striking differences with those of Bernini’s David. First of all Bernini’s sculpture is perhaps more classical in style while Caravaggio’s painting looks forward into the dark with a certain sense of indissolubility.
The painting gives a picture of the events in Chapter 9 of Acts of the Apostles. In this painting, lighting, and low horizon lines are utilized by Caravaggio to create images that seem closer to the viewers. Use of foreshortening is emphasized and his main focal point is on action. In addition, he also makes use of chiaroscuro and atmosphere point of view. A bright light strikes Saul on his journey to Damascus to conquer the Christian population. God utters to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? Following these events, Paul alleged to have seen Christ during the vision, and it’s on this foundation that he justifies his claim to be accepted as an Apostle (Paul). The brilliant light that was visualized by Saint Paul signifies a heavenly illumination (a new exposure of who Jesus is). His conversion from being a Jewish or a Pharisee occurred at this point. A sense of crisis is and displacement in which Christ interrupts the daily world is generated by the light with its uneven shapes and incredible rays; which licks out features for their spectacular influence. The application of chiaroscuro highlights the sudden enlightenment of a heathen. In the painting, one can spot Saul dressed in Roman costumes. One can also spot where Saul has tumbled down off a horse as he is hit by the lightening. He reacts as though God has touched him. (Lewis and Susan, 1995)
Bathsheba by Rembrandt
Finally we have one of Rembrandt’s most famous paintings which is Bathsheba where the feminine form is most certainly idealized in more ways than one. Again the aesthetic qualities of the subject are clearly idealized here with emphasis on the nudity of the woman and her plump beauty in this respect which comes to the fore especially with the dark background and intrinsic subject matter.
One of his famous paintings is Bathsheba at her bath that was completed in 1654. The painting captures a moment from the Old Testament narrative in which King David sights Bathsheba having a bath. He proceeds to spell bound, seduce and makes her pregnant. Bathsheba’s husband is then sent to war by David and is put on the frontline. His generals desert him, exposing him to certain death. Previous artists had painted the scene of David observing Bathsheba but Rembrandt’s portrayal differs in its strong illustrative focus and erotic strength, made possible owing to wide, thick brushstrokes and use of lively colors. A description of how King David saw a lady bathing from taking a bath from his palace roof is found in the Second Book of Samuel (11:2-4). David inquires about her and is told that she’s Bathsheba, wife if Uriah and daughter of Eliam. David sends for her and impregnates her, He then marries Bathsheba after sending her husband to war where he was killed.
Before this painting, the normal treatment had been to depict Bathsheba taking a bath outdoors- as a result making her visible to King David- and escorted by servants. A tower could usually be spotted in the backdrop, and possibly a small figure of David. Rembrandts previous work, “The Toilet of Bathsheba” followed these outlines. Rembrandt’s depiction of Bathsheba is both intimate and immense achieved through getting rid of David, his couriers and the majority of the customary elements from the picture. The only indications are the letter from David (not stated in the book of Samuel) and the existence of a maid drying her foot. Thus, the moralistic theme of earlier treatments of the s subject matter is restored by a direct eroticism in which David is perceived as having a fetish by the observer. (Lewis and Susan, 1995) The work is done as life size with Bathsheba standing out than in earlier versions. The painting is unusual in many ways. Bathsheba is depicted in a space that is hard to read. The dark backdrop is indicative of night, and at the same time an enormous column implies a large structural design. Around her, lies a thickly painted backdrop positioned upon her naked body. Her nude body is prominent for its solid form and the extravagant use of paint. The paint used to depict her figure is richly shaded while its thick brushstrokes and strong highlights gives an exciting, physical quality making her presence conspicuous. In spite of its classical references, the description of the figure is unconventional, and the portrayal of her large stomach, hands and feet are as a result of observation rather than admiration for the idealized form.
Comparison with impressionist and cubist painters
The change can be seen by comparing Gustav Courbet’s ‘The Meeting’ with Picasso’s ‘Le Demoiselles de Avignon’. The figures in the former painting are almost static and the attention to detail is quite fastidious as both men seem to be relieved to see each other with the figure in the background resigned and lowering his head. What one can also observe is the way the landscape is painted and the attention to detail again is quite fastidious and realist. All this changes considerably with Picasso’s painting. The torsos of the females in the painting take on an erotic tendency and the bold strokes as well as brushwork show that the artist is not afraid to employ daring and modern techniques. This is very effective in the manner with which one views the painting.
Georges Braque’s Houses at L’Estaque’ is another example of the effectiveness of cubism. Here the artist is concerned with the portrayal of three dimensional houses. This is a typical example of postmodern art where the shapes and forms take on a whole new dimension of their own and almost leap out of the canvas. Perhaps when compared to Courbet’s paintings, the latter may seem to be too ‘picture postcard’ to be realist but artists like Braque and Picasso take the debate to a wholly new level.
Paul Cezanne was actually known as the father of cubism and his style focused on several factors. The simplification of painting as well as other approaches regarding a binocular approach is emphasised in Cezanne’s paintings. This is amply demonstrated in Mont Saint Victoire where the two dimensional imagery fairly leaps out of the page. Everything comes together in a succession of lines and drawings which reaffirm a certain sense of realism accordingly. In a way Cezanne turns full circle in his portrayal of cubism and art in general.
Yet again, we can go back and discuss other cubist works to appreciate how post modernism changed the world of art. Picasso’s ‘Still Life with chair Caning’ is an interesting combination as it shows how the combination of materials can create imagery with a realist tendency in it. The argument once again goes back to realism and the sadly lost ‘The Stonebreakers’ by Gustav Courbet. Yet again here we have several realist attributes such as the sweaty palms of the workers as they endure their back breaking work in the quarries. Their suffering is excellently portrayed with the torn clothes also very reflective of the suffering that they are going through. The comparison with George Braque or Pablo Picasso’s style is also very instructive as it shows that a development took place in the way art is depicted.
Conclusion: Baroque and cubist tendencies
Although baroque artists touched the heart with their works, the new methods of impressionism and cubism have changed the way in which we appreciate art. First and foremost there is the portrayal of the human being which has developed considerably through Picasso’s contribution although the accuracy of some baroque artists is something to admire. The incredible brilliance of the works by Courbet however are much more realistic since they do not portray the ideal world but something which is truly happening in the lives of workmen. Cezanne’s fantastical portrayal of the melting clock is perhaps cubism taken a step too far but all comes together in one brilliant fell swoop with his incredible style. Both schools of thought have contributed
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