Baroque Art and Its Greatest Artists

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Wow, Baroque art!

Even the origins of the word "baroque" itself are wild; with various 17th and 18th century meanings ranging from "irregular stone" to "imperfectly round pearl", more condescending meanings such as even "bizarre" were dallied about.

Why? Because nothing like it had ever been seen before. Following up in the breach of realist art Caravaggio opened up, the Catholic Reformation wanted to go even further, calling on the emotions of the devout, rather than on their reason - hence, Baroque art.

Italy was the cradle of Baroque. As it grew and spread, the figures in paintings became looser, more flowing, more dynamic; compositions were alive with energy, causing the eye to move in circles rather than in calm straight lines. Viewers grew goggle-eyed with well-fed angels in fluttering garments soaring heavenward, plump cherubs batting their wings, saints fainting in the ecstasy of their devotion, mythological figures assaulting, triumphing, kidnapping, battling - everything in movement.

Artists were driven to surprise and to move those beholding their paintings, and multiplied scenes of martyrdom and visions of death. There was most definitely a tendency to over-dramatize things, inherited from the Caravaggisti.

Since artists were following instructions issued by the Council of Trente to keep it clean for the Church, in Baroque art figures are rarely completely nude; rather, they were clad in rippling drapery. Notable exceptions to this rule were Jordaens and Rubens, Rubens especially loving to exalt the female figure by contrasting it with wispy fabrics, and the male figure set off with gleaming metal.

Unlike Classical paintings, where the figures stand out almost as if cut from paper, in Baroque art it is as if everything were of a single piece. Shapes interlock and swirl into each other, so much so that it is sometimes difficult to tell, as in the above painting by Rubens, where the horse ends and the assailant begins.

Please note in the listing below certain artists have not been assigned a number; that is because they have already been listed (with numbers) as followers of Caravaggio; Baroque art and Caravaggism overlap.

The Greatest Artists of Baroque Art

37. The Flemish Pierre Paul Rubens (1577-1640) is one of the best-known Baroque painters; his impact on 17th century imagery was significant, and served to make Antwerp a major center for Counter Reformation art, together with Jordaens and Van Dyck.

38. Frans Hals (1580-1666), considered one of art history's most brilliant portrait painters, was the first major artist of the Dutch Golden Age.

Frenchman Simon Vouet (1590-1649) is important for having been the artist who introduced the Italian Baroque to France; he studied Caravaggio's work while in Rome.

39. José de Ribera (1591-1652) was a major Spanish artist in his time, a follower of Caravaggio, who painted the horrors of human cruelty. Forgotten for centuries, it is only in recent years interest in his work has been (justifiably) revived.

40. Flemish Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678), a portrait painter, was the second artist, with Rubens and Van Dyck, to have created the prestige of the Antwerp school.

41. Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669) was the most important Italian Baroque painter of his time, being best known for his ceiling frescoes and other decorative painting work.

42. Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664), also known as the "Spanish Caravaggio", painted primarily religious art (left, probably self-portrait).

Spaniard Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez (1599-1660) was leading portrait painter at the court of Philip IV; his realist style later influenced Manet, Dali, Picasso and the even more contemporary Francis Bacon.

43. Sir Anthony Van Dyck was the third artist, with Rubens and Jordaens, who established the Antwerp school in the Dutch Golden Age. He became an important portraitist at the English court under Charles I.

44. Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) is considered to be one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age, and probably of all time. He was also a prolific and brilliant engraver.

45. Spaniard Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682) was a painter of primarily religious art, and up to the 19th century he was Spain's most widely-known artist. He also was known for his paintings of everyday life.

46. Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), who painted a relatively small number of domestic scenes, is nevertheless considered one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age.

Click here to take a look at Baroque paintings on the Wiki Commons website.

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