From political conflicts, to new economic assumptions, to maturing religious strife, the Baroque was truly an age of turbulence. Everywhere, there are emerging conflicts between the old world and a new order still in its infancy. Tracking the separate development of these divergent trends will be the focus of understanding the Baroque Era. An Aristocratic style driven by the absolute monarch stands in stark contrast with the Bourgeois style of the cutting-edge capitalists. Together they form the basis of one of Europe's most creative ages.
The Aristocratic Aesthetic
Art - Music - Drama
The creative needs of the social elite demanded a very different concept of beauty. An art that was distinctly more flamboyant and truly reflecting the monarch's power is seen in the grand canvases of Rubens, as well as the Academy works of Poussin or Claude Lorrain. A musical style most characterized in opera shows the overwhelming "grotesqueness" of the age. From staging to contorted castrati arias, the opera would stand as a musical icon of the Baroque's overdone aesthetic. The consistent classical theme is ever-present particularly in the drama performed at the court. Structured on the classic Greek unities, the dramas continue to draw on ancient myths, but now with a morality tale consistent with the new age. Racine becomes the master of balancing the contrasting dynamics of the Academy, dramatic necessity, and of course the King's ego.
The Bourgeois Aesthetic
Art - Music
A dual society of capitalists stands in stark contrast to the aristocratic life of inherited privilege. A Bourgeois style emerges reflecting their worldview. A Protestant work ethic with an anchor in domesticity, come together to form a distinct cultural aesthetic. The Ruisdael landscape, the Vermeer genre scene, or the Rembrandt portrait all reflect a confident Bourgeois paradigm. Replacing the opera of the court is the intimacy of the suite and trio sonata performed in the home. Like the Protestant religion itself, a style of personal devotion and intimacy emerges. J.S. Bach heralds both the culmination and conclusion of the era.
Most everyone knows the quote, but few understand the philosophical implications of the declaration. A decisive moment in Descartes' "method" is when he affirms his existence as a rational creature of doubt, and then continues on a journey of proofs which end up examining man's place in the hierarchy of creation and the existence of God himself. One of the most profound mathematical thinkers of his day, his Discourse on Method is a perfect reflection of an age of reason.
Building on the rational method of Cartesian thought, the Enlightenment is guided by three principles: reason, natural law, and progress. From the sarcastic pen of Voltaire, to the subversive and didactic articles in Diderot's Encyclopedie, the Enlightenment begins to form the basis for the revolutions on the horizon. Everywhere they looked the Enlightened philosopher was confronted with an Old Regime that was at odds with nature. If man was "created equal," on what basis was the king king?
A light and frivolous style marks the Rococo, which in the eyes of the Bourgeois is a perfect reflection of the aristocracy's general moral standing. Painters fill their canvases with pastel colors and playfully erotic girlish forms which are at odds with the Bourgeois aesthetic of Sensibility. The serious and complex musical textures of the Baroque give way to Rococo composers who seek the sound of dainty elegance. The fugue is dead - the minuet reigns supreme.
The limited aesthetic of the Rococo would naturally grow tiring as society seeks a more varied expression better in keeping with the spectrum of human emotions. No longer content with the airy canvases of Watteau or Fragonard, artists like Fuseli imbibe their works with dark, dramatic images of the irrational. Rameau's Rococo is replaced with the emotional schizophrenia of C.P.E. Bach. The Rococo aesthetic was wholly inadequate for the passions of a revolutionary era - Storm and Stress was the answer.
To facilitate a semester of art analyses, we begin by learning the vocabulary of the discipline. Terminology of traditional painting is the foundation on which we build. In the end however, art must be understood in terms of art and not just art terms.