Art History for Chapter 10:
Liberation of Mind and Body: Early Modern Europe, 1543 to 1815
With the beginning of modern history, artistic trends begin to diversify. Instead of one or two dominant styles of art, artists could pick and choose as they tried to improve upon Renaissance foundations while addressing the cultural interests of the age. Religious and regional differences intensify the diversity.
The dominant style after the Renaissance is often called Baroque, wherever it was created. It embodied the artistic expression of revived Catholicism of the Counter-Reformation ornate, full of movement, vitality, exaggeration, voluptuousness, drama. The new art academies sponsored by governments made sure a ready supply of artists was at hand, with numerous assistants to help masters with huge works that covered vaults of palaces and cathedrals. The French Salon’s juried exhibit began in 1667, controlling and regulating art for the next two centuries.
In Protestant regions, especially in Netherlands, it tended more toward dignity and contemplative dignity. The Dutch style moved quicker from Baroque into Neo-classicism, the style that predominated in the Enlightenment that followed the Reformation.
Later, a lighter and more florid variant, called Rococo briefly flourished.
The two main centers of innovation for the Roman Catholic Baroque were Italy and the part of the Lowlands where the Flemish lived. The style also flourished, though in Habsburg Spain and Austria, as well as through much of Germany.
The artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) not exemplifies the Flemish baroque but was himself a significant figure. As a handsome, educated diplomat he travelled all over Europe. He set up a major studio with students and assistants able to produce thousands of paintings, many huge grandiose compositions. His full-bodied sensual nudes earned the name “rubenesque.”
Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652) in Italy offers an example of a woman artist unfairly neglected by art critics and historians for decades. Her own legal troubles with accusing her father’s assistant of raping her also illustrates the trouble women faced. She seems to have channeled some of her rage into versions of Judith beheading Holofernes.
Spanish Baroque with Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) pushed the boundaries of design and meaning.
ROCOCO, in the mid-Eighteenth Century became more playful and decorative. Boucher and Fragonard concocted fluffy scenes of sensuality and seduction.
Since building churches was so expensive, many Baroque churches were created by layering new art on top of older Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance churches.
The style was also embraced by absolute monarchs, eager to build palaces to overawe their rivals and subjects with their growing power.
In Spain, Philip II built El Escorial outside Madrid;
in France, Louis XIV built Versailles outside Paris;
in Austria, Maria Theresa built Schönbrunn outside of Vienna.
The standout northern artist was Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669). Briefly popular in his own time, too soon Rembrandt’s obsession with his own artistic vision failed to satisfy the tastes of his customers. His art became increasingly introspective, brooding and solemn especially after the death of his wife. light and dark, dramatic highlights, precise detail, in early years. later more somber: with thick strokes, so paint sparkle. Ignored for several centuries after his death, because he was characterized as self-centered and cranky, and his paintings were seen as to sentimental. The sober, The Night Watch is perhaps his most famous painting.
The mysterious Johannes/Jan Vermeer (1632-1675) was even more forgotten, until the 20th Century, partly because he is survived by only a few dozen paintings. They were done with meticulous attention to fine detail, bathed in light, thick beads of paint reflecting light and adding to dimensionality
Still lifes, of tables set for dinner or flower arrangements, were very popular in Holland. Also landscapes of the bare Dutch countryside or the ships at sea, on which their commerce depended.
In England, William Hogarth critiqued the social problems of his age, including moral hypocrisy.
Northern Baroque architecture is more stiff and staid, blending into the later Enlightenment Neo-Classical style. Sir Christopher Wren helped London rebuild after the Great Fire of 1666, culminating in St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Reacting against some of excess of the Baroque and aligning with the cooler rationality of the Enlightenment, the style of Neo-Classicism became increasingly popular after the Mid-Eighteenth Century. Helping to establish its dominance among artists were national academies of art. In a positive way they provided support, encouragement, and a market for artists; in a negative way they excluded many artists and discouraged art that went in other directions than the established taste. For Neo-Classicism that meant an emphasis on biblical and classical themes done in a calm, naturalistic style.
The discovery of Roman painting and many other antiquities unearthed as the ancient cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii were excavated and rediscovered, as well as the tendencies of the American Revolution and French Revolution to appeal to classical antiquity also played a role in forming that taste.
More of the growing and prosperous middle classes influenced the academies, since they also began to buy art in quantity, in new galleries. Along with exhibitions in the galleries, more people gained new access to art as the first art museums were founded. Before them, most people experienced art in church alone, while the aristocrats and royals had their palaces decorated.
Neo-classical art emphasized “painterly” clean lines and balanced composition as idealized from Greek and Roman art. It often appears stiff and stylized, like the statuary it is based on.
Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825 ) became the painter of the French Revolution and Napoleon. His “Oath of the Horatii” captured the masculine self-sacrifice for higher ideals of liberty and country. His “Death of Marat” idealized the revolutionary murdered in the bath he soaked in to treat his disfiguring skin disease.
Sculptors returned to the calm poses and mythological subjects of classical Greek and Roman art. They strove to match their style to both ancient and Renaissance sculptors.
Neo-classical architecture again revived the designs and of classical antiquity. Many buildings of the early American Republic, especially designed by Thomas Jefferson, are representative of this style.
Several Neo-classical churches were built in Northern Europe.
A unique artist is the Spanish Francisco de Goya (1746-1828). His art strongly influenced later realists and impressionists. Starting as a typical court painter, he soon began to capture dark psychology in his portraits. He attacked the horrors of war in etchings and his famous painting "The Third of May 1808" lamenting executions during the Napoleonic War. At the end of his life, his “Black Paintings” reflect melancholy, horror, and brutality (such as "Saturn Devouring One of His Children").