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The purpose of this blog is to explain the basics of art and culture to English language learners in secondary school in Slovakia. This is not for profit. If you look to your right, you'll see a long list of topics that I plan to cover. This is a large project that will most likely take years to complete, covering some topics I know little about (like dance), so I will be borrowing heavily from other experts, with their permission, giving credit wherever possible. Please be patient, and, of course, all advice is greatly appreciated.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Baroque Art

Waldemar Januszczak’s Baroque – Episode 1 Notes


a piazza – Italian for plaza or square. Yes, we call it a square even if it’s not shaped like one.
a colonnade – a row of columns.
sacred – holy, of or blessed by God.
to prostrate – to lay down in submission, face down.
anathema – cursed, denounced, often followed by excommunication, or expulsion from the church.
idolatry – worshiping (uctievanie) objects as if they were God.
a baluster - a short column, often used for railings.
a chapel – a small place to pray. It can be a small church, or part of a larger church or cathedral.
a baldachin – a canopy placed over the altar in a cathedral.
a cherub – an angel that looks like a baby.
a missionary – someone who travels to foreign lands to convert pagans to your religion.
a cabal – an illegal organization.


v The Baroque had its political roots in the Catholic Counter Reformation. The church felt threatened by Martin Luther who considered art idolatry, and science to be “that great whore”, as we learned in Gulliver’s Travels. So, the church wanted to promote art that would display their superiority - their virtues, and their power.

v What sets the Baroque apart is its grandeur. The Baroque was about making things big, rich, golden, impressive, and filled with decorations and ornament. Sometimes they went overboard, which is where the Baroque got its name.

v The word ‘baroque’ comes from the Portuguese word ‘barroco’meaning a misshapen pearl. The idea is it’s pretty, but irregular, complicated, and strange. In trying to decorate and enhance beauty , it loses sight of Renaissance aesthetics, commonly considered to be superior.

v Baroque art blurred the lines between painting, sculpture, and architecture, combining them in the creation of churches and chapels, to create a kind of theatre. The idea is you can walk into the artwork, like a 17th century virtual reality.


Bernini, Gian Lorenzo (1598-1680): sculptor, architect, and painter, Bernini is considered the greatest artist of the Baroque, both for his incredible craftsmanship, and for his close relationship and influence with the church in Rome. He designed the piazza for St. Peter’sin Rome as well as the bronze baldachin inside – the pope had him melt down ancient Greek statues to do it. He also designed the Church of San Andrea al Quirinale, and the Cornaro Chapel in the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, which shows his Ecstacy of St. Theresa.

Ecstacy of St. Teresa, Cornaro Chapel

Apollo & Daphne
Borromini, Francesco (1599-1667): The architect who designed the Church of San Carlo in Rome, and the courtyard next to it. It’s a maze of curves. There are hardly any straight lines anywhere in the design, with an oval roof and curved walls hiding that the church takes up a rectangular space. He’s the one who killed himself by falling straight down on a sword.

Church of San Carlo

Caravaggio (1571-1610): painter who used extreme dark and light to create vivid scenes, like in theatre. You could say that Da Vinci did the same thing, but Caravaggio was more ambitious, creating more and larger paintings, and was more influential to his contemporaries.
Caravaggio’s real name was Michelangelo Merisi, not to be confused with Michelangelo Buonarroti. These are two different artists. Caravaggio has been called unstable, murderous, crazy, and homosexual by historians, but, as with all famous artists and writers of the time, there’s very little evidence to back it up.
The important thing about understanding Caravaggio is that his paintings aren’t just dark because he used black. His goal was to tell the truth no matter how painful, so he painted people as realistically as possible, warts and all. If Caravaggio had to paint an apostle who was an uneducated, illiterate fisherman, he’d paint an angel telling the saint how to write the gospel. This often angered his patrons.

Judith & Holofernes

Carracci, Annibale (1560-1609): painter, especially of ceiling frescos. He painted the ceiling in the palace of Cardinal Farnese, showing 20 different love affairs from Greek mythology, with little cupids and cherubs flying in and out of each.
Annibale was a follower of the renaissance painter Raphael, believing that beauty was most important, so that it was okay to idealize your subject. This was counter to Caravaggio, who preferred the, sometimes, ugly truth. This debate sets the tone for all painting from the renaissance up to modern art. All painters from 1600-1900 can be divided into these two sides.

Palaco Farnese ceiling fresco

Pozzo, Andrea (1642-1709): painted the ceiling of the Church of St. Ignazio, founder of the Jesuit order, who are Catholic missionaries. It features a false painted dome, next to a scene of St. Ignazaio going to heaven.

San Ignazio ceiling fresco

de Ribera, José (Giuseppe, Jusepe) (1591-1652): Spanish painter who came to Rome and then Naples. He was a follower of Caravaggio, and led what became the Cabal of Naples. They bullied and killed any artist who tried to compete with them, especially followers of Annibale Caracci. They vandalized artwork, put sand in paints, and poisoned and drowned their rivals.

Corenzio, Belisario (1558-1643): part of the Cabal of Naples

Caracciolo, Giambattista (1578-1635): part of the Cabal of Naples


Trento – Site of the council of Trent, where the Catholic church started the Counter Reformation. Now in Italy, it was then part of Austria.

Rome – the epicenter of Baroque art.

Naples – a city near Rome. It was a Spanish territory during the Renaissance, so it was a safe haven for debtors, thieves, and criminals, wanted in Italy. Caravaggio fled here after killing a man during a tennis match. Ribera fled here when he went into debt in Rome.

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