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The Baroque Period

The Baroque art movement emerged in Europe during the 17th century, and it is characterized by the use of dramatic, exaggerated forms and grandeur that create a sense of awe and emotional impact. The movement is known for its highly ornate and lavish style, which was inspired by the Catholic Church's desire to appeal to people's senses and create a sense of religious fervor. One of the most significant characteristics of Baroque art is the use of dynamic lighting and shadowing effects, which give the paintings a sense of depth and three-dimensionality. Artists used this technique to create dramatic effects that heighten the emotional impact of the work. Other common features of Baroque art include the use of intense colors, elaborate compositions, and intricate detail.

Baroque artists also worked in a variety of mediums, including painting, sculpture, and architecture. Religious themes were also prevalent in Baroque art, with many artists depicting scenes from the Bible and other religious texts. Some of the most famous Baroque artists include Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and Bernini, who were known for their highly emotional and dramatic works that captured the spirit of the times. In all, the Baroque art movement was a significant development in the history of art, and its influence can still be seen in contemporary art and design today.

Let's survey some the art, the history that inspired it, and some interesting artists  from across the period...

The Mythology of Daphne & Apollo in Art

Daphne and Apollo is a myth from ancient Greek times which was then carried into ancient Roman times. There are a few variations of the myth and the themes it presents. Most prominently it represents Chasity versus Lust.

Daphne & Apollo In Mythos
The mythos of Daphne & Apollo and all the characters in it have been well represented in art ever since the tale, no matter which version, was first told. The climax of the story is well documented in art, specifically in paintings, but the most famous representation is that of a sculpture produced by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, an Italian sculptor, and architect. The artwork is housed in the Galleria Borghese in Rome.

There are many versions of the myth, but the general narrative common in Greco-Roman mythology is that because of a curse made by the god Cupid on the god Apollo, Daphne became the unwilling object of obsession and infatuation from Apollo, who then chased her against her wishes relentlessly. 

It is told that Daphne was the first love of Apollo but unfortunately she never responded to his romantic love after being cursed by Eros, who is more famously known as Cupid in Roman. Cupid fired the two arrows into Apollo and Daphne to counteract any romance just before they would have kissed, sealing the deal for Apollo. Daphne became determined to remain unmarried and untouched by a man for the rest of her life.

It was unusual and impossible for a nymph or a mortal woman in Greek mythology to resist the love of a god, but Daphne did just that, and in doing so 'she lost her life trying to escape this love' (1) Apollo kept chasing her and it led Daphne to plead for help from her river godfather, who transformed her into a laurel tree. It’s believed that Daphne had 'to sacrifice her body and turn into a tree as this was the only way she could avoid Apollo’s sexual advances'. (2) And so it was done thus foiling Apollo's repeated attempts. 

The myth of Apollo and Daphne has been examined as a battle between chastity (Daphne) and sexual desire (Apollo). As Apollo lustfully pursues Daphne, she is saved through her metamorphosis and confinement into the laurel tree which can be seen as an act of eternal chastity. Daphne is forced to sacrifice her body and become the laurel tree as her only form of escape from the pressures of Apollo's constant sexual desires. (3)
Afterward, Apollo goes on to craft himself a wreath out of her laurel branches, then turning her symbol of chastity into a cultural icon for him and other poets and musicians.
At the Pythian Games which were held every four years in Delphi in honor of Apollo, a wreath of laurel gathered from the Vale of Tempe in Thessaly was given as a prize. Hence it later became customary to award prizes in the form of laurel wreaths to victorious generals, athletes, poets, and musicians, worn as a chaplet on the head.
Daphne & Apollo In Art History
The Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini sculpted the Baroque life-sized marble statue entitled Apollo and Daphne between 1622 and 1625. The work is located at Galleria Borghese in Rome.
The thing about it, like much of his many major works commissioned by the Popal Vatican, is it is incredibly intricate in the details. The cuts of the stone and the expression of the subjects overall are a parallel testimony to the beautiful mythos regarding the old Greek story itself. We can see how 'Apollo clutches Daphne's hip, pursuing her as she flees to escape him. Apollo wears a laurel crown, and Daphne is portrayed halfway through her metamorphosis into the laurel tree with her arms already transforming into its branches as she flees and calls to her father to save her from Apollo.' (4)

The 18th-century artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo in 1743-1744 painted an oil similarly depicting Daphne halfway through metamorphosis with Apollo in pursuit. It now hangs in the Louvre in Paris. (5)

The Bernini Sculpture Today

Almost 400 years later, Apollo and Daphne remains mesmerizing for both its formal mastery and its disturbing, profoundly relevant subject matter.

It has also been argued that The Kiss by Gustav Klimt is a painting symbolic of the kissing of Daphne by Apollo at the moment she is transformed into a laurel tree​. (6)

1. Myth of Apollo and Daphne - Greek Myths |

2. Apollo and Daphne • The Greek Myth Story of Daphne and Apollo.
3. Paulson, Ronald; Eisenman, Peter (2007). Sin and Evil: Moral Values in Literature. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300120141.
4. Impeluso, Lucia; Stefano Zuffi (2003). Gods and Heroes in Art. Los Angeles: Getty Publications.
5. Apollo and Daphne - Wikipedia.
6. Vives Chillida, Julio (2008). El beso (los enamorados) de Gustav Klimt. Un ensayo de iconografía. Lulu. ISBN 978-1-4092-0530-2.


The Mythology of Daphne & Apollo


Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) is one of the most iconoclastic and influential Old Masters, Caravaggio is revered for his naturalistic style of Baroque painting, a controversial alternative to the classicism of Annibale Carracci, as well as the preceding style of Mannerism.

He was amongst the greatest of Italian painters ever, which is saying a lot. He was active in Rome for most of his artistic life. During the final four years of his life, he moved between Naples, Malta, and Sicily until his death.

After training as a painter in Milan, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio settled in Rome in the early 1590s. His early work was mostly secular, including intimate mythological and allegorical scenes with a strong erotic flavor. However, his career changed course in 1599 with his first church commission for a large and serious religious painting—the type of work in which he henceforth specialized. Over the next seven years, Caravaggio painted a series of major altarpieces that established him as the most influential painter in Rome. Several caused heated controversy, for some people, considered his down-to-earth treatment of holy subjects sacrilegious. He also caused a scandal because of his violent temperament, and in 1606 he fled Rome after killing a man in a fight. He moved to southern Italy and, after continuing his career with outstanding works in Naples, Malta, and Sicily, died—probably of fever—en route to Rome, where he hoped for a pardon. He was only 38. His work had an enormous impact: although his style went out of fashion in Rome in the 1620s, in parts of Europe it survived into the 1650s.

*Although Caravaggio was a highly original and individual painter, he was influenced by others who were active in the part of northern Italy where he grew up, and also by contemporary ideas. He lived at a time when the Catholic Church encouraged artists to produce paintings that conveyed religious ideas clearly and vigorously.

Caravaggio was indeed the master of painting the balance between the light and the dark as we can see below in some closeups from only some of his incredible artworks. Notice the level of detail and the capturing of emotions and expressions which is also quite astounding



Romulus and Remus

Romulus and Remus, Oil on canvas, 1612 (approximately)
Peter Paul Rubens
Capitoline Museums, Rome, Italy

The Romulus and Remus was painted by Rubens in Antwerp around 1612 at the age of 35. The artist, who returned home after a long stay in Italy and Spain, created this painting as a tribute to the history of Rome.

The painting depicts the moment the shepherd Faustolo, top right, finds the twins Romulus and Remus on the bank of the Tiber while they are being suckled by the wolf; on the left are a muscular old man wrapped in a black cloth, representing the Tiber River, and Rea Silvia, the mother of the twins. The background, dominated in the center by a large tree of "Ficus Ruminalis”,  also shows birds and a river landscape. Rubens represents the very moment Faustolo discovers the twins while breastfeeding from the wolf, one of them is distracted by a bird that holds red cherries in its beak, a symbol of sacrifice, this detail foretells Remus's death. 

Legend has it that Romulus and Remus were the twin sons of Rea Silvia, a vestal virgin (a priestess of the goddess Vesta) who claimed to have been raped by the god Mars who had become infatuated with her, and from the union between the two were born the twins. Since the vestals were bound by a vow of chastity, Amulius, the uncle of Rea Silvia and usurper to the throne of Alba Longa, condemned her to death and ordered the killing of the two infants, fearful of a male lineage that could undermine him. The two infants, however, were not killed, but abandoned on the banks of the Tiber by a servant who took pity on them. Romulus and Remus were nurtured by a wolf and were later found by the shepherd  Faustolo who, together with his wife Acca Larenzia, decided to adopt them and raise them as their own children.

The style of the work already expresses what will later be described as the poetics of the Baroque: wide gestures aimed at ensuring that the observer focuses on the main details of the scene, all in a radiant and luminous atmosphere and in an idyllic landscape reminiscent of the Arcadian landscapes of the time.

The painting, which belonged to Cardinal Giovanni Francesco Guidi di Bagno, Apostolic Nuncio to Flanders 1621-1627, was subsequently transferred to Rome to the Pio family and in 1750 was sold to the Municipality of Rome.

Romulus and Remus.jpg

Allegory of Love of Virtue by Rosi

Alessandro Rosi was an Italian painter from Florence. His work 'The Allegory of the Love of Virtue' , painted around 1660 displays an elegant, androgynous looking young man, leaning back on his angelic wings. 

The creature gazes out, as if aware he is a result of the masterful work of a Florentine painter well versed in the use of contrast, bringing out his form through the careful orchestration of light and dark. The illuminated figure glows against the shadows that fall behind him. Perhaps a symbol of a stroll out from the intellectual of a more somber artistic and intellectual darkness

Pictured: Allegory of Love of Virtue", 1660 approx.
Oil on canvas 73.7 × 59.1 cm  by Alexander Rosi 🇮🇹 (Florence 1627-1697) Housed in The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, USA 


Baroque Architecture

Baroque-style architecture - Strahov Library in Prague was originally a monastery founded in 1143 and is now the largest monastic library in the country, with two magnificent baroque halls dating from the 17th and 18th centuries.


Spanish Baroque

"Rokeby Venus" (c. 1647–51)
by Diego Velázquez 🇪🇸 (1559-1660)
Located at The National Gallery, London 🇬🇧

Diego Velázquez was a Spanish painter and one of the great artists of what we consider the Spanish Golden Age. He was the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV during the era. Velázquez was an individualistic artist of the contemporary Baroque period. He began to paint in a precise tenebrist style, later developing a freer manner characterized by bold brushwork. In addition to numerous renditions of scenes of historical and cultural significance, he painted scores of portraits of the Spanish royal family and commoners.


"Rokeby Venus" by Diego Velázque

"Rokeby Venus" (c. 1647–51)
by Diego Velázquez 🇪🇸 (1559-1660)
Located at The National Gallery, London 🇬🇧

Diego Velázquez was a Spanish painter and one of the great artists of what we consider the Spanish Golden Age. He was the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV during the era. Velázquez was an individualistic artist of the contemporary Baroque period. He began to paint in a precise tenebrist style, later developing a freer manner characterized by bold brushwork. In addition to numerous renditions of scenes of historical and cultural significance, he painted scores of portraits of the Spanish royal family and commoners.


Adriaen Brouwer 

Adriaen Brouwer was a Flemish painter active in Flanders and the Dutch Republic in the first half of the 17th-century. Here we see Brouwer's work entitled "Tavern Scene" (c.1635) Although Brouwer was only about 32 when he died, he played an important role in popularizing rowdy scenes of peasant life, such as this one. His subject matter is often coarse, but his brushwork has a lovely sparkle and delicacy. His many admirers included Rubens and Rembrandt, both of whom owned examples of his work and were clearly inspired by him. With a talent and flair for capturing everyday human life and highlighting comedic moments, it earned him the esteem of fellow artists, and a lasting influence on this genre of painting. 
Title: "Tavern Scene" (c. 1635)
Artist: Adriaen Brouwer 
Location: National Gallery, London, UK 🇬🇧

Title: "Adriaen Brouwer" portrait 
by Anthony van Dyck, 17th-century


Adriaen Brouwer 

Who was the Girl with Pearl Earring?

Portrait of an unknown girl, at bust-length, facing left, looking at the viewer. She is wearing a yellow and blue turban, a light brown coat, and an earring with a single pearl. We can view this painting as an example of a 'tronie', a common genre of the time depicting stock characters rather than any given individual of higher stature.
We don't really know who she is, even to this day, but the seductive characteristic here is that she somehow feels familiar to us. Vermeer paints her so we feel we know her because she is looking at us with such great intimacy. You can also see the motif of the shining pearl earring is repeated in her eyes if you look closely.
Throughout the centuries this work has gone by various names and it became known by its present title towards the end of the 20th-century. We have also nicknamed it the “Mona Lisa of the North,” as it's beginning to rival Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa masterpiece in terms of exposure.


Who was the Girl with Pearl Earring?

The Art of Painting (c.1667 ) by Johannes Vermeer

The Art of Painting aka The Allegory of Painting, or Painter in his Studio, is a 17th century oil on canvas painting by the Dutch painter Vermeer. At first sight this seems like a stunningly realistic glimpse into a painter’s studio. However, the artist is wearing an elaborate costume rather than working clothes, and the picture is an allegory or glorification of the art of painting. It is full of symbolic details. The model, for example, is dressed as Clio, the muse (a goddess of creative inspiration) of history. Her trumpet is a symbol of fame. The mask which appears on the table is traditionally used as a symbol of imitation and thus of painting. The light hanging above the artist is crowned by a double-headed eagle, symbol of the Hapsburg dynasty which since the sixteenth century had governed the seventeen provinces of the Netherlands that appear in the map on the end wall (and which still governed the southern provinces). Vermeer's extraordinary technical mastery, the crystal-clear light which illuminates the scene, the purity of the volumes and the unique psychological distancing of the figures are all characteristics of his work that here reach an extraordinary level of refinement.

'The Art of Painting' (c. 1667)
Artist: Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) 🇳🇱
Oil on canvas
120 X 100 cm. (47 1/4 x 39 3/8 in.)
Location: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria 🇦🇹


The Art of Painting (1666 - 1668) by Jan Vermeer
Johannes Vermeer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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