Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Baroque Art

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What is Baroque art? Formally, Baroque art applies to the era in art history that dominated most of arts of the seventeenth century (the enlightenment or, what we call the Age of Newton). The era is differentiated from earlier periods by the currents of individualism and nationalism, currents that are fundamentally a product of the ideas emerging as a result of the development of printing around 1450.

In general, Baroque artwork is elaborate, energetic, and passionate. The use of curves and detail are characteristic of the movement. Baroque is often associated with dynamic and rich images of textured, flowing robes. Although the period is also strongly associated with religious art, the Catholic Counter-Reformation gives much of its impetus. Not all Baroque work is related to any church religious symbolism.

The Baroque in the North of Holland took a decidedly different turn from the Southern baroque. This Protestant area was extraordinarily liberal and cosmopolitan and wealthy. A healthy middle and merchant class thrived there and there developed a strong demand for art - art created expressly for the home interiors, still-life, landscapes and portraits - the artist was also free to do what he or she liked - paint first - sell later. So in many respects Dutch art reflects the society from which it emerges

Still life had since been abandoned since the times of the ancient Romans. The ancient Romans used still life paintings as a means to poke fun at social manners. When the Dutch revived still life it was used as reinforcement to the idea that all things pass and that we had better examine our consciences. In baroque still life insects, snails, flowers, and fruit are all commonly used. In these instances the insects and snails are eating and destroying the food and flowers. The flowers die very quickly and the watches mark the passing of the time, adding to the idea that all things pass and that we had better look towards our souls. Baroque still life uses all the visual techniques as the Romans did but they are now become more highly developed. Due to the Calvinist movement in northern Europe, northern, or restrained baroque was driven by the middle class townspeople. The main focus of the art during this time is civic values as opposed to monarchial and religious propaganda. Art now becomes driven by the general interest of the people. Humanity had tried to be humble but had failed so artists seek to represent a humble humanity. In still life paintings, Calvinist morality is demonstrated through the symbolism of the objects in the paintings. During the baroque period, still life came to be called nature morte, or dead art that focused on the inanimate with or without symbolism.

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Baroque artwork gives you the feeling that there is more happening that you cannot see. The picture seems to be spilling out of the frames. This is different from the paintings of the Renaissance, which used three-point perspective and seemed to contain the work. The use of lighting is also important. There is contrast between light and dark areas creating an almost theatrical sense of lighting. The subjects of many of the pieces of this time do not glorify the saints but rather the humble human. Artists placed foreshortened objects such as a dish so that it appeared to overlap the picture in order to create a "real" feeling by making it seem that it projects into our own space and that we can actually touch what is in the picture. The use of rich colors helps to appeal to the senses once again creating a "real" feeling. Almost everything in the paintings is perishable. The paintings are supposed to represent the transience of life. Especially in still life paintings, artists tried to evoke all five senses to draw you into the painting.

Cornelis de Heem was born in 161 in Leiden and died in 165 in Antwerpen. He was the son of the great painter Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606-1684). He was considered to be one of the greatest baroque still-life painters in Holland. Many of his works included arrangements of fruits, metal dishes and wine glasses as well as the compositions of books and musical instruments. He worked primarily with the vanity of life theme, incorporating symbolic articles such as skulls and hourglasses. Although he was not quite the equal of his father he was an extraordinary artist and many of his works are preserved in museums throughout the world.

The painting that I chose is an untitled still life by Cornelis de Heem. In this particular piece, you get the impression that there is more happening in the room that you cannot see. There is a table covered in half eaten and rotting food. It provokes thoughts such as where are the people who were eating this food? And why aren't they at the table? Did something cause them to leave abruptly? In the left of the picture there is an uncovered window and the sky is visible. The sky represents God and his omnipotence. The heavens are after all where God resides. On the table there are grapes adorned with their leaves. The grapes represent redemption and the leaves represent shame. It is an allusion to the shame that Adam felt after he learned the shame involved with nakedness, and covered himself with grape leaves. Slightly above the grapes there is a platter with two dying flowers on it. This symbolizes death and dying. Above the flowers there is a butterfly, which symbolizes resurrection. The wine, bread and white cloth draped across the table are clearly Eucharistic symbols. In the corner there is a snake crawling down the wall, which personifies evil. The fruit spread all across the table symbolizes the sensuous pleasures derived in this world, bursting forth fruitfulness, but tending to rot. The pomegranate is especially significant. It is a symbol of the church amid the resurrection. The many seeds in one symbolize the unity of the church. The plums in the picture are a representation of fidelity. The lobster, which seems to be the centerpiece of the painting, mainly due to the sharp contrast in colors with everything else, is an allusion to the resurrection, and is related to the "eucharistic" grapes. The lobster can also be symbolic of the faithful submerged in the waters of life. Yet a lobster is cold-blooded, not driven by passion, and often represents such emotionless entities. There are several oysters on a silver platter. These are used to represent the female womb. One of the oysters is resting atop a mirror. The mirror is a reflection of the soul; it does not lie, it is absolute truth. Christians view a spotless mirror as an image of the Virgin Mary. It is important to notice the color of the glasses resting by the window and on the table. Because it is clear glass (colorless) it is typically seen as purity, virginity (The Immaculate Conception), and brittle short-lived beauty. In the far right corner there is a chest with keys hanging from the lock. As with the glasses, it is important to notice that the color of the keys is gold. Gold keys refer to spiritual power. It is the emblem of St. Peter, the guardian of the gates of heaven, and the key may either confine or release. In addition, elements of secrecy and discretion coincide. There are many Christian connections such as they key to heaven, the power to absolve sins, as well as being a sign of fidelity and faith. The instruments are used to represent moral corruptness, and are in opposition to the Eucharistic bread and wine.

Many developments and people influenced the baroque. The

Counter-reformation was a major impulse in the South; in the North it was a spirit of absolutism - an influence of Hobbes. In North and South the winds of the new sciences and new rationalism - currents from Galileo, Harvey, Bacon, Newton and Descartes had enormous impacts on art - not so much in the production of art with scientific subject, but art that reflects the importance behind the new science and rationalisms, namely the radical break with tradition and authority the new sciences brought. Both camps were fascinated with violence, spawned by the wars of the times. What is particularly fascinating about this new world is that both camps, the traditional Catholic and the new enlightened spirit of rationalism responded in spades, with neither side really a clear winner. Dutch Baroque art, after all, served a prosperous, upwardly mobile middle class in a Calvinist country at a time when a Stoic-Calvinist austerity and local, ethnic pride gradually gave way to more courtly and cosmopolitan tastes. No strict class hierarchy existed in the republican Netherlands and there was no absolutist political or religious structure to heighten the perception of hierarchies and tensions between social levels. Both produced spirited work and both currents continue to influence art right on down to the present day.

The philosophy of Baroque music is that music represents the emotions (affections) of real life and, in so doing, excites the listener's emotions. Music must express emotions and it must move the listener. It is generally agreed that Italian Baroque music expressed the emotions (passions or affections) best. Baroque music was the end-result of a search for new modes of expression. During this process, a concern for formal organization resulted in the development of tonal system (replacing the modal system).

Renaissance music (stile antico) was so rigid and structured and learnt by academic training. The new concept (stile moderno) was a vehicle of spontaneous expression. Both practices existed side by side. Some composers used both styles, stile antico in church music and stile moderno in secular vocal music. One of the most important creations of Baroque was the concept of contrast as in Baroque art (like loud and soft, solo and tutti, high and low, fast and slow). Numerous composers used the concerto or concertanto style (meaning a style with a marked contrasting element). The term Baroque denotes the inner stylistic unity of the period. The most important unifying feature of all Baroque music is the characteristic accompanying part, the basso continuo (Baroque era is usually referred to as the 'thorough-bass period'). A bass line is followed by a continuo player(s) above which a figure is written to indicate what additional notes should be played to fill in the harmony (figured bass). A typical Baroque piece consists of a melodic line for a voice (more typically two melodic lines as in trio sonata), a bass line for a continuo instrument such as cello or bassoon playing the written line, and a plucked (chitarrone) or keyboard instrument (harpsichord or organ) playing the figured chords (mainly improvising) to fill the intervening space between the two poles. The result is the polarity of outer parts.

Baroque music has unique idioms (specific style/character) and it is an idiomatic form. Composers began to write music specifically for a particular medium, such as the violin or the solo voice, rather than music with interchangeable or no idioms that might be either sung or played by almost any combination of voices and instruments, as had previously been the case. Before 1600, as the church had been the center of music, vocal music had been dominating, and the instrumental music had been written for any instrument. After 1600, the violin became the main instrument and developed its idioms. Instrumental and vocal styles began to be differentiated, eventually becoming so distinct that the composers could borrow vocal idioms in instrumental writing, and vice versa. This transfer of idioms between instruments forms one of the most fascinating aspects of Baroque music. In the late Baroque music, a rich interchange and interpenetration of idioms is observed, i.e., transfer of lute ornaments to keyboard or vocal techniques to violin. Nobody can mistake the violin character of a Baroque concerto grosso (persistent figuration to maintain the same affect).

Domenico Scarlatti was born in Italy in 1685, the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Frideric Handel. He moved to Portugal in 171 to become music master to the young Princess Maria Barbara; when she became Queen of Spain in 17, he followed her there. Respected as an extemporizer on the harpsichord, and for his dazzling technique, he did not begin to formally write his keyboard music down until 178, when he was knighted by Portugal and composed a volume for presentation. A few years later, he collected a number of his older pieces into two more volumes. But then, ill health and gambling debts galvanized him into finding his voice. During his last 6 years 175-7, he transferred his keyboard skill to paper in the form of some two hundred suites, which he called sonatas. They combine pure joyous harpsichord sounds with the taut rhythms of Spanish dance and the harmonic brilliance of his Italian heritage to a degree that places him among the greatest musicians of all time.

For a performer, there is always a conflict between saying as much as one can with each individual piece, and being faithful to the lifetime-built philosophy of the composer. Intellect produces complexity, but feeling demands simplicity. Tendency is exacerbated by the characteristics of the piano, to which Scarlattis sounds do not transfer well (his at-times breathtaking technique does transfer, as Vladimir Horowitz amply demonstrated. He and Scarlatti would have had a ball together!). The piece that I chose is Scarlatti's Sonata in G major, K547 (LS8). The song begins with a light and happy solo, which quickly evolves into a furiously fast solo, demonstrating his talents (virtuoso). There is the consistency of Spanish dance rhythms as the foundation of his sound. Late baroque music is often and predominantly polyphonic in texture two more melodic lines compete for the listener's attention. Usually the soprano and the bass line are more important and imitation between various lines is very common. The layering of melodies so as not to conflict each other, but compliment each other evokes the most drama out of the listener. To me, these rhythms are not polyphonic, but elaborated percussive solo accents. And, when Scarlattis phrases are repeated with no variations of sound, as he mostly explicitly wrote them, they build structure and power upon a sustained rhythmic foundation, rather than on a phrase-oriented vocal one. After this he quiets down and brings with the music a feelings of quiet or maybe even repressed happiness. A baroque piece is famous for its doctrine of mood. What is happy will be happy throughout and what is sad continues to the end. It appeals to the emotions in a way that is clearly a distinct characteristic of Baroque music. This is the perfect demonstration of a fugue. The melody of the song is very complex, and contains a steady rhythm. Baroque music creates a feeling of continuity. An opening melody will be heard over and over again in the course of the piece. Even if the character of the piece is constant, the passage is varied. Many baroque melodies are complex and elaborate. They are not easy to sing or play. Baroque melodies give and impression of dynamic expansion rather than balance and symmetry. It gives a whole feeling of a jumble yet a theme is distinctly heard. This piece follows the outline for a concerto - allegro, adagio, allegro. Unity of mood in baroque is first conveyed by the continuity of rhythm. A rhythmic pattern heard at the beginning of the piece is reiterated many times throughout the piece. This relentless drive compelled the music to push forward. This forward motion is hardly ever interrupted. The beats are also far more distinct in baroque music. Paralleling the continuity of mood, the dynamics of the piece also stay constant for some period of time before it shifts to another level. When the dynamics shift, it is sudden like physically stepping of a step. Therefore, terraced dynamics are a distinctive quality of baroque music. Gradual changes such as crescendo and decrescendos are unheard of this is partly due to the fact that the manuals of the keyboards instrument then were able to provide only the loud or the soft sound. They were not able to provide the "in between" sound.

The marked social European situation immersed in continuous crises of subsistence, incapable of meeting the needs of the high population that the economic riches of the Renaissance period had generated, contributed a new vision of the surroundings, and combined with the rise and decadence of different social sectors. The most favored classes were the bourgeoisie and the nobility, whereas at the other end of the scale were ordinary people. The reflection of this situation in the artistic world did not take long to appear. Although during the previous period the figure of the art patron was the only means of financing artistic works, this period is characterized by the transformation of the patron into client, resulting in the proliferation of the number of authors and increased production at the service of a growing market mainly centered on the members of the middle class, with sufficient economic power to resist the economic crises that arose during the period. The artist passed from the customary court figure during the Renaissance to become an autonomous entity capable of establishing a trading relationship with its client by means of a legal contract.

At a cultural level, another series of events, such as the background of a growing scientific mentality, had a decisive influence on the art world. At a religious level, the European ecclesiastical Reformation contributed new fields of representation, which the artists of the period knew how to put to good advantage. The ecumenical Council accepted religious imagery for this type of work, which proliferated widely particularly in Catholic countries. In contrast, the countries of northern Europe, with Holland and Germany at the forefront, stood out for the plurality of the lay subjects that were depicted. Artists tried to break with the traditions that had been applied up until then and were instrumental in the growing increase of profane and imaginative motifs.

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