- Baroque is a term used to denote the art from roughly the 1580s to the end of the 17th century. Its development coincides with the Counter-Reformation when the Catholic Church sought to curtail the spread of Protestantism that threatened its hegemony. In the last session of the Council of Trent, which took place in 1563, enactments were made on the proper depiction of religious subjects to combat the threat. It was decreed that religious images were to invoke piety, inspire viewers to engage in virtuous behavior, and provide instruction on redemption, the intercessory role of the saints and the Virgin, and the veneration of relics. Most importantly, works of art were to validate visually Catholic dogma questioned by the Protestants. The effects of these enactments were not felt until over a decade later when key Church figures began writing treatises to instruct artists on the Tridentine stipulations. St. Charles Borromeo, archbishop of Milan, provided in 1577 a treatise on the proper building of churches and Gabriele Paleotti, archbishop of Bologna, wrote the Intorno alle imagini in 1582, a guide on the correct depiction of sacred and profane images. The first church to be built that satisfied the demands of the Counter-Reformation and that launched the Baroque was Il Gesù in Rome (1568-1584), the mother church of the Jesuit Order, designed by Giacomo da Vignola, who eliminated the aisles to prevent any visual obstructions to the main altar where the rituals of the mass take place. In the exterior, completed by Giacomo della Porta, a rapid movement from sides to central bay and a progressive move forward of the engaged pilasters as they come closer to the entrance serve to invite the faithful in and symbolically welcome those who may have strayed from the true faith. The artistic reform in painting was led by Federico Barocci in Urbino, the Carracci in Bologna, and Caravaggio in Rome, all offering images that rejected the ambiguities of Mannerism and presented instead clear renditions that appealed to the senses and emotions. Of these, Caravaggio had the greatest impact as his naturalistic style with theatrical lighting effects spread throughout Europe, though in Italy Caravaggism lost its appeal by 1620 and the classicism of the Carracci followers came to dominate the scene. Key figures in this group were Domenichino, Guercino, Giovanni Lanfranco, Francesco Albani, and Andrea Sacchi. In the 1630s, a Neo-Venetianism was established by Pietro da Cortona that would contrast markedly to Andrea Sacchi's meticulous renditions, again conjuring the marked contrasts between baroque vibrancy and classical restraint. These contrasts of style also permeated the sculpture and architecture of the period. In sculpture, Gian Lorenzo Bernini embodied the dramatic, theatrical mode of representation while Alessandro Algardi embraced a less exuberant language. In architecture, it was Bernini who favored the classical, sober lines of the High Renaissance, while Francesco Borromini experimented with swelling and contracting biomorphic forms.
Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. Lilian H. Zirpolo. 2008.