Modern European Cultural History

The Baroque Age, 1600-1715

The Baroque Age, The Western Humanities, Chapters 14-15.

Note that the unit is subdivided into two chapters, one focusing on the arts and one on thought.

Part I: Rome and the Counter-Reformation.

1. What is the historical context for the Age of the Baroque?  How is it different in Rome, France, England, and the Low Countries?

2. What sort of context did the Roman Counter-Reformation provide for the arts?  How did this essentially religious reaction against the Protestant Reformation influence the arts?  Why do Matthews and Platt call it the “Florid Baroque”?  What was emphasized?  What was discarded?

3. List and discuss the major features of Caravaggio’s art, referring to at least a specific painting.  How are these characteristics evident in the work of Artemisia Gentileschi (Judith and Holofernes).

4. Explain how, with reference to the St. Teresa in Ecstasy, Bernini “completely captures the Counter-Reformation spirit.”  Does Bernini succeed in accurately representing the essence of St. Teresa's words from her autobiography?  How does Bernini achieve the unity of separate art forms that Fleming says is characteristic of the Baroque?

5. Read the discussion of the art of Velazquez with care.  How do Matthews and Platt argue that Velazquez is a baroque painter?  How does this artist handle space and light, especially in the Las Meninas?

The Aristocratic Baroque Style:
France and England in the Seventeenth Century

Part II:  France and Absolutism.
Versailles Web Site (

1. What is the historical context for the Baroque style in France?

2. How does the French Baroque epitomize the idea of Absolutism, the idea (so possibly said Louis XIV) that “L’etat, c’est moi”?  How does the French aristocratic baroque style in painting, architecture, and music “make such abstractions as the divine right of kings, absolutism, and the politically centralized state seem real to the senses”?  Why was [is] this necessary?

3. Explain why Louis XIV abandoned the Palace of the Louvre in Paris and built his new palace at Versailles.  What function did this palace and its rituals serve?  How can both the palace at Versailles and its gardens be described as a symbol of the absolute monarchy.

4. Compare and contrast the art of Peter Paul Rubens and that of Nicolas Poussin.  What are the major features of each man’s art?

Part III:  England and Parliamentary Government.

1. How was the political situation in seventeenth-century England reflected in the English aristocratic baroque style?  How is the English like or different from the French style?

2. English architects like Christopher Wren and James Gibbs sought to adapt the continental baroque style to less flamboyant English tastes.  Explain how this was done in the case of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

3. Explain how Handel’s oratorio Messiah is representative of the baroque style.

The Bourgeois Baroque Style
Holland in the Seventeenth Century

Part IV: The Dutch Republic.

1. How is the “Bourgeois Baroque Style” different from the “Aristocratic Baroque Style” and the “Counter-Reformation Baroque” style?  What accounts for these different styles in painting, sculpture, and architecture?

2. Identify the types of pictures favored by the Dutch [be able to define and discuss “landscape,” “genre scenes,” “portraiture,” and “corporation pictures”].  Give an example of each from the pictures discussed in the chapter.  Why were these types favored?

3. List and discuss the distinctive features of Rembrandt’s paintings; pay particular attention to the self-portraits.  In so doing, discuss at least two of his paintings.

4. Compare and contrast one major work by Rembrandt and one by Vermeer.  What does this comparison tell us about the Bourgeois Baroque Style?

5. List and discuss the major features of Bach’s music.  Which of these features also belong to the general category of the bourgeois baroque?

6. How did the source of patronage affect the arts in Holland?

7. A recent book on 17th-century Dutch civilization was entitled The Embarrassment of Riches.  Based on your analysis of the characteristics of Dutch civilization and the pictures discussed in class, decide whether or not this title is appropriate and why.

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Last Update: 18 March 2004

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