Europe was obsessed with the Baroque, from around 1600 until well into the 1700s. And this style defined the appearance of Europe’s cities well into our era. Nowadays we are still surrounded by Baroque. The most Baroque city in the Low Countries without a doubt has to be Antwerp. But what is Baroque actually? And how should we approach it? Let’s start with a spoiler, Baroque is all about captured emotions.
We are taught in school that Baroque is a style. A style in architecture and landscape design, in literature, the visual arts, music, fashion… Baroque is a dynamic style, with plenty of movement, that is bursting with energy. Violent, lavish too… Dramatic.
While all this is true, this is only half the story. Because why does Baroque have all these characteristics? Because it strives to appeal to us, the spectators. To make an impression on us. To surprise us. Move us. Stay on our mind. Baroque is all about movement and being moved by it. Baroque is raw emotion. And Baroque also uses plenty of resources to convey these emotions. Much like a speaker uses all the tricks of his trade to convince people.
Baroque conveys a message and wants to convince us that it is sending the right message. A powerful message at that. In the Baroque era, the message was a message of faith. Or of power. Of hope, for example that one day peace might be restored again. Or that there is life after death and that there is a reason for all the suffering we endure. Baroque is also bursting with joie de vivre. Because Baroque was also a culture of many festivities.
All these aspects have been combined into moving, stunning and, yes, lavish art. With timeless and deeply human emotions. Which are also our emotions.
Naturally we must “learn how to read” these Baroque emotions. You must understand a little of the Baroque language, much like you learn a new language. An easy place to start is on Antwerp’s streets, in the city’s squares and museums. And as is the case with every new language, it will only make you a little more human.
A classic example: what to make of the many buxom nudes in Rubens’s paintings? They teach us that Rubens was not interested in painting yet another Miss World. You need to understand some of the Baroque language to interpret this in the right way. In painting these women as he does, Rubens masterfully illustrates the robust health and fertility of these women.
Say Baroque and many people will immediately be reminded of the magnificence of Rome. Or of the splendour of French castles, like the Castle of Versailles. Other secret tips include the stunning Baroque castles, parks and churches in Germany, southern Spain and even… Latin America. Or how about the work of the famous and rather infamous Italian painter Caravaggio, with its lovely chiaroscuro effects? And the furniture in many of our churches. And naturally, people also think of Peter Paul Rubens and his city of Antwerp. As you can see, you can find Baroque anywhere you go in Europe and beyond. And there are many types of Baroque, which is precisely why it is such a “rich” style.
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