What Makes Baroque Sculpture Recognizable?
It's in the details.
The first time I came across a Baroque sculpture, I had no idea what it was but I was drawn to it. I noticed the meticulous call and attention to detail by the artists and I remember calling the attention of an old lady beside me at the museum to tell me what she knew about the sculpture but all she could say was ‘I see that you got attracted to this sculpture. It seems real, full of life and gives out a wealthy aura.’
Baroque art (or sculpture) is defined by grandeur, elaborate details, deep colour and a sense of awe. When it’s been talked about, a magnitude of beauty can be felt and acts as a legacy. Gian Lorenzo Bernini is said to be the dominant figure in Baroque Sculpture. This style of design flourished in Europe from the early 17th century until the 1740s. It got inspiration from Renaissance Art and Mannerism (used by the 17th-century critics who accused late 16th century artists of pretence and empty imitation) and was preceded by the Rococo (which was known as late Baroque.)
The English word Baroque comes from the French word which also originated from the Portuguese term Barroco (meaning a flawed petal). The Catholic Church encouraged the Baroque art form and served as a means to counter the simplicity and ruggedness of the Church through Lutheran Art.
The art began around 1600 in Rome then gained some rapid ground in France. It then spread to Europe, specifically Northern Italy, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Southern Germany, and Russia. It then evolved into a more flamboyant style called Rocaille or Rococo in the 1730s which appeared in France and Central Europe. The Baroque Sculpture is seen as a characteristic of Christian Art.
Regarding the source of the word Baroque, French philosopher Michel de Montaigne associated the term Barocco with bizarre and utterly complicated. Other sources associate Barocco with magic, complexity, excess and confusion. As mentioned above, the word baroque was also associated with irregular pearls before the 18th century.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini works span from monumental statues and figures whose faces and gestures strongly expressed their emotions as well as portrait busts of exceptional realism. Baroque sculpture got its inspiration from the ancient Roman statuary, particularly the famous statue of Laocoön from the first century, which was on display in the gallery of the Vatican.
Notable Baroque Sculptors
1. Jean-Baptiste Tuby a French sculptor whose best work was the Fountains in the Gardens of Versailles.
2. Étienne Maurice Falconet, a baroque, neoclassical and rococo sculpture who first apprenticed as a carpenter and later got the attention of Jean-Baptise Lemoyne and serves under him.
3. Nicola Salvi an Italian architect who was famous for the Trevi fountain in Rome.
Characteristics of Baroque Sculptures
1. Most baroque sculptures are characterised by great drama; where facial expressions like fear or excitement were exaggerated.
2. Marble, bronze and wood were used in making some Baroque sculptures.
3.Baroque sculptures and artworks were noticed by asymmetry rather than symmetry; nonlinear forms rather than geometric forms and movements rather than being stationary.
The Man Behind Most Baroque Sculptors
During his lifetime, Gian Lorenzo Bernini was a great man. His robustness was evident in Baroque and they were what defined the Baroque style. A walk-in Rome will definitely be complete when you set eyes on his work (or works that are being designed to look like his).
He is the reason Rome’s face is still mostly 17th century Baroque. Hence a scholar once said,” what Shakespeare is to drama, Bernini may be to sculpture.” He was also an architect who designed chapels, churches, secular buildings and public places combining architecture and sculpture and made use of wood and stucco. He served under his father, Pietro Bernini, a Florentine Sculptor who also moved to Rome. He worked diligently, established himself as an independent sculptor and was patronised by Pope Paul V.
Gian’s work is strongly influenced by his study of antique Greek and Roman marbles in the Vatican coupled with his broad knowledge of the Renaissance paintings dated back to the 16th century.
Sculptures by Gian Lorenzo Bernini
- Four Rivers Fountain, Piazza, Novana, Rome (1648)
2. Palazzo Chigi, Rome (1664)
3. Baldacchino in St Peter’s, Rome (1624)
4. Apollo and Daphne
6. The Rape of Proserpina
7. Ecstasy of Saint Teresa
What makes Baroque forms of art or sculptures recognisable is in the details. It uses the chiaroscuro technique and each sculpture has emotions. You can tell when they are surprised, shocked or happy. They also have the ability to draw the viewer in to participate in the scene.