chapter  8
4 Pages

THE CONCEPT OF THE BAROQUE

As an artistic style, mannerism conformed to a divided outlook on life which was, nevertheless, spread uniformly all over Western Europe; the baroque is the expression of an intrinsically more homogeneous world-view, but one which assumes a variety of shapes in the different European countries. Mannerism, like Gothic, was a universal European phenomenon, even if it was restricted to much narrower circles than the Christian art of the Middle Ages; the baroque, on the other hand, embraces so many ramifications of artistic endeavour, appears in so many different forms in the individual countries and spheres of cultures, that it seems doubtful at first sight whether it is possible to reduce them all to a common denominator. The baroque of courtly and Catholic circles is not only wholly different from that of middleclass and Protestant communities, the art of a Bernini and a Rubens not only depicts a different inner and outer world from that of a Rembrandt and a van Goyen, but even within these two great tendencies of style further decisive differentiations make themselves felt. The most important of these secondary sub-divisions is that of courtly-Catholic baroque into a sensualistic, monumental-decorative tendency, in the traditional meaning of ‘baroque’, and into a stricter, formally more rigorous ‘classicistic’ style. It is true that the classicistic current is present in the baroque from the very outset and ascertainable as an under-current in all the special national forms of baroque art, but it does not become predominant until about 1660, under the particular social and political conditions prevailing at this time in France. Beside these two basic forms of ecclesiastical and courtly baroque, there is in the Catholic countries a naturalistic tendency which comes forward independently at the beginning of the period, and which has its own particular supporters in Caravaggio, Louis Le Nain and Ribera, but is subsequently immanent in the art of all the important masters. Like classicism in France, it finally prevails in Holland, and in these two tendencies the social factors which determine the baroque make their separate impact.