Art is an expression. It is borne from a feeling, an idea, and an act that deserves an eternal glisten. How artists may go about choosing which moments, which facts, or realisation is a political act. But when a region of artists follows, the politics become a dedicated genre. If pressed to divide the entire history of Art, there are two categories: the theatre of Baroque, and the stillness of Neoclassicism.
The Baroque Era and Neoclassic Period are cousins, carrying very similar traits but altogether different in their achievements. The parent to these genres is the Renaissance. In their respective years, the phase of the Baroque, and point of Neoclassicists, was to be a counterculture. The genres shared a theme as rejectionists working against an established if not surrounding majority. Noticeably, For the Baroque, art was based on the depth of Catholicism whereas Neoclassicism worked to uplift a manner of heroism in the coming revolution. Together, both genres toyed with morals and justice.
Movement is the single word to describe the Baroque period. This genre began in the early 17th-Century with the purpose “to attract and impress the masses” (Miller 39) and what other way to do so than entertain the eye with dramatics. The body of work to accumulate in this time was powered by the Catholic Church, and the effects were rendering textures, girth, and an energy that was unlike the confinement of the Renaissance.
Among Baroque artists, with so many saints, martyrs, and tragic figures to choose from, there was no shortage in the sentimentality toward religion. Any given image of the contemporary’s “Assumption of Mary” (the intense example of Annibale Caracci’s 1601 imagery, in particular,) is a whirlwind of enlightenment. Our Lady ascends the frame with flying sweeps of fabric, is surrounded in luminosity, and beneath her are swooning public astounded and trounced by her grace. The imagery of this era is driven by crowded circumstances where people are expressive to reach and gain holy favor.
The Baroque Era is impressive for its use of posture, placing, color, and motivation. To memorize this time in Art is to acknowledge a stage. Lighting was the most prominent tool of this era. Chiaroscuro, the method using of a contrast of shine and shadow (“chiaroscuro” dictionary.com), defended the mood and importance in a given image. Often a glow surrounded the significant figures during their moments of splendor. Caravaggio, alone, was an elitist of this manner of painting, suitably using light on progressive characters (Carl & Charles 38). In the portrait of “David and Goliath” (1600), light sculpts the muscle of a child, making prominent the power in his arm and leg and capitalizes on the dominion over Goliath. The message of this painting is obvious in conquering against the odds. The weight in who takes up the frame, how character is revealed is all demonstrated by light. The lit shoulders of a young hero over the beheaded Goliath are feelings sampled to awe the viewer.
On a small note, outside the Old Testament, the underlining spectrum of Baroque was its manner of intimacy. Beyond the composition and the lighting, there was the activity and physical size of the figure’s form and state of mind. The fact that they were allowed to be fleshy, muscled, and engorged was a trait of personality. The golden lush of this variety was well prescribed by Peter Paul Rubens with twisting torsos and reclining backs. The nude forms of “Bacchus” (1640) provide a round of spotlight, action, and full-bodied emotion to communicate stages of weaker illuminations. Despite the physicality between them, the deeper emotion of this portrait is its celestial element. Front and center is the god of Ecstasy and Sensuality (“Dionysus” greekmythology.com) who is depicted as a model of self-satisfaction, yet he is preoccupied with something more despondent. It is the likes of such a painting that glinted towards the more reserved arrangements to follow.
A form of what was sanctified for the Baroque artist did carry into the next genre. Instead of promoting a wonder and brilliance in emotion, the Neoclassicists condoned science. The discipline was borrowed the intellectuality of the Renaissance, then further combined it with a theology for heroes. The result was a pride not for divinity but for an activist, and with it returned the Renaissance’s legacy in the idealized body (Bohn & Saslow 419).
The Neoclassic Period was a reaction to the quiet previous years of noise. More importantly, it was mainly the temperature of France preceding a revolution. From mid18th-Century to the later 19th-Century, artists were reducing the scope of who was unceremoniously depicted in art. The viewer was now treated to wider planes of information, brighter arrangements of color, and a message of nostalgia. The particular “effort to systematically retrieve the glories of a lost civilization” (Guntar 2003) is the backbone of Neoclassicism.
The inflexibility of Neoclassicism was not a celebration, but a return to groundwork. It provided a revisit to dignified myths, gentile forms, and idealist drapery. The set of Jacque-Louis David’s “Sappho and Phaon” (1809) explains the sense of even proportion between the lovers but what is actually occurring is “poetic form” (Landow 2000). Smooth lighting reveals few differences between the characters as they occupy a romantic environment of columns and soft daylight and inviting furniture. The figures themselves are actually ambiguous despite individual props to communicate who they are. With a Renaissance hand, the figures are present but indifferent to their interaction. Regardless of touch and gestures, the indescribable eyes of each character allows them exist without emotion to offer one another and the viewer.
The impassive body was the principle of Neoclassicism. Not so much that it was a discarded tool as much as it was mainly less of a practicality. In short, the Neoclassic decades were “all about heroic themes and poses” (Miller 62). Admittedly, the stoicism was used as fantastical efforts like Gustav Moreau’s “Oedipus and the Sphinx” (1864) has a historically-tense couple, yet they have a mutual blandness toward one another. In place of emotion is presentation. Oedipus himself is showing classical beauty with anatomical poise furnished with ornaments of agelessness as his immediate surroundings are death, ruins, and fancy. These adornments refine the simplicity of what Neoclassicism’s public was competing against.
The geometry of a Neoclassical portraiture was very much to do with balance. Through the New Testament’s “The Angel Raphael” (18th Century) by Joseph-Benoit Suvée, a mindset is tilted. Fairness occupies the painting. Beyond a range of poise and chromatics, in the corner of a room is a spectrum of atmosphere and dimension, reaching-out and holding-back, and knowledge and wonder. The direction of this painting is to “subordinate details to overall design” (Landow 2000). The painting itself can be quartered both diagonally and horizontally to define how calculated the imagery is to show who reflects whom. Outside these mild characters is the compilation of thought as to how figures occupy a space rather than how they astound us. The linear design of the painting is a conscious aspect of the Neoclassic Movement by defining a narrative borne from everyday associations to find even ground. Though Raphael is a superior to the souls below him, his weight in the portrait is no different, if not smaller than the human public. Despite his heavenly hues, they are lofty compared to the saturated colors of the masses; and though they crowd him, they are not swooning for his attention.
Where the Baroque was lead by feeling, Neoclassicism was guided by reason. Between them is a resuming cycle. From the tidy Renaissance is the disorder of Baroque, and then a reclaiming of order by Neoclassicism. It’s a pattern that would continue for future movements, and no matter what will always remain searching for how to depict a stronger image and the minute similarities end there. The Neoclassicist preferred symmetry to regain a country. The Baroque organized propaganda to visualize a religion. Their efforts not only left an evidence of process, but conserved an attitude toward preservation.
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Caracci, A. (1600-1601). Assumption of Mary [Frescoe Painting}. Rome: Chiesa di Santa Maria del Popolo.
Caravaggio. (1600) David and Goliath [Oil Painting]. Madrid: Museo del Prado.
Carl, Klaus H., and Victoria Charles. (2009). Baroque Art. New York: Parkstone International
Chiaroscuro. (2013). Dictionary.com online. Retrieved from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/chiaroscuro
David , J. (1809). Sappho and Phaon [Oil Painting]. St. Petersburg: Hermitage.
Dionysus. (2010). Greekmythology.com online. Retrieved from http://www.greekmythology.com/Other_Gods/Dionysus/dionysus.html
Gontar, Cybele. (2003, October) “Neoclassicism”in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Retrieved from http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/neoc_1/hd_neoc_1.htm.
Landow, George P. (ed.). (2000). Neoclassicism: An Introduction. Retrieved from http://www.victorianweb.org/previctorian/nc/ncintro.html)
Miller, Michael. (2008) The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music History. Royersford: Alpha.
Moreau, G. (1864). Oedipus and the Sphinx [Oil Painting]. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art
Rubens, P. . (1638-1640). Bacchus [Oil Painting]. St. Petersburg: Hermitage.
Suvée, J. (18th C). The Angel Raphael [Oil Painting]. Macon: Musée des Ursulines