Between the late 1500s and late 1700s, European art reflected a strict religious division into Protestantism and Catholicism (Sitwell 3). Due to the differences in life views, people who lived in Southern European countries, such as Italy and Spain, appreciated art which was dissimilar from that in Northern European countries, such as Britain, Germany, Switzerland, and Holland. The art in Europe of sixteenth through eighteenth centuries is traditionally referred to as Baroque. Even though Baroque was spread in both Southern and Northern European countries, it was different in terms of themes, materials, and colors.
The development of Baroque started in Southern Europe, and later it started spreading to Northern European countries. According to Sitwell. Southern Baroque emerged and reached its peak in Italy and Spain (4). The characteristics of baroque art are the abundance of ornaments and the combination of different arts within one piece of art. Despite the fact that both Southern and Northern Baroque had these features, there were some major dissimilarities between these two European regions. Specifically, Protestant churches no longer commissioned large-scale biblical pieces as they were thought to be idolatry and so replaced these with art that showed plainer and more personal Christianity. Meanwhile, Catholic art remained dramatic, dark, and was designed to look like heaven, the aim being to teach people about the Bible and Catholicism.
Southern Baroque painting was characterized by rationality, classicism, and light. Meanwhile, Northern Baroque was dramatic, dynamic, expressive, and full of grandiloquence. For instance, Caravaggio’s three paintings, such as The Calling of St. Matthew, The Inspiration of St. Matthew, and the Martyrdom of St. Matthew, are characterized by striking, realistic formulation of religious subject matter. They illustrate three elements of Baroque painting, including the diagonal, the dynamic, and the didactic. To compare, Jan Vermeer depicted bright paintings that demonstrate love to life, such as The Artist’s Studio. Similarly, Carracci’s paintings favored a more classical style of painting that was based on the study of antiquity and High Renaissance painters such as Michelangelo, Raphael, and Titian (Goetz 50-62). Baroque architecture in Southern Europe was dynamic and complex. To bring an example, Borromini’s façade of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane is full of drama and dynamism (Toman 125). To contrast, Northern architecture was less complex but more traditional and classicizing, like Charlottenburg Palace or Zwinger Palaces in Berlin, which have many decorative elements but are still rather traditional.
To sum it all up, Baroque is one of the most outstanding art movements in Europe of sixteenth through eighteenth centuries. Even though both Southern and Northern Baroque were characterized by the abundance of ornaments and the combination of different arts within one piece of art, there were some major dissimilarities between these two European regions. Specifically, Northern Baroque had more religious themes and used more dark or contrasting colors in painting, while Southern Baroque was lighter and aspired to Classicism. In architecture, Southern Baroque is also more complex and non-traditional. This means that Catholic values prevented art to develop to the fullest degree and reveal all its sides.
- Goetz, Hermann. “Oriental Types and Scenes in Renaissance and Baroque Painting-I.” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, vol. 73, no. 425, 1938, pp. 50-62.
- Sitwell, Sacheverell. Southern Baroque Art-Painting-Architecture and Music in Italy and Spain of the 17th & 18th Centuries. Read Books Ltd, 2013
- Toman R. (ed.). Baroque: Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting. – Tandem. Verlag gmbH, 2007.