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A Brief History of Baroque Art
By Paul Rance


Baroque art emerged in the first years of the 17th Century in Italy, which was the centre of the art world at the time. Typical characteristics of Baroque art were that it was both decorative and dramatic. Baroque art was used to good effect in gracefully designed paintings, sculpture, and architecture.

Importance of the Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church was particularly supportive of Baroque art, and was keen to encourage the creation of religious scenes that were prevalent in this new type of art. The Catholic Church had been reeling after the impact of the Protestant Reformation, and saw supporting Baroque art as a way of regaining some of its diminishing power. The Catholic Church's influence was still strong in many areas of Europe, however, and its support of Baroque art impacted on Europe's royal houses. Emperors and royalty embraced Baroque art, and used it for the design of their buildings and collected sculpture and paintings in the Baroque style.

When artists looked to impress the Catholic Church, some critics suggest that Baroque art, when at its most extreme, appears to be ostentatious. Characteristics of Baroque painting were swirling shapes and a strong use of colour. Paintings of figures were created to impress, and make an impression on, the viewer regarding the power of God, and, consequently, the importance of the Catholic Church.

It would be unfair to dismiss Baroque art as a kind of propaganda art, as, at its best, it was art that has rarely been equalled in terms of beauty. Religious frescos of the Baroque period are at the high end of man's artistic achievement, and it was art that was designed to provoke an emotional response from the viewer.

Great Baroque Artists

Baroque art did not just have a strong base in Catholic countries, as it reached the Protestant Netherlands, and it coincided with the golden age of Dutch art, which saw the rise of Rembrandt. With an emphasis on realism, Dutch Baroque art was popular with rich Dutch families. Painting by Dutch artists of this period tended to have a glossy style.

Artists such as Carravaggio and Velazquez took realism in art to new heights, and there was a dynamism about much of Baroque art that awed people all over Europe. Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens created work on a big scale, and he was one example of Baroque art displaying its lofty ambitions.

The Rise of Russian Baroque Art

The Baroque style of art went largely out of favour in most of Europe at the end of the 17th Century, but not in Russia. Though Russia was late in taking to Baroque art, it was popular there until well into the 18th Century. Many Italian architects were used to design Baroque architecture in a Russian style.

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