Baroque Art

The term Baroque which encompasses art from the sixteenth to eighteenth century may have similar ideas as to the dynamic movement and religious aspect of the time has different artistic styles that can be found in the different regions the art is created. These various changes were the reflection not just of the area the art was created, but also the result of the religious practices in the area, the rulers of that area, and the peoples view of art at the time. Baroque art was dominant in Italy, Spain, France and Dutch where there were distinct differences some that lead to Enlightenment. To make this argument I will be comparing two works of the Baroque period, Las Meninas, 1656 by Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1588-1660), Spain and The Milkmaid, 1658-1660 by Jan Vermeer (1632-1675) Holland. We can mark several differences and a few similarities between these artists and their work as an example in the different approaches to Baroque art and the road to Enlightenment.

Spanish Baroque art was dare I say the jewel of the counter-reform but would have little effect on the Enlightenment. It showed its work in all the aspects as set forth by the church as after all “Baroque art above all reflected the religious tensions of the age” ( While depicting religion in art was not the sole requirement for paintings of Baroque Spanish art, artists who wanted to find favor in Spain at the time had to show their ability to create the ideas of the counter reform in their works as they were strictly dependent on patronage during the time. An artist that greatly represents the ideals and visions of Baroque art in Spain was Velazquez. Velazquez was among the few who would find favor in his work and become court painter for Phillip IV and be able to receive a month stipend for his work. This would not be the case for all artists who during this time were considered of low class. It is because this strict patronage and the idea that artists were still of low class during the time of the Spanish Baroque period that there would be little influence on further Baroque periods to the Enlightenment. The status of artists in Holland was also considered low class for the most part at the time, but they would not be as dependent on patronage as the artists of Spain.
Unlike Spain Baroque art in Holland baroque art had far less religious content and instead was designed essentially to appeal to the middle class. This was due to the fact that Holland was predominately a Protestant area ( Another difference is that artists in Holland would have the option of selling their work to the market and not subject them only to needs and desires of a patronage as found in Spain. During the time while some artists would seek patronage it was not the only means of making money and even those that did would often sell paintings to the market in order to make additional money for their studios. Vermeer who was not as successful as Velazquez during his life would be able to sell works to the market and through his sales gain a few commissions from people who appreciated his work. The idea of the art market is one of the aspects of Baroque art that would lead to the idea of separation between artist and artisan in the Enlightenment. Other than the religious and social views of art during Baroque the styles of the artists would also vary based on influences during the time.
Spanish and Holland Baroque art would guide European painting to a naturalistic realism, but would each have their own unique styles from each other. Spanish Baroque art would “adapt a severe and noble style which combined line and colour as well as the graphic and pictorial, and involved such an acute sense of observation” ( We can see an example of this in Velazquez’s work “Las Meninas.” While this painting is entitled the maids of honour it is considered by many to be a self-portrait of Velazquez. In this portrait Velazquez shows his status as a notable artist. He paints the scene showing his awaiting a visit from Phillip IV, the infanta and entourage as if posing for the artist to create their portrait, yet Velazquez does not seem to be working but almost posing himself in his fine clothing looking out towards the viewer. This realist appeal to art which would be popular in Baroque art is an influence of tenebrism and chiaroscuro from those that followed in the way of Caravaggio. While we find it in other forms of Baroque art the influence comes from studying and following the masters of Italy and not that of Spain.
Much like Spanish Baroque art the art in Holland would pay close attention to the idea of observation and the techniques of tenebrism and chiaroscuro. Holland Baroque art while not totally void of noble style tended to appeal more to the middleclass as artists sold more of their work to the market. Because of this reason the Holland Baroque artists would paint mostly about the joys of life. This art market which consisted of galleries, cafes, libraries and museums, would allow for more genres of work to be sold. This is not to say that Holland art market did not have its own restrictions. Artists would also find favor in selling by belonging to St. Luke’s Guild so as to help control the competition. Though artists were able to sell to the market they were also subject to the likes of the market. While many connoisseurs would buy the works of the Dutch style there was a tendency to buy more Renaissance style work (
An artist who best depicts the ideas of Holland Baroque in my opinion is Vermeer. His work like “De Melkmeid (The Milkmaid)” 1658-1661 shows the lives of middle class life in Holland during the time. We can get the idea of the life as an observer looking in on the room, but unlike what we viewed in the work of Velasquez here we see the maiden in simple Dutch maiden clothing and basic everyday household items. This style of painting would be different not only from the noble appeal we see in Spain, but the Grand Manner we see in other Dutch works from artists like Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). While it would not be as popular during its time, it would show a changing in the acceptance of different genres during the Baroque period.
The two styles of art themselves had some similarities and differences in their approaches to their work. Unlike Vermeer much is known about Velazquez’s life as an artist. He was an apprentice to Francisco Pacheco, and showed great skill from the beginning of his early works. His work contains great attention to detail including still-life objects that he includes to his work. Early on in his carrier Velazquez had a difficulty with the human form. His religious beliefs and Spanish decorum would not permit him to create works of nude forms, for this reason it was not until his visit to Italy that Velazquez was able to better understand the human form, though he still would not create totally nude forms holding to the decorum of the time ( This was typical of Spanish Baroque art artists tended to be good at realism, but would have a hard time with the human figure. Artists who would want to improve their form would turn to Italy and the Baroque artists of the area.
We would know little of Vermeer’s early life as a painter. Though we are unsure of what training he had early on in his carrier it was certain that he had some as he was accepted into St. Luke’s Guild. Though he was good with the human form we also don’t find nudes in his works not because Dutch Baroque did not allow it but probably because it did not fit with the genre of his paintings. Besides these middle class styles of paintings, Holland artists also created many landscapes. These kinds of paintings would be popular as many collectors and middle class would buy paintings to decorate their homes. Though this idea of the market and the introduction of genres outside of a strict religious theme would add to the Enlightenment it would not be a large impact during its time.

These kinds of differences and similarities that we find in these Baroque periods of art, which would actually start before Baroque art, are found in all Baroque styles of art from the sixteenth to eighteenth century. While these small differences would all add to the idea of Enlightenment in art during the time, it would not be until the introduction of the Academy, the growth of libraries, and museums and merging these small ideas together that we would see the emergence of Enlightenment in art.

Shiner, Larry. The Invention of Art: A Cultural History. University Of Chicago Press, 2003. 57-129. Print.
Bazin, Germain. Baroque and Rococo. London: Thames and Hudson, 1998. Print.
Invicta Media, . “17th century Dutch & Flemish Art and regional art galleries.” (2000): n. pag. Web. 6 Mar 2011. .
Janson, Jonathan. “essential vermeer .” Brief Overview of the Dutch Art Market in the 17th century (2001): n. pag. Web. 10 Mar 2011. .
“Baroque Art.” Definition, History, Architecture, 17th Century Painting & Sculpture.. ENCYCLOPEDIA OF IRISH AND WORLD ART, Web. .
“Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. 10 Mar. 2011. .


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