Ceiling Art of the Baroque Era

Written by Milan Jara

Art historians define baroque as an artistic movement that started in Rome and lasted from about 1590-1720. The movement was influenced by the Renaissance and the Mannerism movements which came before it. Religious tensions were high during this era, and that tension shows in the work of the artists. Many Catholic popes and monarchs saw the Baroque movement as a way to rebuff the Protestant Reformation. A church ceiling often featured the work of Baroque artists and told the story of Catholic figures. Baroque artists worked and created in Protestant countries, like Holland, but there the art had a much less noticeable religious overtone and was instead designed to catch the attention of the flourishing merchant class.

The History of Baroque Art

The Catholic Council of Trent pronounced that art should and could serve religion. That was one of the influences that led Baroque artists in Catholic countries to work to develop a new style of religious art that celebrated Catholicism and rebuffed the minimalistic aesthetic of the Protestant Reformation. The views of the Jesuit sect of Catholicism so influenced the Baroque style that it's sometimes been called the Jesuit style. Baroque was also unique in how it tied together paintings and sculptures with architecture to form a unified aesthetic. The work of artists Carracci and Caravaggio during the 1590s embodies the movement. They had an interest both in realistic forms, and antique forms and motifs. Soon other artists joined them. In France, the movement flourished under the patronage of the royal family. Baroque decorations were so popular in France that the Gobelins tapestry factory was formed to turn out Baroque-style tapestries for the rich. The years from 1625-1675 are known as the High Baroque Period. The ornate Baroque style of art and design began declining at the end of the 1600s and gave way to French influence, which was lighter in color, design, and subject. This was known as the Rococo style.

Baroque Architecture

Baroque architecture first appeared in Italy during the early 1600s. The Catholic Church, led by the Jesuits, wanted to inspire awe as a way of combating the Protestants. The style spread across Europe, mostly to other Catholic countries. During the High Baroque era, the style dominated all the Catholic palaces, churches, and basilicas built in places like Austria, Bavaria, France, Spain, and Portugal. It wasn't until the Late Baroque Period that the style spread to Russia and colonies in North and South America. The Baroque style influenced every aspect of building design from the floor to the ceiling.

Ceiling Art of the Baroque Era

Artists of the Baroque Period

Baroque painting is a term that encompasses a very wide range of artistic styles and techniques. Most of the art features rich colors and a strong interplay between light and shadows. Renaissance art often showcased the moment before a great event happened, while Baroque artists preferred to paint the highest point of the drama. Although Baroque is often associated with Catholicism and Catholic countries, many great Baroque painters came from Protestant countries like Holland. Painting techniques evolved a great deal during the period.

Famous Baroque Ceilings

The ceilings of the Baroque period are very different from the ceilings of the Renaissance. A Renaissance ceiling found in a Basilica or Italian palace was typically decorated with a fresco painting. Baroque ceilings also feature paintings, some quite intricate, but they also feature much more gold and many more design elements built in to the architecture. The wood ceiling in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is an excellent example of a Baroque ceiling. This style, which features a lot of gold, is known as lacunar ceilings which are notable for their cavities that are either painted or gilded in gold.

Motifs of Baroque Art

The main motif of Baroque Art is abundance and plenty. Renaissance design focused on perfection and restraint. Baroque did the opposite. Ornamental elements were placed in a design that is crowded and dense. One motif overlaps another. Baroque artists, architects, and furniture designers used many motifs, like baskets of fruits, cornucopias, cartouches, and trophies that abound across all mediums of the period.