(insert professor’s name)
Through the 1600 and 1700s, Europe served as a center of a large range of change. From evolution of science and philosophy to the development of new political and religious movements and ideologies, many central elements of European intellectual life underwent a transformation. Accordingly, the art and culture of the era adapted to reflect these developments. More importantly, the forms of art and architecture become a means of supporting changing ideologies in the areas of the most change. The evolution of Baroque art and architecture owed its existence to the cultural rebirth of the Renaissance and the reactions to it, particularly in Italy and Western Europe as demonstrated in the Catholic Counterreformation and rise of absolutist monarchies.
In the history of modern Europe, the Renaissance played an instrumental role in revolutionizing human thought and culture. During this time, humanists such as Martin Luther reevaluated the human condition on using simpler ideas from the Greeks and ancient Romans. These ideas challenged the hierarchal structures of the Church and monarchs by placing a great deal of emphasis on the individual (Summit). Such a development of thought helps artists to recognize the simplicity of past times as well as the value of conservation. Perhaps most important was the idea that the leaders of the Church were not the ultimate authority on truth. Instead, man was able to draw his own conclusion about Church teachings. Not only did this thinking detract from the power of the Church, but as an issue of faith it meant that believers could potentially go astray.
In response, the Catholic Church reinvented its teachings and communications through the use of a relatable element, art and architecture. Using artists such as Gianlorenzo Bernini and Pietro de Cortona, the Church sought to create dramatic, captivating, and clear messages concerning their reformed teachings and doctrines (Norman). This tactic not only attracted the attention of the followers, but guaranteed the continual spread of teachings that might have previously been obscured or unavailable. Additionally, these works were perhaps more accessible as they could be experienced by many people at one time, as opposed to a book, which was limited to one reader. Even more important was the dramatic and ornate work of the pieces, which were intended to inspire emotion in the viewer (Norman). By bypassing the brain, the Church creates a message with a more visceral meaning than that conveyed by mere words. Additionally, this message left an all-too-important impression of the power of the Church in that it could command such emotions on the average person.
While the reformation of the Church helped to create the dramatic style through patronage, it was the Church power and influence which helped the style to spread. Through the beginning of early modern Europe, the Catholic Church served as the dominant religion of the continent and possessed a tangible presence in political affairs (Norman). This universality made the Church one of the few common denominators among all the nations. As such, trends popular in Vatican City might have easily spread throughout the continent in order to appease the pope. Such a political move translated easily into a cultural trend, making the religious style of Baroque art a secular style as well. Additionally, many popes and bishops began to patronize these artists (Mulcahy). This system guaranteed further work in the style and gave artists continued business and livelihoods.
The Catholic Church was not the only institution to make use of this evocative form; absolutist monarch also turned to Baroque artists to convey their own power. Through the seventeenth century, kings and emperors commissioned some of the greatest works of the Baroque form, such as music, opera and Versailles (Norman). Just as with the Catholic Church, these individuals probably intended these works to be a show of their power and wealth. Because these works also commanded a great deal of wealth, the very fact that the monarchs paid for the ornate art suggested that they possessed the power to spend their nation’s money however they chose. Additionally, the production of great Baroque works in a particular country served to demonstrate the superiority of that particular nation (Norman). Because the style was so intricate and demanding, it stood to reason that the nations which produced the greatest work had the greatest culture. Not only did this reputation impact the people, but it also reflected back on the monarch’s divinely appointed leadership and perhaps their dedication to a Catholic form. Thus, by producing great artists, a nation merely reiterated the strength of the power in charge.
Curiously, the greatest source of Baroque artists such as musicians and painters occurred in countries lacking a single strong monarch. Some of the greatest work in music and architecture originated from Italy and Germany, two ethnic areas divided into numerous kingdoms (Vaubel 280). The rulers of these nations could not have possessed the same power and prestige as the rulers of France and Spain, who possessed great empires. Perhaps for these small kingdoms, the importance of producing Baroque work was higher as the kingdoms had something to prove. As the quality of their work improved, the kingdoms could have claimed greater significance in the western world. Certainly this remained true of the great cities of Italy, but only in a cultural way. Still, this reputation of producing great art gave the Italian cities a chance to take their place among the cultures of Europe and to impact the future of the continent.
Through the sixteenth seventeenth centuries, Europe remained a furnace of new ideologies, politics and philosophies. As such, many of the old institutions, like the Catholic Church, were in jeopardy of losing their power and prestige. However, by reinventing its image through a highly accessible form, this and other institutions stood a chance of retaining their place. The Baroque style of art and architecture offered this chance and ultimately helped the Church, the monarchies and other Western Europe institutions to retain their influence for at least a few more decades to come.
Mulcahy, Kevin V. “The Cultural Policy of the Counter-Reformation: The Case of St. Peter’s.” Religion and Cultural Policy. Spec. issue of International Journal of Cultural Policy 17.2 (2011): 131-152. Web. 1 Feb 2014.
Norman, Joanna. “Performance Art.” History Today 59.4 (2009): 6-7. Web. 31 January 2014.
Summit, Jennifer. “Renaissance Humanism and the Future of the Humanities.” Literature Compass 9.10 (2012): 665-678. Web. 1 February 2014.
Vaubel, Roland. “The Role of Competition in the Rise of Baroque and Renaissance Music.” Journal of Cultural Economics 29.4 (2005): 277-297. Web. 31 January 2014.