Baroque was a cultural movement between the early17th and late 18th centuries. Like most periodic orstylistic terms, later critics coined the term “Baroque” to define the period.There are a few possible sources of the term; one of it having been derivedfrom the Italian “barocco” meaning”bizarre” – implying that work was crude, vulgar, often grotesque andexaggerated, and in comparison to the artistic leanings of the renaissance,appeared to be lacking in decorum and grace. Another possible source is thePortuguese “barroco”; meaning”irregular pearl” – possibly alluding to the three-dimensional effect withinthe paintings, that up until this point had never been seen before, making themappear simultaneously real and illusionary.
Stylistically, it followedRenaissance and Mannerism and was succeeded by Neoclassicism, with the earliestexamples appearing in Italy from around the late 16th Century andthe latest not occurring in Germany until 18th Century. GIANLORENZO BERNINI (1598-1680) was an Italian Sculptor andarchitect during this period. Born in Naples, Italy, at a time in which the freshand almost disturbing realism of Caravaggio’s work prompted painting to beregarded as the reinvigorating art form of the time. His Father, Pietro Bernini,was a sculptor who worked in the elongated proportions and highly exaggeratedand stylized poses of the Mannerist period. Despite his uninspiring style, hereadily encouraged the development of his son’s innovative artistic approaches.The Baroque movement “employed iconography that wasdirect, simple, obvious, and theatrical” 4.
Qualities oftenassociated with the movement are that of grandeur, vitality, tension,exaggerated motion and drama. The paintings of this period were characterisedby strong colour, and their utilisation of chiaroscuro through intense light,and dark shadows. Bernini skilfully transposed these into his sculptures – asthe form had not yet been revitalised in the same way as painting – essentiallymodifying the trompe l’oeil techniques of foreshortening and quadrature and applyingthem to sculpture. By doing so, he moved out of the preceding period with itsalignment with the traditional ideals of beauty first developed within theRenaissance, and into a new era. Ifind it inspiring how he was able to follow a strict daily routine, in which hededicated seven hours a day to his art and reserved the mornings and eveningsfor prayer. He also attended mass every day and took communion twice a week (atleast later in life, this dedication became more apparent).
Subsequently, thethemes and subjects of the majority of his work was shaped by his Catholicismand clearly conveys his intense passion for his religion. The religious turmoilof the 17th century also directly affected Bernini’s work – with theProtestant Reformation and resulting conflicts as a continual backdrop – suchas The 30 years’ war (1618-1648) which divided central Europe. As a devoutCatholic, Bernini was firmly in agreement with the formulations of the Councilof Trent (1545-63) and the ensuing actions of the Counter Reformation indealing with corruption and reaffirming the doctrines and theologies that hadbeen attacked by the Protestants in Martin Luther’s 95 Point Thesis.
To achievethis, (specifically religious) art was to be emotionally persuasive, and powerful.By communicating religious themes with such direct and emotional involvement,the sacred works of the gospels were presented in such a way that the publiccould identify with them. Artists strove to render their subjects and themes asrealistically as possible, moving away from the traditional representation ofsaints and people of power as raised to an elevated state far above that of thenormal human condition. They adopted instead an artistic program, which focusedon explaining the profound dogmas of the faith so that they could be accessibleto all, not just the educated.
The development of Bernini’s religious art waschiefly determined by his diligent efforts to conform to those principals. Influences Bernini’s sculptural influences draw froma range of artists and works from the preceding periods. He developed athorough knowledge of High Renaissance painting of the early 16thcentury and of the antique Greek and Roman Marbles in the Vatican. Evidence ofHellenistic works, such as The VanquishedGaul Killing Himself and his Wife, The Dying Gaul, and Laocoon and His Sons (works that are now considered to be inalignment with the style of Hellenistic Baroque) can be seen within his work especially return to the form Figura Serpentinata. He frequentlylooked to the achievements of the painters of the period such as Carracci’s ceilingof the Farnese Gallery – inspiring because of its illusionistic complexity andconvincing naturalism.
He often borrowed religious motifs from such works.