What Are Four Characteristics of Baroque Art?

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Baroque art came about during the period from 1600 to 1700. The movement’s initial works began in Italy but went on to be seen in France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands. During this time, artists were encouraged by the Catholic Church to exhibit stronger religious characteristics in their paintings. Prominent painters of this style include Peter Paul Rubens, Caravaggio and Rembrandt.

Rembrandt's "The Nightwatch" is an example of Baroque art.
(Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

There is usually one source of light, known as tenebrism, in Baroque art. The contrasting light and dark, such as in shadows, bring drama to the works. Both have an effect on the emotions and the intensity of the piece. One illustration of this concept is “Judith and Maidservant with Head of Holofernes” by Artemisia Gentileschi. In the piece, Judith saves her people by having a banquet to intoxicate and then behead General Holofernes.

"The Milkmaid" by Vermeer.
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Realism is an important aspect of Baroque art. Rubens embraced reality in his art. In “Saint George and the Dragon,” Saint George is muscular with a suit of armor that appears as it did in everyday life. His horse is depicted as feisty and strong. Naturalism was also seen in Baroque art through the use of normal details unique to daily life. Caravaggio employed this technique in his work by showing local places such as taverns and peasants. He places the viewer in the painting through applying things as part of both the foreground and central space. Facial expressions highlight the subjects’ moods or emotions. Artists would sometimes put themselves in the painting as part of the shadows. For example, Diego Velazquez is seen in the left of his painting “Las Meninas.”

A woman examines a painting by Peter Paul Rubens.
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Lines help to convey motion and were often featured in Baroque pieces. Foreshortening -- reducing the length of lines in drawing to give an illusion of extension in space -- contributes to the feeling of motion. Whether asymmetric, vertical or horizontal, this technique can fool the eye and give space to the piece. Works follow an "S" shape in composition. For example, in “The Conversion of Saint Paul” by Caravaggio, diagonal lines show drama. Lines also go through diffusion in Baroque art with curved figures and horizontal layers.

"the calling of Saints Peter and Andrew" by Caravaggio.
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Many artists using the Baroque style were aware of time and used it to convey the strength of nature as well as how time was a part of life's process. An older man symbolizing time was included in a great deal of pieces to illustrate that time comes for all. The positioning of people in each work gives the feeling of time moving forwards and backwards.

Hanging Vermeer paintings.
Oli Scarff/Getty Images News/Getty Images

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