Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Renaissance represents a major cultural, political and technological change between the 14th-17th centuries, the era brought about cultural, political and religious change that has shaped contemporary society. The Renaissance brought forth several movements in that sought to emulate humanism within art, one such movement is Baroque. The Baroque art movement intentionally evokes an emotional reaction from the audience. Baroque artists became interested in playing with the viewers’ emotion, gripping the viewer with a dramatic sense of theatrical performance, and an alluring presence from figures. Artists that mastered new techniques could imbue and spur emotion that shocked audiences’ perception. Influential artists such as Giovanni Bernini a sculptor, and painters Caravaggio and Peter Paul Rubens all emerged from this period, their efforts have reshaped architecture and imagery. Undoubtedly art produced in the Baroque period captivates the senses, connecting the viewer emotionally on a level that rivals contemporary art. Baroque demands technique, drama and clarity by developing realism in a powerful new direction.

A painting from the era that epitomizes the term Baroque is, “St. Paul the hermit” (1656-1660) by Mattia Preti (Italy, 1613–1699). The painting bears striking resemblance to the work of influential Baroque artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Italy, 1571-1610). Caravaggio’s painting techniques developed the path of dramatic naturalism, a style that puts emphasis on classical idealized forms, movement, and notably chiaroscuro—an effect which casts a dynamic single light source on the subject.

Walking past Preti’s painting viewers cannot help but take notice “the hermit”; At first glance the observer is engaged by the presence of St Paul. Preti uses the chiaroscuro effect giving St Paul a stark contrast and a high detail of realism using little colour. By applying an overhead light source that pours out upon the hermit, Pretis produced an effect creates a convincing frail figure, as well as giving a divine look to St. Paul. The light gives clear focus on dramatic scene centering St Paul. The harsh shadows on his face and body demand that your eyes constantly scan for an easy softness. An unsettling feeling accompanies the viewer when engaged in the image, the hermits head which lies in the upper third of the canvas constantly asks to draw focus back to the face. The form of the hermit instinctively directs the viewer’s eyes upward from the bottom. Preti’s asymmetrical triangular composition creates a sense of diagonal movement, intentionally drawing the viewer upwards. Preti and other Baroque painters employ realistic subject matter, a method which relies solely on the on the illusion of depth.

Paintings and sculptures from Baroque era sought to engage viewers as participants within the work, reaching out of the frame, invading the viewers’ space. This development is what distinctively classifies Baroque art, the ability to entice an audience and hold the viewers’ in. The form of the St Paul has a presence that beckons, as if the figure was about leap from the painting. “The hermit” presents a simple man, wearing a woven palm leaf garment covering below the waist. The upper body is exposed revealing soft pale flesh. The pale skin of the hermit makes him appear meek and vulnerable, as the poignant expression on the face might suggest. The subject matter draws the viewers gaze upward sharply bringing attention to a vibrant orange hue, a radiating orange piece of bread within in the mouth of the bird. The pigment from the bread is used sparingly as accents of colour on the head and upper torso and extended arm casting warmth down onto the hermit. Back at the bread— the warm hue draws focus towards the raven’s glossy beak, a bird’s silhouette emerges from darkness. A dramatic scene unfolds; contemporary society often associates a raven with death, however in this case it is the opposite. The raven was sent by god to deliver bread to St. Paul after forty years of devotion.  Gesturing with his arm extended, not to send off the raven, but rather to speak praise, while overwhelmed with emotion.

Embraced by the Catholic Church during reformation, the Baroque period often focused on religious and mythological subject matter. These paintings often portray scenes of terrifying cruelty or devout virtue there intentions are to influence audiences into renewed faith by feeling the paintings, rather than only think about there subject matter. Preti instils a strong presence of symbolism into the hermit. Symbolism that provides a clear narrative for the audience, relating a deeper understanding of the content; patrons from the period would have been familiar with the subject context within Baroque paintings. The movement of the painting is almost theatrical performance, baroque art is physically and emotionally demanding of the audience. The magnificent size of baroque paintings (and often there opulent frame) surround the observer’s sight, setting a dramatic stage. The sombre nature of St Paul the hermit imparts a feeling of suffering and loneliness upon the viewer at first glance. Set by a dark and cloudy atmosphere, a ray of light pierces the clouds above St Paul revealing the hermits humble existence. St Paul sits surrounded by a few humble belongings: a red bowl, a lash, a book, a string of prayer beads—all of which, containing meaning within the context. Perhaps suggesting his devotion and sacrifice. The painting is balanced out by a diagonal line receding into the background. St Paul is flanked by a man shrouded in darkness, and Christ mounted on the cross these carry meaning as well as balance the composition. Baroque artists’ paintings were intended to restore and inspire the religious faith; often paintings were composed to reflect current social and political issues.

The Baroque movement is fashioned out of the necessity for change.  Recognizing the character of Baroque art, Preti`s captures the brazen essence of the Baroque movement within St Paul the hermit. The nature of Baroque supports the idea that artists believe traditional art can surpass visual limitations and become a form of theatrical drama, suggesting that Baroque artists observe that art does not exist in a closed sphere but exists to build an emotional connection that interacts between ideal and observer. 

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