CT&D #8. Renaissance and Baroque Art

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How did religion influence the subject matter and style of art during the Renaissance and Baroque eras? Consider the mingling of humanism and Christianity in Renaissance art, and the effects of the Reformation, Counter-Reformation and iconoclasm in the Baroque period.

After having read the readings and lecture material, I have a lot to discuss about the influence of religion on both Renaissance and Baroque art. Regarding Renaissance art, religion played an important role in shaping various ideas and pieces of artwork from that period. Most notably, Christian art coexisted with other themes such as humanism and perspective which made for a blending of style as seen in Masaccio’s “Holy Trinity” in the lecture.

The painting depicts Christ in the center where an element of linear perspective was added to lead the onlooker to him via extensive usage of lines (in the columns, on the ceiling above him) of which are also geometrically composed, thereby adding an element of humanism as well. Biblical art also was in focus in this period but not without an added element that the Greeks have practiced in antiquity, the nude freestanding posture. Along with the mixing of this Greek practice with religion, Renaissance artists like Michelangelo contributed to change the depiction of Christian art as noted in one of his works where an interpretation of Adam and Eve is made humanist given the highlighted nature and exposed but correctly proportioned and realistic human bodies.

Jumping ahead, as the effects of the Protestant Reformation had caused many to break away from the Catholic church, the general interest in detail of the natural world had still persisted but not without an increased interest in classic Italian models. In that same period, German artist Albrecht Durer had adopted Italian classical figures and along with his native Northern style, yielded a blend of nature and the natural human body as depicted in Durer’s piece, “The Fall of Man”where Adam and Eve are once again the focus of both humanism and religion via the Bible. Meanwhile, the Counter- Reformation movement tried to reaffirm faith and religion in Catholicism by having the church renovate and recreate cathedrals and other places of worship. The architecture and design of these projects were meant to warmly welcome people back to the religious scene.

Around this period, a new era of art had emerged called Baroque which seemingly had evolved most ideas from the Renaissance period but with new twists. For example, the statue of David had a newer interpretation from artist Bernini as he is clothed and full of intense emotion when contrasted to Michelangelo’s more calmer and modest David. As Baroque art is defined as one that invloves movement and theatrics, Bernini’s David wouldn’t be the only example of having a religious figure in such a dynamic fashion; artist Caravaggio used raw emotion and tenebrism to convey the entombment of Christ as very dark but also very immersive as one would be drawn to the fluidity of the figures’ movements and emotion in the painting.

Lastly, as iconoclasm was being practiced by Protestants in the Baroque era, religious art was limited as there was little church commission and the severing of ties to Rome meant defiance against further emphasized Christian artwork. Nonetheless, artists like Rembrandt took religious art from Italy and the Northern countries and simply “improved” on them via new techniques and unusual compositions. Genre scenes depicting the biblical Last Judgement and behavioral postures reflected from an individual’s action/reaction to their background setting have also became practiced in this era with more emphasis on depicting moral messages as demonstrated by Dutch artists.

In all, religion has influenced an artist’s subject matter and style of art in a multitude of ways; it all depends on the timeframe and what was popular and necessary during a given era. Generally, the Renaissance period was a comeback of ancient forms of artistic portrayal from the Greeks mixed in with humanist and Christian ideas and themes whereas the Baroque period continued on this trend but due to the Catholic-Protestant split, had resulted in stronger and more visually encompassing art-forms (i.e. dynamic movement in painted figures; more architecturally appealing places of worship) with the Catholics and lesser and more spiritual art-forms (i.e. evoking the feeling of right or wrong not always necessarily with religious context) with the Protestants.

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