Monday, April 09, 2012

Baroque Naturalism and Baroque Classicism Compared

For Holy Week and the Easter Octave here are two different scenes that, I hope, might allow us to contemplate the season and our move from Lent into Easter. The first is of the Palm Sunday scene - Christ's Entry into Jerusalem. I have given two paintings of the scene. Both are by 17th century painters from the heyday of the baroque period. The first is by Sir Anthony van Dyck, who was taught by Rubens and works in the baroque naturalism style (other painters in this form would be, for example, Velazquez or Zurbaran). The second is by lesser know Spanish artist who was trained by El Greco called Pedro Orrente. He painted this is 1620. In comparing the two styles we see many similarities but also differences. Orente is working in a style called baroque classicism. Baroque classicism seeks to evoke more a sense of the classical pre-Christian roots of Western culture and, inspired by Raphael the artist of 100 years before. The paintings don't look like our vision of ancient Rome today, but as it was envisaged then. To me it looks stylistically as though they are staged scenes from a Shakespeare play. Stylistically, as compared to baroque naturalism there is always more colour and the edges are sharper and cleaner - sometimes this can tend to give them a more sterile and less lively feel. In contrast the baroque naturalist style use monochrome and broad focus much more and has a more vigorous, spontaneous feel. My preference generally is for baroque naturalism. To the modern eye, although once pointed out we can distinguish between the two streams, they still look similar. At the time though, each school thought of itself as very different from the other. Each saw theirs as the more authentic form of sacred art and and could be openly rude and dismissive about the other. Poussin exemplifies the baroque classicism style.

After the Enlightenment the two streams of baroque art separated and became the Romantic and Neo-classical movements. The understanding of naturalism as a Christian tradition was lost at this point and consequently developments, although subtle at first, were a departure from the baroque and so we lost the last authentic Christian tradition in sacred art.

The second pair of painting are of the scene after the Resurrection - noli me tangere. This time the offering in the style of baroque naturalism comes from Alonso Cano, the 17th century Spanish artist who had the same teacher as Velazquez, Francesco Pacheco. Cano is perhaps more well known for his wood carvings in polychrome (ie painted in many colours). The baroque classicist painting of the same subject is done by the German artist of the 18th century called Anton Raphael Mengs.

Sir Anthony Van Dyck

Pedro Orrente

Alonso Cano

Anton Raphael Mengs

As a rule my preference is for the baroque naturalism style. However, Mengs' handles this subject well, I feel. Notice how the face of Christ is in shadow so that we are drawn to the attention of the whole person of Christ. It also is a counter against the danger in naturalistic art, that when we look at the painting we see not Christ, but a portrait of a model dressed up in old fashioned clothes.