Colors in Baroque Art

By Evan Gillespie ; Updated September 15, 2017
Baroque art uses color, light and shadow to evoke emotion.

Baroque art, one of the most important movements in the history of Western art, reached the pinnacle of its popularity in the 17th century in Europe. Baroque art and architecture is characterized by abundant ornamentation, exaggerated emotion and theatrical use of light and color. Some of the most well known Baroque artists are Italy's Caravaggio as well as Rembrandt and Vermeer from the Netherlands.

Color Palette

In keeping with the Baroque affection for drama, 17th-century artists often chose their colors from a palette of rich, vibrant hues. Deep red, greens and blues are typical in the painting of Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Vermeer, and when earth tones were used, they were often deep and luminous. The rich colors were employed to evoke textures and surfaces such as gold, velvet and silk, giving the paintings a tactile quality. So important was the role of color in Baroque art that even draftsmen often incorporated color into their drawings, a medium that was traditionally monochromatic.

Light and Shade

Perhaps more important to the Baroque palette than hue was the contrast between light and shadow. Baroque artists famously painted theatrically lit scenes in which boldly spotlighted characters emerged from areas of the darkest shadow. The juxtaposition of darkness and light made figures leap from the surface of the painting, and the contrast of black and bright color made the paintings' palettes seem even more pure.

Drama

These elements of light and color were used by Baroque artists in the service of theatricality, an attempt to bring the emotion and power of the stage to the surface of a static painting. While the lighting of a Baroque painting brings to mind the stark lighting of a theater stage, its color and texture evokes the sumptuous colors and materials of theatrical costumes. With these tools, along with exaggerated poses and expressions, Baroque artists could paint emotion in a way never before attempted.

Recreating Baroque Color

Achieving the look of the Baroque in a contemporary context is easy enough, whether in painting or decorating. An emphasis on contrast in both color and texture will summon the spirit of the 17th century, and richness of color should be the primary goal. Combinations such as a deep red or green with gold are appropriate, and placing areas of extreme dark and light dramatically next to one another is a signature Baroque technique.

About the Author

Evan Gillespie grew up working in his family's hardware and home-improvement business and is an experienced gardener. He has been writing on home, garden and design topics since 1996. His work has appeared in the South Bend Tribune, the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, Arts Everywhere magazine and many other publications.