More Baroque Art

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Jan Vermeer (1632-1675)

17th century Dutch masters explored the whole world in "things of ordinary use," and "within their small compass, they produce[d] exquisite art" (Tansey and Kleiner 862). For example, Jan Vermeer's pictures "are small, few, and perfect within their scope" (862). He "...composed neat, quietly opulent interiors of Dutch middle class dwellings, in which...[he]...placed men, women, and children engaged in household tasks...--totally commonplace actions, yet reflective of the values of a comfortable domesticity that has a simple beauty.... Vermeer was "master of pictorial light..." (862).

The Woman with a Lute

Jan Vermeer took "...his experiences in the natural world and refined them to create visions that seem to be ...fragmentary moments of real time" (Witt, et al. 150). Thus, he carries on in the Northern tradition of lending special importance to items and scenes of everyday life. Transient domestic scenes become permanently etched in the viewer's mind's eye and memory. This is particularly evident in The Woman with a Lute.

The Kitchenmaid (also known as The Milkmaid)

This remarkable painting "emits an incredible transperancy and glow." It is natural and convincing in Vermeer's revelation of every "surface, fold, and wrinkle" (Witt, et al. 150). "The colors vibrate...shadows and folds are...rendered in...thin layers of color...--deeper blue in her apron, deeper golden red on the basin" (150). Art historians comment on the "cool, quiet, northern light that falls from the window above her head" (150).


The Young Woman with a Water Pitcher

Not shown here is the famous Vermeer painting. The Girl with the Pearl Earring, made familiar in the movie of the same name. In The Young Woman with the Water Pitcher, Vermeer raises this simple act of opening (or closing) a window into an almost holy, sacramental act. In Vermeer, the Protestant world ..."finds sanctuary in a modest room illuminated by an afternoon sun" (Tansey and Kleiner 862). Vermeer "proclaims his interest in the transient, cool light that comes from outside.... Light reveals and suggests the brevity of life and the ephemeral pleasure of things" (Witt, et al. 150). Palmer, et al. wondered if the tapestry flung over the table might be an Oriental rug from the Netherlands' far-flung commercial networks (150).

Follow link [ Leyster ] for information on the recently
re-discovered Dutch artist Judith Leyster.

Other 17th century Dutch artists reveled in their small country's strength, prowess, and
domination of global commercial commerce.* Indeed, Dutch ships "rulde the waves"
until the English moved in after resolving their 17th century political troubles.
Artists such as van de Velde portrayed in vivid color the "storms, shipwrecks,
sea battles and marauding pirates..." of that era (Johnson C19).
They were masters of the seascape genre as Vermeer was of the domestic sphere.
Visit < >
for a slide show of the 2009 exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum in New York.

*A recent, charming book, Vermeer's Hat, shows how his paintings depict
the Netherlands involvement in the global commerical networks of the 17th century.

Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez (1599-1660)

Velazquez "stands among the great masters of visual realism" (Tansey and Kleiner 843). He served as Philip IV's court painter where he earned prestige and developed his genius. He focused on that which his eye could see rather than the opulent, flamboyance of his Italian Baroque contemporaries. Tansey and Kleiner comment on his "uncanny penetration of the form and meaning before him" (845). Witt (et al.) note "his highly original and personal style based on pure sensibility and perceptual experience" (150). While other Spanish and Italian artists flooded the market with visions of their Catholic faith, Velasquez drew his fame from "stunning portraits and scenes of...allegory and myth" (150). Like Vermeer, he was fascinated with the play of light on various objects. As completely as any painter, Velazquez captured body language: how people point, tilt their heads, signal emotion--and he learned how to convey these signals minimally, coolly, without affectation. Every fool and beggar suddenly becomes a king in his art" (Kimmelman B41).

< >
Follow the link above for Michael Kimmelman's 2011 "Postcard"of Velazquez's early painting,
View of the Garden of the Villa Medici (1630.)

Velazquez painted The Adoration of the Magi in 1619, and it hangs today at the Prado Museum in Madrid. The subject depicts the three Wise Men (Magi) offering their gifts to the Christ Child. According to legend, the three kings, brought gold, frankinsense, and myhrr, and one of the kings was black.

image source < >


The Maids of Honour (Las Meninas) 1656

Velazquez's masterpiece is unquestionably Las Meninas, in which he demonstrates his impeccable control of "a brilliant optical realism...." (Tansey and Kleiner 846). He uses every inch of the canvas to attract the viewer's eye: the King and Queen in the mirror, the artist to the left, the Infanta's duena, an observer exiting and going up the stairs. Authentic in every detail, the painting might also be called The Artist's Studio, as Velazquez presents and summarizes a variety of optical realities--of the canvas, the mirror, and the viewer. The light falls on to the scene from an unseen window, bringing the eye to the young Infanta.


The Maids of Honour--Detail

The five-year-old Infanta Margarita forms the center of interest, surrounded by her young ladies-in-waiting, her favorite dwarf, and her dog. Velazquez' biographer, Palamino, wrote of the painting, "'It is truth not art!'" (Tansey and Kleiner 848).

In December, 2006, the National Gallery in London hosted a "Velazquez" exhibit, over which art critics literally raved. New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman wrote, "There is something almost paranormal and unnerving about how his art implicates us.... This has to do with Velazquez's uncanny grasp of not just what we see but how we see" (B42). Kimmelman refers in particular to the stunning, reclining nude, The Rokeby Venus. He goes on, "...her eyes half meeting ours as if in the very instant that we notice her. She seems suddenly to come alive" (B42). And again, "Somehow Velazquez decoded the mystery of how forms coalesce at a distance then register in our consciousness...."


Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680)

Like many of his Renaissance predecessors, Bernini was artist, sculptor, architect, as well as "the most brillliant and imaginative artist of the Baroque era...if not the originator " of its "unique style" (Tansey and Kleiner 821). Indeed, he was its most sustaining spirit and represents more than any other single artist the opulenceand sensual richness of the triumphant Church Militant of the Counter Reformation. He designed the monumental square outside of St. Peter's (familiar as the scene of one of the murders if you have read Dan Brown's Angels and Demons.)
Holland Cotter writes of Bernini, "Like other successful artists of his day he was both a master and a servant, a celebrity and a functionary. He could be innovative to the point of sacrilege — one thinks of his orgasmic St. Teresa, or the crazed immensity of the baldacchino over the tomb of St. Peter in the Vatican — yet his invention was almost always at the service of a conservative political and religious elite. He pushed the spiritual potential of art in radical directions but was a propagandist for hire to the Church Triumphant" (B24, B26).

The Baldacchino (1623-1633)

Baldachin, or in Italian, baldacchino, means canopy of state over an altar or throne ("Baldachin"). Bernini was deeply involved in the creation of the stupendous Baldacchino inside St. Peter's basilica, intended to memorialize the tomb of St. Peter.. Pope Urban VIII offered Bernini the commision in 1623, and it took Bernini, along with his collaborators, a decade to complete. Magnificent, splendid, gigantic, triumphant, the Baldacchino rises 100 feet under the great dome, symbolizing the triumph of the True Faith during the travail of the Thirty Years War.

The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa (1645-1652)

Hidden away in the Corona Chapel of the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, the Ecstasy of St. Theresa (also the scene of a murder in Angels and Demons) illustrates how Bernini drew upon "the full resources of architecture, sculpture, and painting to charge the entire area with cross-currents of dynamic tension" (Tansey and Kleiner 826). St. Theresa, a key figure in the pantheon of Counter Reformation luminaries, was a Carmelite nun who "fell into a series of trances, saw visions, heard voices. Feeling a persistent pain in her side, she came to bellieve that its cause was the fire-tipped dart of Divine Love, which an angel had thrust into her bosom...making her swoon in delightful anguish" (826). In her autobiography, St. Theresa wrote,"'The pain was so great that I screamed aloud, but simultaneously felt such infinite sweetness that I wished the pain to last eternally. It was the sweetest caressing of the soul by God'" (Witt, et al. 153. [Dan Brown provides a more scandalous interpretation of the sculpture.] "Light from a hidden window...pours down bronze rays that are meant to be seen as bursting forth" from heaven itself (827) .

For a slide show of Bernini's 2008 show at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, visit
< >


"Baldachin." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
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Cotter, Holland. "Bernini, the Man of Many Heads." The New York Times,
Fri., August 8, 2008.

Johnson, Ken. "When Galleons Ruled the Waves." The New York Times,
Fri., July 29, 2009.

Kimmelman, Michael. "Velazquez, Without Bells Or Whistles." The New York Times.
Friday, November 10, 2006.

Palmer, R., R., et al. A History of the Modern World, 10th edition. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2007.

"St. Peter's Baldachin." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
<'s_Baldachin >

Tansey, Richard and Fred Kleiner. Gardner's Art through the Ages, vol. ii, 10th edition.
Fort Worth, et al.: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1996.

Witt, Mary Ann, et al. The Humanities, vol. ii, 5th edition. Boston and New York:
Houghton Mifflin Co., 1997.



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