The Baroque period of art history lasted from the 1600s to the mid 1700s. During this period, artists reacted against the restrained art typical of the end of the Renaissance and began creating work that was dramatic and filled with emotion. However, when you compare Baroque art from the Netherlands with Baroque art from Italy, you can see that artists from each country expressed these tendencies quite differently.
Characteristics of Baroque Art
No matter where it was produced, Baroque art is characterized by heightened emotion and dramatic tension. In painting, that meant a strong contrast between dark and light, called chiaroscuro. Also, Baroque painters painted with swirling brushstrokes to convey a sense of energy. In sculpture, that meant creating figures that appear to be in motion, with swirling garments and windblown hair. Baroque artists often tried to capture their subjects in the middle of an action.
Differences Between Italian and Dutch Baroque Art
Italian Baroque art was primarily commissioned by the Catholic Church. Naturally, the church's influence meant that Baroque art from Italy almost always had religion as its subject matter. In contrast, by the 1600s, most people in the Netherlands were Protestant. Instead of the church, artists relied on nobles, wealthy merchants and other patrons for commissions. Dutch Baroque art is primarily secular, often consisting of portraits of people going about their day-to-day activities.
Italian Baroque Artists
One of the most important Italian Baroque painters was Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio. Caravaggio's work was known for its extreme chiaroscuro and often violent subject matter, such as his paintings of Judith with the severed head of Holofernes. Gian Lorenzo Bernini was the most important Italian sculptor of the Baroque period. He was famous for intense, dynamic sculptures that placed viewers in the middle of the action. For example, when you approach Bernini's Statue of David, David seems to be in the act of throwing a rock at you.
Dutch Baroque Artists
The most famous Dutch Baroque artist was the painter Rembrandt van Rijn. In Rembrandt's characteristic portraits, the subject is always illuminated against a dark background. Instead of painting people sitting quietly, Rembrandt often painted them in action. Even when his subjects are sitting down, they appear to be about to move or speak. Frans Hals was another important Dutch painter. He allowed more light in his paintings than Rembrandt did, and used loose, suggestive brushwork to make his portraits come alive.