Italian Baroque Art is a term that is applied to Italian paintings and sculptures of the late 16–18 centuries executed in the baroque manner. Baroque style emerged as the powerful instrument of Catholic Church to answer the attacks of Reformation Movement and Martin Luther. Baroque is very dramatic and artistic style which satisfied the needs of a church of that era that intended to become the cradle of beauty and art.
Characteristics peculiar to Baroque art are true representation of characters, the use of vivid colours and foreshadowing. Baroque sculpture tended to represent movement and energy that has stopped dead in the soft marble. The overall effect produced by Baroque art was dramatic, realistic, and full of emotional tension and a sense of movement.
Italian Baroque style is inseparably connected with two prominent painters, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and Annibale Carracci. Carracci is also known as the reformer of the art who made revolution in the 17th century painting. The main principle of his reform is the rejection of the contemporary art, mannerism. He suggested the return to Classicism and Antiquity, which were the basis of Renaissance art. As opposed to mannerism, Carracci and Caravaggio suggested the depiction of regular people and more naturalistic and common images that everyone can understand. Those major principles of simplicity, illusionism and naturalism are known as “Carracci Reform” and it has completely corresponded to the needs of Church. Caravaggio was a direct follower of Carracci’s ideas, and he continued to develop “experimental realism”. Carracci’s reforms were also caused by his dissatisfaction with the art in his native Bologna, so he opened his own academy there which soon gathered many students from the other workshops that adopted his ideas. The Assumption of the Virgin by Carracci and The Rape of the Sabine Women by Pietro da Cortona are brilliant examples of Italian Baroque painting following the Carracci’s reforms. The use of colours, the absence of sharp contours, dynamism of the action and manner inspired by the Titian is the main characteristic of the two paintings, though Cortona’s work is more chaotic and blurred. Moreover, the two paintings can be defined as “theatrical”, the term widely used when describing Baroque paintings. Due to the dynamism of movements and exaggerated emotions transmitted with the help of facial expressions of the characters, these two pictures are great examples of Baroque style. Theatrical approach enhances the atmosphere and the subject matter of the pictures. Paintings show the tension and to some extend chaotic atmosphere which is brilliantly portrayed by the painters.
Another important figure in Italian Baroque art was Gianlorenzo Bernini whose sculptures have also challenged contemporary art traditions. Bernini was inspired by the Renaissance works, especially Michelangelo’s. Bernini had many patrons among clergy, including Cardinal Borghese, Urban VIII. Bernini was a religious person, and he accepted the demands of the Catholic Church concerning art, and his works responded to the demands of his patrons. An example of his religious sculpture is The Ecstasy of St. Teresa at Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome. It depicts a nun, St. Teresa, who was canonised by the church because of her mystic experience and spiritual visions. It is a dynamic sculpture that has captured movement and emotions. Bernini was the first to use the potential of lighting and space in the sculpture. Bernini’s sculptures have strong spiritual and aesthetic potential. Another Bernini’s masterpiece, The Four Rivers Fountain, was made in the period when he was in disgrace after the death of Urban VIII. Bernini represented four nude giant figures supporting the obelisk and the representatives of flora and fauna from four continents. The statue represents the dynamism of the baroque sculpture. It has a symbolic meaning of divine grace that shines on the rivers and four continents.
One of the main ideas of Bernini’s work of art was the idea of bel composto (beautiful whole). This idea concerns the integration of the elements of painting, sculpture and architecture in one single work of art. The Ecstasy of St. Teresa can be viewed as an example of such work. Bernini’s work is placed in the church and portrays two dynamic figures stiffened in motion under the artificial lighting. The statue is a part of a more complex composition including painting and architecture, all designed by Bernini. The general effect produced by the composition creates an image of the “beautiful whole”.
Italian Baroque art played a very important role and was the turning point in the European art history. It has influenced the further development of the world art and has resulted in creation of many masterpieces distinguished by their dynamic form, vivid colors and naturalistic representation.