Artwork of the Baroque Era

Posted: September 9th, 2013

Artwork of the Baroque Era






Artwork of the Baroque Era

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio – “Death of the Virgin”

This oil on canvas painting, finished in 1606, consists of nearly life-sized figures and it is considered one of the best works of Caravaggio (Askew, 2004). The viewer can see Mary Magdalene and the apostles overwhelmed by emotion surrounding the Virgin. The painter expresses the grief of others in the painting by hiding their faces behind the apostles and Mary Magdalene. Caravaggio was popular for is love of dark canvases. In this painting, he did not try to capture emotions rather the grief is silent. The viewer can tell that there is no wake for the wailers as most of the mourners are sobbing in faceless emotional silence. The Virgin’s holiness is distinguished by her thread-like radiance. The large red cloth looming in the upper portion of the canvas is a common logo in deposition painting.

The painting is of baroque style since Caravaggio was considered a master of baroque. Baroque artistry was famous in Rome during the seventeenth century and this earned Rome the acknowledgment of being the capital of European art world (Snodin & Llewellyn, 2009). Baroque works of art were mostly associated with religious beliefs and cultures. They involved the use of light to enhance the dramatic impact of the paintings by highlighting the figures’ quality of closeness. The sensuality brought out in the painting also qualifies it for baroque. Emotion, which is highly expressed in the painting, is one of the major characteristics of baroque arts. Caravaggio brings out the emotions in the people surrounding the Virgin. He also demonstrates naturalism using light and shade and their effects.

Caravaggio is said to have “promoted the imitation of nature, forgetting the high calling of art and falling into errors and darkness” (Christiansen, 2010). He became interested with painting and associated himself with other painters; this helped to nurture his love for portraying nature on canvas. He was particularly known for his paintings based on religious themes such as the Penitent Magdalene. At the time he painted “Death of the Virgin”, Caravaggio experienced some criticisms form the church and religious believers. This was because the painting was completed at a time when there was debate over the dogma of Mary. It was strongly believed that Mary did not die but that she ascended to heaven. Caravaggio was accused for depicting the Virgin as a prostitute because it was reported that he had used a prostitute as his model. As the church rejected his painting, it was bought by Duke of Mantua and later by Charles 1 of England.

Peter Paul Rubens – “The Raising of the Cross”

This was painted between 1609 and 1610 and was considered one of his most famous paintings (Martin, 2000). It displays Christ’s body on the left with near perfect use of lighting and strokes. The eye follows the length of Christ’s body. This is brought out carefully as the viewer’s eyes are drawn to the detail of the work and use of audaciously strong muscular bodies. The figures release remarkable power, lifting and pulling to the best of their ability to raise the cross. On the left, St. John, Mary and some women are seen mourning the death of Christ while on the right, a mounted roman official watches as the soldiers crucify Christ and the two thieves. Peter Paul Rubens was popularly for his love of baroque art, as demonstrated in this painting. “The Raising of the Cross” marked his outstanding introduction of baroque style into Northern Art. His unsurpassed talent is notable in his display of intense emotion and contrasting lighting. He also brings out a glow in the toiling bodies of the soldiers and the shimmer of the armors and expensive robes.

Rubens was a staunch Catholic and famous for his creativity in displaying intense emotions in his masterpieces (Martin, 2000). He made use of classical baroque techniques in this painting to accentuate superior religious truths. He exposes to the viewer the powerful contrast between light and dark as well as the oblique being that struggles to lift Christ to his death. Contrast between dark and light act as a representation of the celestial battle between good and evil as seen in the painting. He was highly inspired by baroque masters such as Caravaggio and developed his own style of dramatic and expansive paintings that often took the form of altarpieces.

The three-paneled altarpiece, also called the triptych, was painted for St. Walpurgis in Antwerp. The French seized the painting and fled with it to Paris in 1974. After the defeat of the great ruler Napoleon in 1815, the painting was returned to the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, where it can still be viewed. Ruben displayed his artistic greatness by excellently capturing drama, silent silence and graciousness that revolved around the death of Christ. Through the painting, he capitalized his knowledge of Renaissance painting with much resourcefulness and originality. The painting is considered a brilliant exemplary of the European artistry because of its relations to the tale of the nobleness of Jesus Christ. It was renovated in the 1980s removing the grey film that covered it. This revealed the brilliant colors and contrasts of the painter.

Sebastian Salcedo – “Virgin of Guadalupe”

Sebastian Salcedo painted this work on copper in Mexico City in 1779 and it was brought to the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Santa Fe around 1800 (Pierce et al, 2004). It depicts the Virgin surrounded by prophets, saints and angels. There are seven minuscule scenes of her miracles identifiable by inscriptions. At the bottom of the painting, Pope Benedict XIV and a princess of Aztec represent a landscape showing the Virgin’s church of Mexico City. The legend behind the painting says that the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego, an Indian. This appearance resulted in her profound popularity among Mexicans. She appeared to Diego as he headed to mass across the hill of Tepeyac and told him to deliver a message to the bishop requesting a church to be built for her on the hill at Tepeyac. However, the clerics only believed him after he plucked and presented them with Castilian roses. The Virgin’s face miraculously appeared on the fabric of the roses.

This represents baroque artistry with the artist’s expression of reality through implementing light and dark shades. Baroque painters are known for decorating palace interiors and creating altarpieces throughout Europe (Dixon, 2008). Mexicans are extremely spiritual and they believe that the virgin can ease their sorrows and heal their sick. This belief started after more than 8 million North Americans converted to Christianity moved by the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The artist used this painting to demonstrate the power of faith and strong faith in unseen things. He also wanted to show the consummate power of God and the Holy Virgin especially to the clergy of the church. Scientists however claim that the cloth on which Salcedo painted must have been destroyed because of disintegration due to harsh climatic conditions over time.










4. Compare the three works in terms of form, content, and subject matter. Using the terminology and concepts that you have learned in the course, explain the similarities and differences in the styles of the works and the context in which they were made

The Death of a Virgin painting is the largest work by Caravaggio. Dark colors, typical of Caravaggio’s work take up a large part of the painting, with light from above covering different parts of the painting. Maroon and green are the dominant colors in the painting. Caravaggio places a mourning woman on the foreground. The woman is seated with her head on her laps, and light reflecting on the back of her neck. He leaves a wide space on the foreground, before placing the dead virgin on the focal point. Nothing on the virgin seems to indicate her extraordinary nature. She lies dead like a common woman. One of her hands hangs loose on a pillow, and the other is crossed on her side. Her dress is half folded, and her legs are bare. Some of the mourners are displayed in the middle ground, expressing their sorrow, and two of these mourners are covering their eyes. Other mourners are in the background. These mourners are probably the disciples and companions of Jesus, who are mourning his mother’s death. The title of the paining does change the way a person views the work. The dead woman on the painting seems like an ordinary woman. However, the title of the painting indicates that she is the virgin mother of Jesus, and this makes one look at the painting in a different perspective the theme is death, and the painting is realistic.

The painting by Paul Rubens is part of a triptych. Like Caravaggio, Rubens uses strong contrasts of light and dark in his paintings. The painting shows the raising of Jesus on the cross after crucifixion. It is easy to note the realistic nature of the painting. Other than focus on the Godhead of Jesus, Rubens chooses to focus on humanity. He shows strong and muscular men lifting Jesus to the cross. He shows a distorted body of Jesus, as he is being lifted on the cross. Like Caravaggio, Rubens paints diagonally. The focal point on the painting is the crucified Jesus hanging on the cross. On the foreground are some of the men pulling the cross, and a dog looking on, as if in anticipation. One of the men is using a rope to lift the cross. On the middle ground are more men lifting the cross. One noticeable character is a soldier who is involved in the process, and he is looking directly at Jesus. This is in contrast with the other men who are involved in the task.

Unlike Caravaggio and Rubens, Salcedo uses a lot of color in his painting. It is also different in the sense that he uses oil on copper. This medium has contributed to his use of color. As seen in the painting, there are many shades of brown. He has also used other colors such as red and blue. On the foreground are two men sitting on opposite sides facing each other. The older man is reading from a book, and he seems to be instructing the younger man. Beneath them are buildings surrounded by trees. The focal point is the virgin, a woman who stands with clasped hands, who seems to be praying. At her feet is an angel with outstretched hands, who seems to be supporting her from below. Surrounding her are different people and cherubim. There are different enclosed paintings each of which tells its own story.

5. Compare and contrast their aesthetic qualities and symbolic significance, as well as the artists’ points of view

Caravaggio’s depiction of the virgin as an ordinary mortal might have been a way of making her accessible to ordinary people. He shows the virgin as an ordinary human being, contrary to the majority opinion at the time, concerning her supernatural status. Caravaggio portrays sad emotions on the mourners’ faces, though only two mourners seem to be crying. He dispels the idea held by the church that the virgin ascended into heaven. The mourners’ emotions do not portray any hope for eternity. Rubens has used a lot of symbolism in this paining. He shows several men lifting a dead man to the cross, and this signifies his heaviness. Rubens uses this to show the heavy burdens that Jesus was carrying on the cross. The contrasts between light and dark not only serve to show the different positions of the characters, but they are also an indication of the contrast between good and evil. Rubens uses a lot of light on Jesus, signifying his goodness. The angels and heavenly beings in Salcedo’s work act as her servants. Salcedo included the different accounts and reports made by different people who had encountered the virgin.


















Askew, P. (2004). Caravaggio’s Death of the Virgin. Ann Arbor, Mich: UMI Books on Demand/Proquest. Print.

Christiansen, K (2010). ‘LOW LIFE, HIGH ART’. The New Republic 20-28.

Dixon, S. M. (2008). Italian Baroque art. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.

Martin, J. R. (2000). Rubens: The Antwerp Altarpieces: the Raising of the Cross – the Descent from the Cross. New York: W. W. Norton & Co. Print.

Pierce, D., Ruiz, G. R., Bargellini, C., & Frederick and Jan Mayer Center for Pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial Art. (2004). Painting a new world: Mexican art and life, 1521-1821. Denver: Frederick and Jan Mayer Center for Pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial Art, Denver Art Museum.

Snodin, M., & Llewellyn, N. (2009). Baroque, 1620-1800: Style in the age of magnificence. London: V & A Pub.






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