Baroque Period of art started in the late 1500's at the end of the Renaissance period to the mid-1700's at the beginning of the Neoclassical period. The term Baroque originally was a derogatory term for the overly ornate it originated from the Latin word Barocco meaning irregularly shaped pearl. Baroque Art was initially disparaged as being bizarre since it broke the rules of art. It wasn’t until the late 1800's that the term Baroque came to be used to describe the artistic style of the time rather than insult the art itself.

Baroque artists used an increased movement in their art to engage their viewers and create more drama. Baroque paintings play on the light and shadows to increase the tension of the scene in their paintings. There was an increased focus on Baroque artists creating a realistic expression on the faces in their paintings and creating dramatic real-time moments. Artists started to paint landscapes and still life which were quite lucrative as nature was a new focus of the times. One of Baroque art biggest hallmarks is the ornate and overly complicated and busy scenes. The Baroque period was full of curves, domes, and ornamentation. Artists often used a diagonal composition of the figures in their paintings.

The Disembarkation of Cleopatra at Tarsus by Claude Lorrain

The Baroque period marked an introduction to the concerto style of music; the concerto style utilizes at least two groups of instruments to collaborate with another instrument or voice. During the Baroque period, common practice tonality was made popular changing the harmony of the music; this was accomplished by using major and minor scales. The methods used to tune instruments also began to change during the Baroque period. The opera was introduced and the oratorio, concerto, sonata and cantata rose in popularity.

Baroque literature like the music and art of the period was known for being overly complex full of symbolism, metaphors, allegories, artifices and hyperbole. The purpose of the literature during this time was to evoke an emotional response in the reader from their everyday life.

The Astronomer by Veemer

The Baroque period was affected by the history of the time: scientific discovery, war, the introduction of mass print production and the religious tensions of the time contributed to the ever-evolving world of art. Scientific discovery in the Baroque period made people rethink the world as they knew it, even their values and beliefs. During the Baroque period, Galileo discovered gravity, invented the telescope, studied the stars. The new scientific discoveries affected the themes of art as in “The astronomer,” by Veemer; It also affected people by making them question things that they had not previously thought of.

The Americas are being settled and explored such as in 1607 when Jamestown is first settled and 1619 when the first slaves are brought to America. The world was being further explored, and the explorers were bringing back their stories and culture of the areas they explored back home; this often influenced the art themes including work such as Ruben’s, “Caza de Hipopotamos.”

Caza de Hipopotamos by Rubbens

The continued explorations and scientific discoveries influenced the art world by making landscapes popular; this also had ramifications in the music world where composers often used nature as inspiration for their compositions such as Bach’s, “Air” and Vivaldi “Four Seasons.”

The Seven Works of Mercy, 1607 by Caravaggio

The Thirty-year war was another major contributor to the Baroque movements inspiration. It began when the Holy Roman emperor Ferdinand II attempted to force his religion on all his lands; the war continued when other rulers saw the war as an opportunity to gain addition land. A significant tension during the war was the debate between the catholic church and protestants. Many were upset about the Catholic churches abuse of power. The introduction of mass printing led to the public examining scriptures more on their own instead of only hearing it recited during mass. There was still a significant portion of the public that were illiterate this lead to the counter-reformation by the Catholic Church. The Catholic church was trying to combat the work of protestants and draw the public back to the Catholic church. The church sought to use art, music, and literature to educate the people; The popes of the Baroque period attempted to use the pieces as propaganda such as, “The Seven Works of Mercy” and “The Raising of Lazarus” by Caravaggio.

Raising of Lazarus by Carravaggio 1609

Many artists, writers, and musicians felt the effects of the war that continued for its thirty-year length due to religious disagreements and territorial disputes. One of the Baroque authors who felt the wars affected the deepest and affected his writing was that of Andreas Gryphius. The war didn’t end until 1648 the Treaty of Westphalia was signed.

The political strife of the war also affected the music composer began to use increasing surprising dissonance and breaking the musical rules of the past. They seemed to set instruments against each other as if in a political opposition recreating the altercations of the time.

The mass production of print further affected the world of music in the Baroque period; music was published and shared with less difficulty. The Catholic church encouraged the use of music as propaganda after the Council of Trent. They also recommended the change to a polyphony style to make the lyrics of religious music more understandable.

Just as scientific discoveries affected the art of Baroque movement, it also affected the music. The composers began to study music and its relationship to mathematics such as Pythagoras theorem. Instruments were improved on from the Renaissance period such as the string family.

The Baroque literature demonstrated the push of the church to write works that evoked intense emotion; tragedies, poetry and prose with themes of war, and spiritual struggles.

Paradise Lost by John Milton

The Baroque artists disdained the Mannerist style of the late Renaissance and sought to change the art world. The Renaissance period used clearly defined lines and contours in contrast to the Baroque period were some contours are lost in the shadows and blurred. The Renaissance art era placed the subjects of the art in a parallel plane of view; where the Baroque period often placed figures at a diagonal angle. Art from the Renaissance was balanced and symmetrical; the Baroque period was often an asymmetrical composition. The Baroque art period often had people and figures on the edges of the artwork partially cutoff. The Renaissance period art had flat backgrounds; the Baroque period used light and shadows to create depth. Baroque artists focused on a realistic view and the Renaissance artists used a more idealized outlook in their art pieces.

The Renaissance The Baroque

The Renaissance period transitioned into the Baroque period of art after the Council of Trent. The Council of Trent was a meeting of the Catholic Church to discuss the Counter Reformation movement. After the Council of Trent, the Catholic Church encouraged and commissioned many forms of art and architecture to educate the public on Catholic beliefs and bible stories. These art forms that were commissioned were used as propaganda to support the Catholic Church and affect the growing protestant movement. The church encouraged art forms that would emotionally charge the public; this led to the overly ornate Baroque style that used a plethora of light and shadows to create depth.

Elevation of the Cross by Rubbens The Guard Room by Manfredi

The Renaissance movement was more constrained than the Baroque musical era. The Baroque movement had a greater variety of tempo compared with the Baroque movement; this was due greatly to the Catholic churches insistence that all art form would affect the audience to greater emotional level than they had in the past. The Baroque movement in music and literatures were often ornate and complex.

When the Age of Enlightenment began the art world looked to the past of classic Roman and Greek art forms of the past for inspiration; this started the Neoclassical period. The Neoclassical period followed the Baroque period returning to simplicity and away from the ornamentation of the Baroque. The themes in the art world also began changing from a religious focus to a patriotic focus around the time of the French Revolution. This patriotic spirit is demonstrated in the painting by Jacques-Lous David titled, ‘Oath of the Horatio. ”

The Oath of Horatio by Jaques-Lous David from the Neoclassical era

The Neoclassical period followed the late Baroque movement called the Rocco period. During the Neoclassical period artists turned back to the style of ancient Greek and Rome; they tried to bring the classic style of the time back. This was in part due to new historic discoveries such as Pompeii. Artists of the Neoclassical period turned away from the Rocco movement thinking it frivolous.

The Baroque The Neoclassical

Music during the Neoclassical period changed from the earlier emphasis on the intellect behind a composition to the theory that music should be appreciated for its aesthetic quality alone. Harmonies also became held as increasingly important during the Neoclassical period.

The Neoclassical period showed a dramatic amount of restraint compared to the Baroque era. Authors found increasing fondness in writing essays to discuss enlightenment values and the values of the middle class.

Significant Artists of the Baroque Period

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

Rubens was a famous seventieth century painter and diplomat born in Germany. His family was acquainted with the tensions of the times when his father fled Germany due to religious persecution. After the death of his father Rubens was raised in the Catholic faith; his faith and the Counter-Reformation led to numerous emotionally charged art pieces with religious themes. His first profession was working for a countess and a court page. He soon after began training to become an artist. Rubens traveled throughout Italy to gain knowledge from the works of the Renaissance art that abounded there. He returned to Antwerp his childhood home town after his mother’s passing where he was commissioned as an artist by the Netherland royals. Rubens was in high demand with both his artistic and diplomatic duties for many royals. Rubens was married twice and had many children; towards the end of his life he spent his time on his art and spending time with his family. He was particularly fond of his second wife often featuring her in his work such as “The garden of Love”. Rubens particularly enjoyed painting landscapes during the end of his life before an attack of Gout led to his death in 1640.

Garden of Love by Rubens
Caravaggio. Michelangelo Merisi (1571-1610)

Caravaggio was a well-known Baroque artist known for his use of lighting, dark backgrounds and large religious art pieces. He disdained the renaissance masters and preferred to use a more natural style in his paintings. His father was a stone mason while his mother had connection to one of the most powerful families in Italy. His family struggled during the bubonic plague, when he was only five, leading to the death of several family members including his father. Religious leaders blamed the plague on people turning away from the church; which may have influenced his later intense focus of his religious art pieces. Some of his better-known religious pieces included: “The Seven Works of Mercy”, “Raising of Lazarus”, “The Calling of Saint Mathew”, and “The Conversion of Saint Paul”. In addition, he also painted several still life pictures including that of the “Still life with fruit on a stone ledge”. He was the first to use “chiaroscuro “ a dramatized use of light and dark to evoke heightened emotion, as the Counter reformation called for following the Treaty of Trent. He traveled to Rome in search of a patron; after several years of failing to find a patron he found a little luck after painting a series of painting involving a man being tricked out of his fortune. Caravaggio was immersed in not only the art of the Baroque period but the music as well thanks to the patronage of the Cardinal del Monte. He later faced discrimination for his use of the humility and the poor when it fell out of fashion with the Catholic Church. His secular paintings continued to gain Caravaggio was notorious for his violent tendency and the murder he later committed during a duel. Labeled as an outlaw Caravaggio fled Rome to go to Naples where he painted “The Seven Works of Mercy”. He later traveled to Malta joining a group of soldiers to make war against Islam and receiving a pardon from the Pope. In Malta he continued to paint for the Order of St. John to pay for his entrance fee to join the soldiers. After another violent encounter with a knight in Malta, Caravaggio was imprisoned before finally escaping. He spent the rest of his life as an outlaw on the run and was buried in an unmarked grave.

The Calling of St. Matthew, Conversion of St. Paul, Still Life with Fruit on a Stone Ledge by Caravagio
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669)

A famous baroque portrait painter known for his use of light and shadows. Rembrandt was well known for his realistic expressions of his portrait subjects. He was also well respected for his many etchings; he accomplished over 300 in his career. Later, in his career Rembrandt expanded his subject matter to include that of mythology, historical and biblical themes. He was one of ten children although four of his siblings did not survive infancy. His family came from a line of millers and bakers; he was raised in Leiden. After starting Latin school, Rembrandt quit early to pursue his artistic skills. He moved from Leiden to Amsterdam to further pursue his career where he later married the daughter of a Mennonite art dealer. Rembrandt later struggled after his wife passing and went on to have numerous relationships with the women in his employment. His son Titus and his mistress helped to support Rembrandt through his financial difficulties in his later years. The cause of his death was not well documented, and at the age of sixty-three, he was buried in Amsterdam. Despite not receiving many commissions from wealthy patrons where he was the first choice, Rembrandt made a large impression on the later Romantic art period that followed the Neoclassical period.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 –1680)

Bernini was a famous baroque artist and architect in Italy. He was particularly famous for his sculptures such as “Apollo and Daphne,” “The David,” and “Medusa.” He was originally from Naples-trained early on by his father. Bernini sculpted from an early age completing his first bust at the age of ten; he later went on to make many busts such as the one he made of Louis XIV. He was able to establish his independence in his career thanks to the patronage of Pope Paul V. He was influenced by periods of earlier art such as the Renaissance artist Michelangelo. Bernini was often commissioned to produce art for the church like the St. Peter's Baldachin and the supporting columns for the dome of ST. Peters. His faith greatly shaped his work; he attended mass and communion weekly. Bernini designed tombs and other architectural projects such as bell towers. His bell towers and early architecture failed when cracks began to form. Towards the end of his life, he began focusing on designing and building structures the most recognized being the Colonnade and Piazza of St. Peters Basilica. Bernini served eight popes in his career before passing away at the age of eighty-one.

Bernini's masterpieces
Bernini fountain of the four rivers Piazza Navona Rome, Italy

Musicians of the Baroque Period

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Bach came from a family of well-respected musicians, but he himself was most famous for his skills as a composer. His parents passed away when Bach was only a boy of ten. He was the youngest of his siblings and was taken in by the eldest brother when his parents passed away. He was appointed as an organist at the age of eighteen before which he was in the poor boy's choir. In 1705 he walked over 200 hundred miles to further enhance his education for a month-long leave to the city of Lubeck, Germany. Bach influenced by his family and travels combined his experiences from northern, southern Germany with that of the French organ to gain inspiration for his early compositions; he later was influenced by the Italian opera. He married his cousin in the year 1707 while living in Thuringia. Bach was at times a court organist, part of an orchestra, and concertmaster. After being imprisoned for thirty days for daring to resign as concert master, Bach moved again and was finally able to accept the position of music director for Prince Leopold. In 1720 his wife passed away, and within a year he was remarried to the daughter of a trumpeter. Bach was the father of twenty children in his lifetime. Financially Bach was stuck in middle class and was often heard to complain of his wages. Following the death of Prince Leopold, he directed music for the churches of Leipzig conducting the music for multiple area churches. Sometime later Bach changed positions to become the composer to the elector of Saxony. After two failed operation on his eyes to save his vision and a related illness Bach passed away in 1750. Bach work was not well thought of in the following neoclassical period of music as his work was considered to be old-fashioned.

Handel George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

Handel was a well-known Baroque musician and composer who showed signs of talent early on in his life. Handel known for his Baroque style lyrics and instrumental music was one of the most famous composers of his time. He enjoyed the theater and often used it to introduce new pieces of music to the public. He was very adept at creating concertos, operas, overtures, harpsichord music and sonatas. His father was a surgeon who died when Handel was only eleven. He later went on to law school and was an organist at a nearby Calvinist church. A year later he quit to join an opera orchestra to play the violin. Handel went on to travel throughout Italy where he was influenced to compose multiple opera pieces. Handel journeyed to England where he worked for the future King of England. When King George the first came into power Handel started work for the Duke of Chanos continuing his success with the English aristocracy. In 1727 after becoming an English citizen he further went up in his rank to work for royalty once again. Handel also composed music for the Royal academies of music soon after his work began to lose popularity after the Italian opera style of music lost momentum in English culture. Handel later was once again popular this time with the English middle class when turned his focus from the secular Italian operas to music that was inspired by the Bible; he showed how adept he was at adapting to the climate of music in England to avoid growing financial problems. He often obtained inspiration from his travels through Italy specifically that of the Italian opera. There is no record of Handel ever marrying or having children. After increasing difficulties with his sight, he had an eye operation that later led to complete blindness. Handel was buried in England’s poet's corner in Westminster Abbey.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

Vivaldi was an Italian composer renowned for his composing of concertos and Baroque instrumental music. As the eldest child, Vivaldi was primarily instructed in his younger years by his father in music; he went on to be ordained into the priesthood. He was an accomplished violinist who went on to train female foundlings in the art of music. Vivaldi suffered from severe asthma which affected his career in the priesthood. Vivaldi was an accomplished composer of operas, sacred vocal music, and cantatas which he received many commissions to produce such musical pieces. In the 1730's Vivaldi struggled with increasing failure when his musical style fell out of popularity. He was paramount in establishing the fast-slow-fast, three-movement concerto. He was one of the first composers to write music with an increasing use of solo numbers for individual instruments. Vivaldi never married and died after his career took a nose dive when he was headed towards poverty.

Writers of the Baroque Period

John Milton (1608-1674)

Milton’s poetry is his most famous writing primarily written during the period of angst between the Church of England and the Puritans. He also wrote other well-known works such as “Paradise Lost” a twelve-book saga. His themes during these years include that of freedom and oppression from tyranny. He often assisted the government with foreign policy as his writings were often very successful in persuading his audience. Milton used mythological allusions, visual pictorial details, and the contrasting impulses of human nature. Milton was well learned in foreign languages including Italian, Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. His topics often ranged from political to biblical; his style was inspired by Renaissance writers of the past. He embraced the style of writing from earlier times but was disgusted with their views and writings on true heroism. He often mocked the heroism of the past era and instead instructed his readers on Christian virtues his idea of true heroism. He was born in England one of six children although only two other siblings survived infancy. Milton’s father, worked as both a composer and a scrivener in London after he was disinherited by his father for his political beliefs. Milton was influenced by his religious attitudes by his tutor and then later during instruction at St Paul school; He did not agree with Catholicism. Milton went onto study at Cambridge for the ministry which was interrupted by a suspension for one year. He faced much criticism for his delicate feature and appearance while at Cambridge. He never went onto join the ministry. He was much affected by the goal of life-long learning that was popular in the time as new science discoveries were unfolding. Milton also enjoyed the luxury of travel to enhance his life-long learning goal. Milton had five children three of which lived past infancy and three wives throughout his lifetime. Milton was often at odds with his children due to their lack of shared interests. He suffered from problems with his vision, headaches, and ultimately complete blindness. When Charles the second was crowned King Milton was let go from his position of assisting with foreign policy and imprisoned before family bailed him out. After departing London, he suffered from Gout and ultimately perished in 1674.

Shakespeare William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

A world-famous dramatist and poet Shakespeare is one of the most well-read authors of all time. His plays are one of the most reproduced works compared to any other play wright. Shakespeare father held the positions of a Burgess, alderman, and bailiff. Shakespeare never attended university despite his literary success might otherwise imply. He married at the age of eighteen early in his life; they had three children. His only son died at age eleven. He lived apart from his wife the majority of their marriage. Shakespeare joined the Lord Chamberlain’s company of players where his plays were performed at the Globe theater. After the year 1603, Shakespeare transitioned from actor to playwright. He enjoyed financial success during his time as a playwright even having his played performed before royalty at court. Little else is known about Shakespeare personal life other than mere speculation. He obtained great inspiration for his early plays from that of the playwrights of the 1580's. In addition to the world, famous plays he wrote Shakespeare was also a poet. He often used past literary work for research and inspiration for the plays he wrote. Multiple plays of Shakespeare’s career use multiple plot lines, female disguises to enhance the intrigue of his plays. Shakespeare’s death is a mystery although there is a suggestion from records that he may have died of a fever. During the later neoclassical period, authors did not think well of Shakespeare thinking he lacked judgment and decorum; his plays during this period were often tweaked to appear more refined to the neoclassical audiences. BY the late 1700s Shakespeare’s plays regained popularity, and he was beginning to be remembered as a national poet England celebrated the poet’s birthday starting in 1769.

George Herbert (1593–1633)

A Baroque writer and poet known for his faithful service to God and the church Herbert was a pivotal writer of his time. Herbert was born in Wales to his father a local sheriff and member of parliament in a wealthy and powerful family. His father died when Herbert was just a child of three years old. His family moved around several times when Herbert was young before finally settling in London. George was educated at home by a tutor before continuing his education at Westminster school and finally on to University in Cambridge where he obtained a masters degree. Herbert’s first job was an orator at Cambridge and later as a deacon of the church. Despite his family’s wealth, Herbert struggled with money due to his oldest brother often sending his yearly money his father bequeathed him infrequently. His money problems were vastly improved when he was given land by the Crown which he later sold for profit. In 1629 he married and moved to the country before he ultimately joined the priesthood. He also had health problems that are not well documented other than he often felt week and had to be on a special diet. Hebert struggled with combining his secular and religious interests when choosing a career. Herbert demonstrated his faith influence in his writing when he stated, “that my poor Abilities in Poetry, shall be all, and ever consecrated to Gods glory." Herbert had no love for the Roman Catholic church and instead seemed to align his views with the Protestants; he despised the excess of the Catholic church. Herbert also composed historical and Latin poetry during his lifetime.

Andreas Gryphius (1616-1664)

A popular Baroque period poet and dramatist Gryphius is known for his pessimism and melancholy in his writings. Gryphius was deeply affected by the thirty-year war and the religious tensions of the time. He was orphaned early in life further contributing to his dark view of the world around him. He traveled through Germany, France, Italy and Holland furthering his education and tutoring the sons of the area noblemen; he later took a job as a government official. Gryphius was known not only for his poetry but also the five tragedies and three comedies he wrote; His poetry showed the emotions people experience during of life’s calamities.

Knowledge attained

Baroque period is very compelling due to the way history has shaped and changed the art world during this time frame; it is full of ornate, colorful, complex compositions filled with light and shadows. The biggest stone rippling the pond and altering the art world during the Baroque period was the religious climate of the time; the baroque period is startlingly in demonstrating the amount of pull that religion has on the art scene. The Baroque period is fascinating in what it teaches about the challenges that artists, musicians, and authors often face. The study of the Baroque period provides new respect for the who create art.

Created by: Kristin R. Raines

Informational sources include









Heller, W. (2013). Music in the Baroque Period [Kindle edition]. W. W. Norton & Company.

Sources used only for Pictorial and video sources include

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