Artistic Expression of Opposition: Baroque

Yavuz Celep
5 minutes

Music, painting, sculpture or architecture… No matter which branch of art reflects the Baroque style, you can see that opposing elements are brought together. The harmonization of these contrasts and their reflection through colors, sounds or stone structures has created an artistic style that is unforgettable. But if we look at the basis of the work, the point of origin of the subject of contrast and harmony is not based on the inspiration of an artist, but the sociological, economic and political conditions of the period in Europe gave birth to the Baroque understanding of art.

XV. century and the end of the XVII. The period between the turn of the century is said to have a special place in European history. This was a period of new discoveries and reforms in Europe in areas such as art, economy, science and technology. In addition, a reform movement also took place in the field of religion. Reformed theologians such as Martin Luther (1483-1546) in Germany, Jean Calvin (1509-1564) in France and Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531) in Switzerland led a movement that ended the unity of the Catholic world. The Lutheran Reformation did not only question the church’s understanding of religion. It has also had a far-reaching impact on the daily lives of societies and the economic activities of states. For example, while interest was considered a sin by the Catholic Church, the emergence of new trade routes and merchants with the discovery of America created the need to create new references, including religious ones, on how to use money…

Over time, these “conflicts” between Lutheran Protestants and the Catholic Church turned into the so-called “30 Years’ War”, in which the sides constantly switched places depending on the course of the war. During these 30 years of wars, inconsistent, unbalanced and contradictory policies were pursued, with even the closest allies sometimes switching sides for their own interests, parties shifting from one front to another depending on developments, and parties that were allies in one region becoming enemies in another. The 30 Years’ War continued for many years, sometimes between the Catholic Church and the Lutherian movements, sometimes between the “religious power” guided by the Catholic Church and the “monarchical power” reflecting the power of the king on earth, sometimes between the bourgeoisie and the monarchy, sometimes between the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy.

So what kind of understanding of art can children born and raised in such an environment where opposing forces are in constant conflict have when they become the artists of tomorrow? The answer to this question lies in Baroque art itself. When we look at the works of Baroque artists, the children of this period, in the fields of painting, music, sculpture and architecture, it is possible to speak of an absolute opposition. For example, while it is possible to find rhythm in Baroque music, i.e. slow and fast rhythms within the piece, it is possible to see the flamboyant and exaggerated structure of Baroque in the intense and sudden transitions of high and low sounds. When you listen to the works of Bach, Vivaldi and Handel, the most important composers of the period, you will understand what I mean more easily.

In Baroque paintings, as in music, the contrast of light and shadow is an element of ambiguity; the dramatic effects created by the light filtering through the darkness surround the viewer.

The sculptures are not only frozen marbles, but they also drag you from the moment into eternity, as if the event being depicted is happening right next to you. For example, the contrast between the angel’s slightly smiling face and the saint’s emotional expression mixed with pain in Bernini’s sculpture of St. Teresa’s Vecdi, can be considered as an example of works of Baroque art that reflect contrast. In addition, the square fountains seen in the Baroque period are an example of the reflection of the art of contrast, where water, which is constantly flowing and has a dynamic effect, and dull stone works are fused together. Again in Bernini’s works, touching in the context of the relationship between hand and skin, even the squeezing of the hand while holding a skin with a certain force and the noticeability of that crush on the skin, is an example of the ability to reflect stone and feeling at the same time.

In architecture, the situation is more dramatized, the interior surfaces of the buildings are covered with paintings, the exterior surfaces are indented, surrounded by curves and plays of light and shadow, the rational arrangements on the surface of the buildings are abandoned and the spaces are transformed into places where imagination and reality are presented together. In the buildings, imagination and reality are intertwined, allowing the world of God to be presented like a theater stage.

What can be seen in all European period arts from the Baroque onwards is that artists were influenced by all the dynamics of society while creating their understanding of art and their works, and they managed to reflect this in art with great skill. Before I forget, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep is one of the examples of the Baroque painting technique reflected in cinema; many scenes are constructed with the play of light and shadow like a Baroque painting rather than a movie frame. My advice to the lucky readers who still haven’t seen it, watch it.

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