Mannerism and Baroque



Mannerism, which emerged in the 16th century, is characterized by artistic elements that include culture and elegance. The artworks were compositions made up of artifice; they often disguised the contrived nature of art, which distinguished these works from the previous Renaissance artists, whose focus was on naturalism.

Mannerist artworks typically consist of imbalanced compositions with unusual complexities. Space becomes more ambiguous rather than linearly ordered through strict perspective. There is often a departure from conventions toward unique presentations of traditional themes. Mannerism is defined through courtly grace and cultured sophistication that were common of its themes.

Jacopo da Pontormo (1494-1557)

Jacopo da Pontormo Descent from the Cross, 1525-28

Pontormo's work demonstrates most of the characteristics of Mannerism’s early phase as seen in his Descent from the Cross (1525-28). Pontormo used the viewer’s familiarity with the theme to allow for experimentation. He rotated the conventional figural groups along a vertical axis so the Virgin falls away from the viewer as she lets go of her dead son. This composition leaves a void in the center with a circular composition unlike the triangular compositions of the previous Renaissance. This creates a new sense of drama and a break from structure. Distortions of the physical bodies also provide gestural emphasis.

Parmigianino (1503-1540)

Parmigianino Madonna with the Long Neck, 1535

This painting by Parigianino demonstrates the elegance and stylishness of Mannerism. The painting produces a smooth combination of influences from Correggio and Raphael. The elongated forms accentuate the fragility of the body. The painting further describes courtly taste while the composition provides an odd, ambiguous sense of space. The stylistic narrative derives from a hymn which relates the Virgin’s neck to a great ivory tower or column.

Bronzino (1503-1572)

Bronzino Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time (The Exposure of Luxury)1546

Bronzino was a Florentine painter and pupil of Pontormo. His work demonstrates a fondness for extremely intricate allegories with lascivious undertones. These allegories are former day versions of sexual exploitation. In a painting such as Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time (The Exposure of Luxury) the meaning is ambiguous. The figures are mostly in the front plane with no real depth of space. The hands, heads and feet are depicted with clarity as they are the carriers of grace. Each figure and object in the painting refers to something more and the painting is thus read, rather than viewed.

Bronzino Portrait of a Young Man, 1530's

Bronzino further made a living through portraiture. The Mannerist style demonstrates a sense of elegance in portraits from the time. Bronzino's work resembles Botticcelli’s portrait, but with a greater sense of light to model the form. The sitter in this case asserts his rank, a sense of culture, and personality not demonstrated as realistically as in the Renaissance portraits that precede it.

Giovanni da Bologna (1529-1608)

Giovanni da Bologna Abduction (rape) of the Sabine Women, 1583

Giovanni da Bologna was a Netherlandish sculptor who assumed an Italian name as he worked in Bologna. His work demonstrates the mannerist style through sculpture. In Abduction (rape) of the Sabine Women, Giovanni da Bologna depicts a Roman theme based on an event when the Romans abducted wives for themselves from their neighbors the Sabines. Though this is thought to be the narrative, the name was given to it after it was erected so might not be a depiction of that narrative. The work is produced in a classical nude tradition. The work differs from the classical tradition in its spiral composition that forces the viewer to move around to truly experience it from all angles. This sense of drama alludes to the Hellenistic traditions of later Greece whereas the earlier Renaissance artists' structure alluded more to the Classical Greek traditions.

Later 16th Century Venetian

Later 16th century Venetian painting was dominated by two figures: Tintoretto and Veronese. (More on Venice: Heilbrunn Timeline)

Tintoretto (1518-1594)

Tintoretto Last Supper, 1594

Tintoretto claimed to be a student of Titian. He combined Titian’s color with Michelangelo’s drawing and Mannerist tendencies. It is stated by Kleiner that towards the end of his life, Tintoretto became spiritual and visionary, but this is as he was fleeing persecution from various inquisitions that had been happening alongside the counter-reformations.

His work utilizes a sense of business prowess. A son of a tinter, he had easy access to pigments and a business acumen. The browns in the painting typically came from the palette scrapings of a previous work. His compositions also utilize pigment sparingly to provide emphasis to key elements within the compositional narrative. In a work such as his Last Supper, the diagonal composition adds to the drama. The composition is also quite large as it is produced in the Venetian tradition of oil on canvas as opposed to the fresco paintings traditionally found in Italy. This was largely due to the humid climate that made frescos impossible. There is a dramatic difference between this and previous last supper paintings. The chiriascuro is a precursor to the coming baroque styles of painting.

Paolo Veronese (1528-1588)

Paolo Veronese Christ in the House of Levi, 1573

Veronese's work differed from Tintoretto in that he painted lavish scenes in classical architecture. He worked more in the vein of Titian, painting on a huge scale as many of the commissions were for wall murals. In Christ in the House of Levi, originally called Last Supper, but the name had to be changed as Veronese faced questions as to why dwarves and others are present. He paints with a symmetrical balance and a return to High Renaissance order in stark contrast to Tintoretto's Last Supper.

Veronese Triumph of Venice, 1585

Veronese's Triumph of Venice is a painting located in the ceiling of the hall of the Grand Council, Doge’s Palace. The composition is an imposing ceiling mural demonstrating the Allegory of Venice. Ceiling murals pose an interesting compositional issue in that they are viewed from below unlike other paintings traditionally found on walls. This painting demonstrates the scene at a 45 degree angle rather than straight up, providing an interesting solution to such a problem.

Jacopo Sansovino (1486-1570)

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Jacopo Sansovino La Zecca and The State Library

Jacopo Sansovino is an architect working in a High Renaissance style. His buildings inspired most of the Venetian painters’ architectural settings. La Zecca, or mint, and the State Library are located on the main square of Venice, Piazzetta San Marco. There is a stark difference between the three story facade and the two story library along with a stark contrast of hte form following the function of each. The mint is forboding while the library demonstrates a classical elegance related to the pursuit of knowledge. The library has been described by Palladio as “perhaps the most sumptuous and the most beautiful edifice that has been erected since the time of the Ancients.”

The library has a Doric order frieze in the Greek tradition. This lower story sturdily supports the more decorative ionic second story which houses the reading room. The plan mirrors the Doge’s Palace across the Piazzetta. It is an attempt to bring unity to the view as well as translate gothic vocabulary into a Renaissance ideal.

Andrea Palladio (1508-1580)

After Sansovino’s death, Palladio became chief architect of Venice. Palladio began as a stonemason and sculptor. He became a specialist of Architecture and engineering and wrote his own treatise on architecture which was published in 1570 and had a huge influence on later generations, more so than any other architect. He is also responsible for many design for villas built on the Venetian mainland and the production of a system of architectural order that became highly influential to later Neoclassical artists and architects such as Thomas Jefferson.

Andrea Palladio Villa Rotunda, 1566-70

Probably his most famous architectural work, the Villa Rotunda, was built for a retiree for social events. It was designed on top of a hill for a good view and is literally a central plan. The center rotunda allows for views of every angle. The work also demonstrates the mathematically logical proportions of part to whole. It embodies all the qualities of self sufficiency and formal completeness sought by most Renaissance architects as it resembles Roman temples and had the Pantheon as a model.

Andrea Palladio San Giorgio Maggiore, 1565

San Giorgio Maggiore, 1565, a church located directly across a broad canal from Piazza San Marco, contains a high central nave with lower aisles, which became a problem with integration in proportion. Palladio solves this issue with an exterior façade that is somewhat ambiguous in it’s design. The interior demonstrates Palladio's strong logical arrangements. The interior lacks the ambiguity and screams logic and reason in architecture, especially with it's unadorned walls.



Spain emerged as a power at the end of the 16th century under Charles V of Hapsburg and Philip II. The Spanish ruled a large part of Europe, the Western Mediterranean, a strip of North Africa and a large part of the Americas. Conquistadors such as Christopher Columbus, Vasco Nunez de Balboa, Ferdinand Magellan, Hernan Cortes, and Francisco Pizarro, sailing under the Spanish flag aggressively explored and claimed territiories. Spain ruthlessly supported the Catholic church and forced many inquisitions throughout their territories. With such strong ties to the Vatican, the Spanish expressed an artistic Classical revival.

Pedro Machuca Courtyard of the Palace of Charles V, 1526-68

Pedro Machuca (1520-1550) was a painter and an architect. He was also highly influenced by Italian classicism. The courtyard of the Palace of Charles V demonstrates the classical revival in Span under this unfinished palace for the Spanish king. The courtyard superimposed Doric and Ionic orders with entablatures rather than arches. This may reflect Charles V’s taste of Italian things but it also contrasts sharply with Islamic art and architecture which was predominant at the site which had been under Muslim control until 1492.

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Juan De Herrera and Juan Bautista de Toledo El Escorial, 1563-84

El Escorial is a palace created for Philip II. The design also demonstrates the Italian derived classicism with a more unique style. It is described as a “dynastic pantheon” built to house the remains of past and future monarchs of Spain. It contains the royal mausoleum, church, palace, and monastery. The structure alludes to a Doric classicism with severe look which reflects the power of Philip II and Spain and meant as an expression of such power. Only the entrance ways break from the severe walls and preceeds later Baroque palace façades

El Greco (1547-1614)

Born Domenikos Theotokopoulos on Crete, El Greco (Spanish for "The Greek") absorbed the traditions of Late Byzantine art and worked in Titian’s workshop though was influenced greatly by Tintoretto. He also demonstrates influences of Roman and Florentine Mannerism. He is known for his strong personal blending of these elements along with his compositional sense of movement and light. His style appealed to Spanish Catholicism because of all his precedents which weren’t from anything that was “Spanish” in style.

El Greco The Burial of Count Orgaz, 1586

El Greco's The Burial of the Count Orgaz was painted for the church of Santo Tome in Toledo. It is based on the legend of the count who had died three centuries before and was a great benefactor to the church. The count was buried next to Saints Stephen and Augustine who descended from heaven to lower the count’s body into the sepulchre. El Greco carefully described the difference between heavenly and earthly realms. The painting is realistic and severe versus the idealized and flowing Italian Mannerist images of the time. The composition futher connects the real with the heavens by utilizing the upward glances connect the two realms. For El Greco, the compositional narrative demonstrates that the emotion of the scene is of primary concern.


The trends and push for change lead to more artistic experimentation and even more melding of styles as we move into the 17th century and the art termed Baroque.


The Baroque period and style spans the 17th and 18th centuries in the West. The term emerged in the late 18th century when critics claimed the work from these times was deficient in comparison to the Renaissance. The term refers now to a style that is characterized by complexity and drama which stands in contrast to the rational order of classicism in the Renaissance. 


During these centuries in Europe, there were lots of battles and shifting of political states. The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) was held between most all of Europe with the exceptions of England, Italy and Switzerland. This was ended by the Treaty of Westphalia, which granted relative freedom of religious choice in Europe and marked the end of the idea of a united Christian Europe.

Mercantilism as an economic system began to emerge as European societies began to coordinate their long-distance trade. This caused economic competition between countries and the development of the banking system by the Dutch. Mercantilism allowed for a larger pool of desirable goods and allowed for more luxuries than previously afforded. As there were more newly wealthy people, the demand for art and private commissions was on the rise.


The Council of Trent (one of the Counter-Reformation initiatives) resisted Protestant objection to using images in religious worship, insisting that they were necessary to teach. The Catholic Church, with the aid of several strong popes, contributed to the building of a modern Rome. The Catholic Church still pushed for commissions to extend their visibility. Artists embraced a style based on theatricality, drama, scale, and elaborate ornateness.

Carlo Maderno

Carlo Maderno Santa Susanna, 1597-1603

Carlo Maderno is an architect who made his break at the turn of the seventeenth century. Santa Susanna church is one of the earliest manifestations of the Baroque architecture in Italy. The façade demonstrates a bridge between the classicism found in Palladian architecture and the ornateness of Baroque architecture as seen in the exaggerated space, Corinthian columns, and scrolling forms leading the viewer visually upward. The second story projects outward and the outcroppings cast strong shadows to bring the eye to the central axis. The recessed niches with statues compliment the sculpted effect of the façade.

Carlo Maderno Saint Peter’s Façade, 1606-1666

Saint Peter's Basilica was unfinished by 1600 from Michaelangelo's original design. Pope Paul V commissioned Maderno to complete Saint Peter’s, extending the nave into a Roman cross design and adding the Baroque façade. The desire was to conclude the rebuilding project in the face of the Reformation.

The façade is an expansion of the elements of Santa Susanna’s first level. The width removes the idea of verticality of the space. Maderno, however, was restricted because he had to conform his design to the mostly constructed structure. Given the length of construction, Maderno's design also was never fully constructed. The two bell tower bays on the ends are not part of his design and take away from the verticality originally intended.

Evolution of St. Peter's Floorplan from Michelangelo to Maderno

Maderno's plan for Saint Peter's moves away from the original central plan ideas of the renaissance. He pushed for an extension of the nave in order to remove it’s central plan association to pagan structures such as the Pantheon. The extension destroys the original intent by Michelangelo to create a structure held together by a dominating dome where the original intent can only be viewed from the back of the building. The extended nave also makes the basilica one of the largest spaces in the world in order to house the growing population.

Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680)

Gianlorenzo Bernini was a painter, architect, and sculptor, much in the tradition of Michaelangelo. He is considered one of the most important and imaginative artists of the Italian Baroque.

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Gianlorenzo Bernini Piazza for Saint Peter's, 1656-1667

Bernini was brought in to continue the construction of Saint Peter's. In designing the piazza, he was forced to deal with pre-existing structures. There was an obelisk, brought from Egypt by the Romans and placed in the piazza by Pope Sixtus V in 1585, and a fountain by Maderno. He utilized the features to emphasize the long axis of an oval. The colonnades are joined to the façade and end in classical temple fronts. The entire design is symbolic of a large embrace by the church for visitors. Further, the trapezoidal shape is intended to counteract perspective and bring the church closer to viewers.

Gianlorenzo Bernini Baldacchino, 1624-33

Bernini's bronze, canopy-like structure covering the central altar of Saint Peter's measures almost 100 ft tall (8 stories). It marks the altar and tomb of Saint Peter, bringing together the lofty dome with the viewers. The structure provides a presence at the crossing and a frame for the elaborate throne of Saint Peter at the far end of the church. It is based on a previous baldacchino that was at the same spot in Old Saint Peter’s. The design holds up a symbolic orb and cross that had been in use since the time of Constantine’s Old Saint Peter’s. The bees are symbolic of the Barberini family (from which the pope had come).

The structure required an immense amount of bronze. It had to be cast in many different sections. It required so much bronze that they melted it from the portico of the Pantheon.

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Gianlorenzo Bernini Scala Regia, 1663-66

The Scala Regia is the passage that the pope uses to enter Saint Peter's. The original was irregular and dark. Bernini's redesign of the long passage seems even longer in perspective because of the narrowing as it ascends. The darkness is countered by creating a window which allowed for more light to extend from the end therefore playing off the natural reaction to go toward light. The light also created an illuminated landing as a midway and resting point. Bernini's sense of detail to the viewing experience of his structures accentuates the drama and breaks from the formal structures and proportions of the Renaissance.

Gianlorenzo Bernini David, 1623

Bernini's sense of the theatrical extended into sculpture. Sculpture deals with a sense of frozen time, which is important to understanding his David. This particular sculpture pre-dates his work on Saint Peter’s. The piece depicts action as opposed to previous depictions by Donatello and Verrochio which deal with a passive stance. The motion recalls Hellenistic sculpture in its dramatic effectiveness. This depiction of David moves in space and requires space around it for the viewer to move around and gain the full experience of the moment captured.

Gianlorenzo Bernini, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, 1645-1652

Bernini's Ecstasy of Saint Teresa seems to break from its structured surroundings. The sculpture depicts Saint Teresa, who converted after the death of her father when she would have a series of trances and visions. She had a pain that she claimed was from the fire tipped arrow of Divine love that an angel had thrust repeatedly into her heart. Bernini transforms the chapel into a stage for this drama. A hidden window of yellow glass adds light to the scene as rays of bronze emphasize the Divine light. This sense of detail to the viewer's relationship forming a connection between the sculpture and architecture to create a realistic sense of space is what sets the Baroque apart from previous artistic styles.

Francesco Borromini (1599-1667)

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Francesco Borromini San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, 1665-76

Francesco Borromini's design for San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane describes the dynamism of the Baroque period. Borromini emphasized the building’s sculptural qualities with an undulating façade. The movement evokes a fluid transition between interior and exterior. The structure actually has two façades which follows the flow of the street. The plan is a variation on the central plan church. The oval allows for a flow from entrance to altar.

Francesco Borromini Chapel of Saint Ivo

Borromini's Chapel of Saint Ivo in Rome further describes the concept of a unification of interior and exterior with a courtyard entrance that wraps around the viewer. There is further dynamism produced in the play between the concave against convex forms. These forms emphasize the motion of curves but also turn the central plan into a star. The dome isn’t a cap but extends from the support thus unifying the whole.


Born Michelangelo Merisi, Caravaggio demonstrated a unique style and was denounced by one artist of the time as the “anti-Christ of painting.” His refusal to emulate models of classical tradition allowed him to stand out from his peers along with his focus on the viewers experience of the painting made for unique and dynamic baroque compositions. He led a problematic life but received many commissions and was highly influential as a result. He commonly injected naturalism into his religious themes.

Michaelanglo Merisi Conversion of Saint Paul, 1601

In Caravaggio's Conversion of Saint Paul, the painting depicts the conversion of the Pharisee Saul to Christianity when he became the disciple Paul. Paul is depicted at the point of conversion when he was thrown from his horse and sees a vision. The painting depicts the stark chiaroscuro and is painted with the perspective of the viewer in mind. In Caravaggio's painting, the figures are meant to emerge from the darkness. Furthermore, the chapel’s window works in conjunction with his painting like a kind of stage lighting. Caravaggio is thus one of the first painters to really create this dramatic sense of lighting (tenebrism or shadowy manner), which contributed to the meaning of his paintings as it emphasizes the idea of divine light.

Michaelangelo Merisi Calling of Saint Matthew, 1597-1601

The Calling of Saint Matthew was painted for a side wall in a chapel. The painting demonstrates a bland scene where Christ is even draped in shadow and only barely catches the light. The gesture recalls Michelangelo’s creation of Adam. The composition thus depicts Christ calling to Levi who became Saint Matthew who sits at the end of the table and tries to come to terms with his destiny. The light also utilizes a nearby window in the chapel similar to Caravaggio's Conversion of Saint Paul.

Michaelanglo Merisi Entombment, 1603

In Caravaggio's Entombment, Nocodemus holds Christ’s legs and looks to the viewer to enter the scene. Caravaggio again attempts to have his scenes interact with the viewer’s space. It appears that they are lying the body on an altar, at the level of the altar within the space. The painting also emphasizes the Counter Reformation symbolism as the scene serves as the implication of transubstantiation which is fundamental to Catholics but rejected by Protestants.

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653)

Artemisia Gentileschi Judith Slaying Holofernes, 1614-20

Artemisia Gentileschi was a female artist who was instructed by her father, Orazio, who was strongly influenced by Caravaggio’s style. Her work often depicts dark subject matter. Historians often attribute themes such as Judith slaying Holofernes with Gentileschi's personal struggles as a female within a male dominated society. The story in the painting refers to a Jewish story of Judith who, after coercing the general to take her to his tent, assasinates the Assyrian to avoid battle. The heroic female theme is well painted in comparison to much of her other work, and demonstrates her ability to overcome as a female artist at this time.

Annibale Carracci (1560-1609)

Annibale Carracci painted in strong contrast to Caravaggio’s dark subjects. He studied Renaissance masters carefully seeking order and balance within his more elegant works. He further studied anatomy and life drawing to add to a more classically ordered style.

Annibale Carracci Flight into Egypt, 1603-4

His Flight into Egypt, represents an ideal or classical landscape. It has influential roots from the Venetian Renaissance. The tranquil scene balances the visual appeal with the formal narrative contained within.

Annibale Carracci Palazzo Farnese, 1597-1601

The Palazzo Farnese was commissioned to celebrate the wedding of his brother. The mural is painted in a style called “quadro riortato” where he arranged the scenes like framed paintings. Carracci derived many of the compositional ideas from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling. There is also a demonstrated mixture of styles from various Renaissance artists.

Guido Reni (1575-1642)

Guido Reni Aurora, 1613-14

Guido Reni was highly inspired by Raphael. He demonstrates here a sure composition with an illusionistic frame. Reni was revered for his technique during his time and was called “the divine Guido.” His work influenced artists to re-interpret the idea of the ceiling painting as different from a painting that hangs on the wall. Ceiling paintings demonstrate the level of decorative effect that came to be known as Baroque. They often include a theatrical drama and have the added challenge of dealing with a perspective looking upward. Another great ceiling mural can be found in the San Pantalon ceiling in Venice where figures are even painted on cutouts to further add to the drama:

Gian Antonio Fumiani The Martyrdom and Apotheosis of Saint Pantalon


Spain had established itself as an international power but by the beginning of the 17th century lost much ground due to economic woes due to military campaigns undertaken during the Thirty Years War. The cost moved down to the subjects who revolted. The country still remained largely Catholic and prided themselves on their saints, which were a dominant subject in their art.

Jose (Jusepe) de Ribera (1588-1652)

Jusepe de Ribera Martyrdom of Saint Philip, 1639

Ribera emigrated to Naples and was known as Lo Spagnoletto (“the little Spaniard”). He was considered part of the Caravaggisti as he was highly influenced by the work of Caravaggio. He had an ability to add naturalism and drama in often brutal themes. Though influenced by Italian works, Ribera demonstrates the Spanish taste for representation of courage and devotion. Scenes of martyrdom such as his Martyrdom of Saint Philip also demonstrate his scorn for idealization in favor of naturalism in the visual narrative of his themes.

Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664)

Francisco de Zurbaran Saint Serapion, 1628

Zurbaran is known for his forceful images commissioned by monastic orders. Saint Serapion demonstrates a devotional image produced for the funerary chapel. This particular saint was martyred while preaching the Gospel to the Muslims. He was tied to a tree, tortured and decapitated. The piece demonstrates the concepts of self-sacrifice in a dramatic manner as the focus is solely on Serapion as the tree branches are barely visible. Zurbaran's work often contains a contemplative feel to the deliverance of his compositions.

Diego Velazquez (1599-1660)

Diego Velazquez is considered the most influential Spanish painter from the time. He produced many religious paintings, but is most well known for his commissions from King Philip IV as he was named to the position of court painter. With such support, he was able to expand on his talents as a painter without worry about finding commissions.

Diego Velazquez Water Carrier of Seville, 1619

The Water Carrier of Seville demonstrates his talent as a painter at 20 years old. It shows the influence of Caravaggio through a genre scene with much naturalism. The painting possibly has deeper significance, but if there is a specific narrative, it is currently uncertain.

Diego Velazquez Surrender of Breda, 1634-35

Surrender of Breda is part of a group of decorations for the Hall of Realms. It commemorates the Spanish victory over the Dutch in 1625. There were many skirmishes between northern and southern Netherlands and here we see the mayor of Breda handing the city’s keys to the general. Velazquez accentuates the narrative through the contrast in the armies. The Netherlands are depicted as ill-equipted and haggard while the Spanish seem well prepared. The Spanish though demonstrate respect as the general had for the Dutch as he is stopping the mayor from kneeling as the terms of surrender were very lenient.

Diego Velazquez King Philip IV of Spain (Fraga Philip)¸1644

Velazquez, as court painter, painted dozens of paintings of the monarch. This painting is also known as Fraga Philip because it was painted during a campaign in the town of Fraga. Velazquez often accompanied the king and his troops as they attempted to reconquer the territory. The king here appears as a military leader but without military accessories. The focus of attention is on the attire as Philip wasn’t handsome due to generations of inbreeding (Habsburg jaw).

Diego Velazquez Las Meninas, 1648-51

Las Meninas is possibly considered his greatest masterpiece as it shows mastery of both form and content. He represents himself in his studio in front of a large canvas. The infant princess Margarita is in the foreground with her maids-in-waiting, dwarfs, and her dog. In the middle ground there is a widow and male escort. The background contains a chamberlain in the doorway. The king and queen are seen in a mirror at the back of the room. Historians do not fully agree on the reading of this painting. What is taking place? What is actually being painted on the canvas in the scene?

This painting is possibly an attempt to elevate himself and his profession. The complexity summarizes the many types of depictions that can be done in painting: reflections, self portraiture, paintings in painting, foreground to background relationships, tapestry, etc. Velazquez incorporates areas expanding from all sides including foreground (viewer’s space) and background. He does not focus on the strong difference in light and dark but rather a variation of tone and effects later discovered with photography.


The Spanish Netherlands were still were strongly Catholic due to the expansions of the Spanish empire. There were however strong stylistic differences between Flanders and the Northern (protestant) Dutch Republic. Flanders remained closely tied with Baroque art of Catholic Europe whereas Northern developed new styles and subjects that reflect the strong middle class leading to what has been known as the "Golden Age" of Dutch Painting.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

Peter Paul Rubens drew from the masters of the Renaissance and Italian Baroque. He is one of the first artists to obtain international influence from his combination of style and sheer body of work. His aristocratic education allowed him to travel and mingle in higher society all over Europe allowing him to become a court painter in every major country at the time. He was also an art dealer of contemporary art and antiques adding to his income. With the demand, he was further able to develop a workshop with may apprentices and associates who were able to aid in completing the many commissions that he had. These factors led to him becoming one of the wealthiest painters of all time.

Peter Paul Rubens Elevation of the Cross, 1610

Elevation of the Cross reveals Rubens's initial interest in Italian art as it was painted shortly after his studies in Italy. It brings together Michelangelo-esque figures with a complex composition of force and counter force. Rubens often focuses on anatomy and foreshortening to create dynamism along with the diagonal and flowing compositional designs. These elements add to the emotional and physical tension while the strong modelling and contrast emphasizes the drama.

Peter Paul Rubens Drawing of Laocoon, 1600-08

This drawing of the sculpture of Laocoon and his sons was done during Rubens's time in Italy. It demonstrates his passion for the human body and the sources that he looked to for inspiration. He further enjoyed scenes of physical tension and forces emphasized by the human figure. Rubens believed that in order to achieve perfection, one must immerse themselves in ancient works of art.

Peter Paul Rubens Arrival of Marie de’Medici at Marseilles, 1622-25

Rubens was commissioned by Marie de’Medici to paint a series memorialising her career. In 4 years, he created twenty-four huge allegorical pictures designed to hang in her new palace. Rubens understood how royalty enjoyed the pomp and extravagance of the Italian Baroque styles. He thus showed off their splendor in his depictions of them, emphasizing their authority and right to rule.

In this painting, Marie de'Medici returns from Italy to France and is greeted by an allegorical personification of France. The seas and skies congratulate her on a safe arrival. Neptune and the Nereids (daughters of the sea god Nereus) also help guide her to safety. Fame flies overhead with a trumpet heralding her return. The commander of the ship stands under the Medici coat of arms wearing the cross of a Knight of Malta (identifying the ship). The entire piee is enriched with decorative splendor.

Peter Paul Rubens Allegory of the Outbreak of War, 1638

Rubens was a strong promoter of peace. This particular painting was done during the 30 years war. It demonstrates strong representations of human form and energy. For this piece, Rubens himself explains the allegory:

The Principal figure is Mars, who has left the temple of Janus open (which according to Roman custom remained closed in time of peace) and struts with his shield and his bloodstained sword, threatening all peoples with disaster; he pays little attention to Venus, his lady, who, surrounded by her little love-gods, tries in vain to hold him back with caresses and embraces. On the opposite side, Mars is pulled forward by the Fury Alecto with a torch in her hand. There are also monsters signifying plague and famine, the inseperable companions of war. Thrown to the ground is a woman with a broken lute, as a symbol that harmony cannot exist beside the discord of war; likewise a mother with a child in her arms indicates that fertility, procreation, and tenderness are opposed by war, which breaks into and destroys everything. There is furthermore an architect fallen backwards, with his tools in his hands, to express the idea that what is built in peace for the benefit and ornament of cities is laid in ruin and razed by the forces of arms… you will also find on the ground, beneath the feet of Mars, a book and a drawing on paper, to indicate that he tramples on literature and other refinements… The sorrowing woman… clothed in black with a torn veil, and deprived of all her jewels and ornaments is unhappy Europe, which for so many years has suffered pillage, degradation, and misery affecting all of us so deeply that it is useless to say more about them.(from a letter to Justus Sustermans, translated by Kristin Lohse Belin, in Rubens, Phaidon, 1998)


Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641)

Anthony Van Dyck was an assistant to Rubens as was the case with most notable painters from Flanders at the time. He left Rubenss' workshop and ended up in London in an attempt to escape Rubens’s grandeur. There he became court portraitist to Charles I.

Anthony Van Dyck Charles I Dismounted, 1635

For Van Dyck, portraiture became his speciality. Portraiture allowed for him to develop a courtly manner and become internationally known. The king here impersonates a nobleman out for a stroll but stands in a regal poise. His Parliament resented his air of absolute authority and rose against him. Van Dyck shows his mastery of propagandistic elements as the king here turns his back to his attendants but he still stands off center but balances the composition with the slightly downward glance at the viewers as he stands high. These elements balance Charles' grandeur with his humbleness to his public.

The Dutch Republic

Amsterdam became the center of banking under the new merchantilist stystem that was emerging in Europe. Strong trade formed a strong growing middle class. The Dutch Republic remained strongly Protestant and objected to artistic representations of religious scenes as they remained strong in the belief in personal interpretations of the scripture. The lack of a formal powerful authority led to more middle class patrons and more genre scenes, still life, and landscape than paintings of religious subjects.

Frans Hals (1581-1666)

Frans Hals was the leading painter in Haarlem who made portraits his speciality. Portrait artists typically work their paintings around the sitter and there were an increasing number of middle class patrons in the area, which led to more challenging portraits. Most middle class Calvinists shunned ostentatious displays and therefore looked very similar in their dark clothing which led to lively ways of representing the sitters. Hals thus often focused on spontaneous looking images with an idea of casualness. Many of his paintings also utilize a generalized gestural brush work especially in the clothing allowing the emphasis on the sitters' features.

Franz Hals Archers of Saint Hadrian, 1633

Archers of Saint Hadrian is one of the many civic militia groups that claimed credit for liberating the Dutch Republic from Spain. The members are depicted meeting here on their saint’s feast day in dress uniform. The group here solves a problem of depicting the group but at the same time depicting the individuals with character despite the very similar outfits.



Franz Hals The Women Regents of the Old Men’s Home at Haarlem, 1664

Hals's painting of The Women Regents of the Old Men's Home at Haarlem further demonstrates the detail in character he is able to produce in group portraits. The painting depicts devout Calvinist women. The detail in depiction and in character is developed through their poses and expression. It also stands in stark contrast to the previously described scene of revelry. These women seem to take their jobs very seriously.

Rembrandt Van Rijn (1606-1669)

Rembrandt Van Rijn was widely recognized as the leading painter of his time in the Dutch Republic and has long been cherished by the Netherlands. His work delved into the psyche and personality of his sitters looking for the essence. His figures often emerge from darkness with a strong chirascuro and distinct modelling.

Rembrandt Van Rijn Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp, 1632

Rembrandt's portraits deviate even farther from the traditional group portrait. The figures are not evenly placed around the canvas. He is still forced here to deal with gaining individuality through pose rather than attire. The poses are even more dynamic as he expresses his understanding of anatomy, but also the casualness of the scene.

Rembrandt Van Rijn The Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq (Night Watch), 1642

Night Watch by Rembrandt is actually not a nocturnal scene. The dramatic lighting is used to enhance the image. It was commissioned for a new Musketeers’ Hall along with several others by other militia groups. The painting depicts frenetic activity as they prepare for a parade. Instead of together and interacting they are scurrying about adding to the drama. The painting has been the source of much controversy as the company was not pleased with the final composition and historians remain unsure about the prominent girl’s identity. The painting was later moved to the Rijksmuseum and cropped from it’s original design when it was moved to the town hall of Amsterdam.

Rembrandt Van Rijn Return of the Prodigal Son, 1665

Though in a heavily Protestant area, Rembrandt would still present religious images in his search for their meaning. He paid close attention to the passages looking for the essence or soul of the story and the human interaction. Rembrandt typically would study the Jews in Amsterdam and depict them in the scenes for more accuracy as he believed they were closest to the original thoughts and traditions of Jesus’ time. His neighbor was a wealthy rabbi who commissioned several portraits and might be depicted here as well.

Rembrandt Van Rijn Self-Portrait, 1659-1660

Rembrandt painted many self portraits over his lifetime. They demonstrate his use of light as hallmark to his style. The drastic lights and darks of earlier works gave way to subtle gradations to bring his technique closer to reality due to the ever changing qualities of light. Artists of this time are reaching their tonal variations and colors optically rather than theoretically. Light and dark are not fighting but seem to coexist in his later works. The circles on the wall behind him in this self portrait may allude to the legendary sign of artistic virtuosity, the ability to draw a perfect circle freehand or may simply be a design element to break up the negative space.

Rembrandt Van Rijn Christ with the Sick around Him Receiving the Children (Hundred Guilder Print), 1649

Rembrandt also did many etchings and prints. As prints can be reproduced, and many artists copied Rembrandt's style due to his popularity, there have become many issues with authenticating true Rembrandt works of art. The Rembrandt Research Project has been established to study Rembrandt and work toward authentication of any Rembrandt attributed piece.

The process of etching also allowed for artists to draw and reproduce more naturally than previous methods such as block printing. Rembrandt was especially known for his skill at etching.Christ with the Sick around him Receiving the Children is one of his most celebrated etchings and the nick name of the "Hundred Guilder Print" refers to the high price that was paid for the final print. The central theme is Christian humanity and mercy.

Jan Vermeer (1632-1675)

Jan Vermeer's paintings produce a sense of peace, familiarity and comfort shown mostly through interior scenes depicted with extreme care to detail and psychology. Most of his income came as an art dealer and inn keeper and through his wife's dowry. He produced only 35 paintings in his career leading a fairly quiet life becoming a master of the poetry of light. The subtleties of light as it enters the room have been studied by historians for generations.

His process is slow, painting through glazes allowing him to take great care in the quality of the light and how it affected surfaces. It has been speculated lately that he utilized a camera obscura to aid in the production of his paintings. Some evidence is in the so called “circles of confusion” and the sharpness of many of his works. The similarities in the size also lead to some of these readings.

Johannes Vermeer Allegory of the Art of Painting, 1670-75

In Allegory of the Art of Painting Vermeer paints a sort of self portrait. It shows objects of all types which allude to what you normally find in painting. The model dressed as Clio, the muse of history. The map further serves as another reference to history. The viewer placed outside the action, separated by the open curtain as in many of his works. The painting is a sort of embodiment of the art of painting with the light of inspiration. Following his death, this was the only painting that his widow wished to retain adding much personal significance to the piece.

Judith Leyster (1609-1660)

Judith Leyster Self Portrait, 1630

Judith Leyster studied from Hals and had a great career as a portraitist. She wears attire which associates her with a wealthy family and her painter's guild. She smiles and is confident in her abilities her work looks much like Hals while she also demonstrates that women were capable of forming an artistic career in the merchantilist society.

Landscape, Cityscape, and Still Life

Johannes Vermeer View of Delft, 1660-61

A growing Protestant middle class sought works of art that could add luxurious decoration to their home without being overtly religious in nature as many Catholic artworks often are. The marshy, swampy lands that came from reclaimation from the sea became a main subject of Netherlandish painters, who depicted the landscape with precision and sensitivity and with a great sense of how life was during the time. Cityscapes also became collectable as they were often collected by tourists or simply provided a sense of home to those who commissioned or bought such works.

Williem Claez Heda Still Life, 1634

The Dutch still lives at the time were remarkable in their accuracy and their poetic nature. They typically contain references to life and death but with the allure of precious objects now readily obtained through trade. Flower paintings were also prominent in the idea of vanitas. Still lives sold well for their decorative nature.


France became the largest and most powerful political country in the 17th century. Power was consolidated under King Louis XIV. There was an edict signed for religious tolerance, but in the end, Catholics ended up driving out the Protestants to more northern countries.

Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)

Many artists had a desire toward the classical and studied in Italy. Poussin spent most of his life in Rome. His work is typically very classically severe. He also published a theoretical explanation of his method which established classical painting as a major influence of French Baroque and thus became a foundation for the French Academic style of painting.

Nicolas Poussin Et in Arcadia Ego, 1655

Et in Arcadia Ego is Latin for "Even in arcadia I am present.” The painting demonstrates Poussin's rational order and stability taken from classical statuary. The composition maintains a Classical mathematical structure and is driven by landscape. The style becomes known as “grand manner” of classicism. Poussin states that in painting

the first requirement, fundamental to all others, is that the subject and narrative be grandiose, such as battles, heroic actions, and religious themes. Minute details should be avoided, as well as all "low subjects" such as genre. Those who choose base subjects find refuge in them because of the feebleness of their talents.

Poussin meant to rule out a lot of decorative arts with these remarks.


Nicolas Poussin Burial of Phocion, 1648

Burial of Phocion is a carefully chosen subject from the literature of antiquity. It depicts an Athenian general whom his compatriots unjustly put to death for treason. The body is being brought back to Athens for public burial after all was forgiven. The painting's solidarity is emphasized to express the abandoned at death. The landscape and architecture are also of classical significance.

Jacques Callot (1592-1635)

Jacques Callot was from the Duchy of Lorraine (technically independent from France). His work conveyed a sense of military life of the times in a series of etchings called, Large Miseries of War, a series that became a large influence for Rembrandt. Callot mastered etching and developed the media for other artists to benefit and utilized the speed and reproductive nature to highlight current events. In his etchings there are extreme amounts of detail with perfect execution. He presents images that seem observed and without comment from the wars in the area.

Jacques Callot Hanging Tree, 1633

Hanging Tree demonstrates a mass execution. The text identifies those hung as thieves. In the etching, a disciplined army carries out the action while priests and monks absolve the damned. This etching is one of the first realistic depictions of human disaster of armed conflict which will influence later artists such as Goya.

Georges de La Tour (1593-1652)

Georges de La Tour Adoration of the Shepherds, 1645-50

Georges de La Tour focused mainly on religous imagery. He became known for his single light sources inspired by Caravaggio. Often his paintings are of night settings. In Adoration of the Shepherds, the candle is masked by the man’s hand so it seems that the light radiates from Christ. La Tour removes any iconographic identification stressing the naturalism of a simple scene. There are no halos or ways of distinguishing the characters. The entire scene produces a supernatural calm as he eliminated motion and emotive gesture often found in his Baroque counterparts.

Louis XIV

Kink Louis XIV was a preeminent patron and master of political strategy and propaganda. He understood the power of art as propaganda and no pains were spared to raise great symbols and monuments to the kings absolute power. Louis XIV founded the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1648 which stressed the French classical style. The king kept a workshop of artists who all had specific specializations in depiction. He also believed that his rule was by divine right and adopted the nickname, “the sun king” as he found himself as the center of the universe.

Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659-1743)

Hyacinthe Rigaud Louis XIV, 1701

Hyacinthe Rigaud conveys Louis XIV as an absolute monarch. The king was 63 when this was painted. He is displayed in elegant attire and even in heeled shoes to make him stand taller as he was rather short. These also helped him to look down at the viewer in the painting.

Versailles (Begun 1669)


Louis XIV turned the hunting lodge at Versailles into the royal palace, moving out of Paris. The construction became the greatest architectural project of the age and a symbol of Louis XIV’s power and ambition. The palace was so large it also required a small city to be built for the workers, court, officials, military, etc. The palace itself became over a quarter mile long. City’s streets intersected at the king’s chamber showing him as the center of everything. There was a careful attention to detail from everything from the paintings to doorknobs.

Hall of Mirrors, 1680

The Hall of Mirrors has become one of the most famous rooms from the palace. The room overlooks the park from the second floor. The room originally had gold and silver furniture and jewelled trees before the French Revolution. The open space is emphasized through the hundreds of mirrors which further widen the feeling. The room expresses all of the greatest elements of Baroque interior design.(Chateau De Versailles Official Website)

Late Baroque

Later Baroque artists continued to expand many of the traditions of previous Italian catholic artists expanding into other territories. The sense of drama becomes all encompassing as artists consider every element of the viewing experience. The late Baroque begins to compete with a neo-classical aesthetic influenced by the growing scientific revolution.

Balthasar Neumann Pilgrimage chapel of Vierzehnheiligen

Balthasar Neumann travelled in Austria and Northern Italy and studied in Paris before becoming one of the most active architects in his native land. His baroque pieces incorporate large windows and richly decorated, continuous walls allow an even light to bath the space. He combines energy and fantasy without the Italian drama. The plan is made up of ovals and circles which make the space dynamic and play off the elaborate nature of he space.

Egid Quirin Asam (1692-1750)

Egid Quirin Asam Assumption of the Virgin, 1723

Asam demonstrates his desire to achieve unity of various artistic mediums. Assumption of the Virgin is influenced by late baroque architecture seen on a trip to Rome. Like Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa in its use of theatrical space. Figures ascending to heaven have gilded details that set them apart from those on earth. The product is an eye-deceiving mystical illusion.

Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770)

Tiepolo became known for his paintings on the ceilings of Late Baroque palaces. He also painted many festival scenes with characters from commedia del’arte, especially scenes incorporating the pouchinello. He is considered the last great Italian painter until the 20th century to have an international impact. Many of his paintings are considered a bridge between the dark Italian Baroque and the growing Rococo style due to their bright colors and relaxed compositions.

Giambattista Tiepolo Apotheois of the Pisani Family, 1761-62

Apotheois of the Pisani Family demonstrates a ceiling piece where airy figures are fluttering through vast sunlit skies. The painting retains the illusionistic styles of the 17th century but creates scenes of more elegance and grace which add to his popularity.


This module was produced by Professor Josh Yavelberg utilizing a mixture of open educational resources and notes from:
Kleiner, Fred. Gardner's Art through the Ages: The Western Perspective,|. Vol. 2. Cengage Learning, 2013.

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