Written By Mira Divan (Grade 5)
Before I dive into comparing Renaissance and Baroque art, I must explain a bit of both. Let me start with the Renaissance. The word Renaissance means rebirth- the rebirth of culture, art, architecture, innovation and philosophy. This period extended from the 14th to the 17thcentury, right after the Middle Ages. The Renaissance culture started from the great cities of Italy and spread over all of Europe. During this time, the economy was booming, people had good jobs, the pope was reigning, the magnificent Medici family was flourishing and most importantly, great artists were thriving. This was the age of Michelangelo, Raphael, Jan van Eyck and Sandro Botticelli. This era was filled with religious paintings and portraits of royalty.
The Baroque Period couldn’t be any more different. There were still mostly religious paintings, but a few artists were beginning to create an entirely new genre of art. Where everything was not perfect, but also realistic. Extending from the 17th to 18th century, the people of that time were drawn to this art because they could relate to it. The real scenes capturing pure emotion had no large portrayals, no godly halos, and yet shook the feelings of the people. The name of this age is perfect- Baroque, meaning ‘irregularly shaped’. It explains the real roots of the great Baroque art. It’s not always so perfect, yet it is beautiful. How just how, did art change so much?
It is tough, even for art historians to explain how exactly artists began thinking so differently, but here are our best guesses as to what kindled this extremely sudden change. Most people suspect the birth of Protestant culture. Martin Luther had caused much commotion and it was said that the church and the pope were threatened by the number of people who were turning their backs on Catholic ideas and shifting to a Protestant style of living. To regain their immense power, it was decided that extremely moving scenes of holiness would be created by artists in order to draw the public towards the church. They did succeed, mostly, but behind the scenes, a big reformation was brewing. It did not take time for the artists, priests and the pope to understand that the people did not see anything appealing in Renaissance art anymore. It was time for more emotional and real paintings.
The solution that the Baroque artists came up with was a few very important aspects of Baroque art – diagonals, imbalance and extreme use of light and dark patches. That brings us to our very first comparison of Renaissance and Baroque art. Renaissance art had a very even spread of light. Across the foreground of a painting, every object would have the same amount of light falling on it. The same applied for the middle ground and the background. The images were also always in pure sunlight, but the sun was never shown, as that would lead to too much light in one place. The paintings also had a triangular shape, which was extremely characteristic of Renaissance art. The triangle is the most stable shape, and Renaissance art was all about stability. Finally, the figures featured in the art were embodied the classical idea of beauty, which originated all the way from Ancient Greece. The perfect example of a typical Renaissance painting is ‘Madonna del Prato’ by the famous artist Raphael.
Coming to Baroque art, as opposed to the even light, there was an extreme chiaroscuro. Chiaroscuro is the use of light and dark to create a realistic effect that appeals to the viewer. The Baroque paintings have stark differences between their light and dark areas, which instantly stands out for the viewer. Instead of a triangle, Baroque art had diagonals, which represented imbalance. Lastly, Baroque art did not always have happy scenes. There were dark and grim scenes too, but it only enhanced the idea of having an imperfect world with beauty.
Something I would like to point out in this whole comparison is the main subject of the art pieces. I understand that most Baroque art is full of royalty and religion but some of the art was also about everyday life. The reason this new idea of beauty was created was that the commissioners weren’t only the church. As prosperity spread to North Europe, the Dutch Golden Age approached, and the Dutch merchants had enough money to commission their own art. They didn’t want religious scenes. They wanted a new kind of art and gave the artists the utmost, largest prize that they could imagine – the freedom to create whatever they wanted and unleash their full potential.
Take Johannes Vermeer, who to my mind was the most legendary painter of all time. His beautiful, quiet, serene scenes do not have large portrayals and godly halos, but they encourage us to see the beauty in the normal. Thanks to his pieces, we found the extraordinary in the ordinary. Here is arguably one of his most enchanting paintings of all time: ‘The Girl with a Pearl Earring’.
Call me biased, but I think Baroque art is better because it had the power of not only beauty but philosophy. For me, it does not get any better than having these two branches of ideas, skill and knowledge to create something new. Philosophy tangles so much with art that it is almost hard to define boundaries.
I simply cannot leave you with these ideas without asking which one you like better- Renaissance or Baroque art. The Renaissance was brilliant because it was the first time that truly excellent art was produced. The Baroque period was the first time that beauty in normalcy was found. Think carefully before choosing- they both had wonderful aspects. Which do you think is a greater breakthrough?
Featured Image Courtesy – Artst