The Baroque style arose out of a tumultuous time. The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century was initiated by key figures such as Martin Luther and John Calvin. Luther’s 95 Theses contributed to this initial splintering of the Catholic Church. After this split, the Roman Catholics and the Protestants held different ideals in not only the religious world, but also in the artistic world as well. Both sides held completely different opinions on the representation of religious figures in art. The Roman Catholics argued that idolatry imagery of religious figures and scenes was necessary in order to spread faith and religion to those that were unable to read. In contrast, the Protestants denounced religious imagery. This denunciation was due to the Protestant belief that false doctrines and the worshiping of religious idols would not help one reach heaven.
The split between the Protestants and Roman Catholics is where Baroque art comes into play. Baroque art arose out of Mannerism, which too contained religious imagery, oftentimes showing twisting, elongated figures with no single light source in a heavenly realm. Baroque art, on the other hand, focused on putting religious scenes into a modern setting. It was very realistic but very dramatic as well. The sculptures that emerged from the Baroque era were not as idealized and contained more realistic proportions as well as less muscle than previous sculptures. As an example, these sculptures could be contrasted to the very idealized and rigid sculptures of the Egyptians.
The shift from the Mannerist to the Baroque style is exemplified through the changes in architecture, sculpture, and paintings. For example, the painting Henri IV Receives the Portrait of Marie de’ Medici is conformed to the Mannerist style as mannerism is portrayed through the representation of a heavenly realm with elongated and twisted figures. This painting is also considered to be of Mannerist style due to the absence of a single light source. If it were to be Baroque, the figures would be represented as more realistic, and the religious imagery would be set in a more modern setting. A painting that could be considered as slightly Baroque in style is Fruit and Insects by Rachel Ruysch. This painting is a still life that was painted for a merchant class. The subject of the piece appears to be the harvest of autumn, and the wheat and the grapes have a slightly Baroque concept to them as a religious person looking at this painting would have thought of the Eucharist. This is likely a composite study of each fruit combined into one still life, which also resembles Baroque art due to the painting’s realism. The painting Calling of Saint Matthew by Caravaggio best represents the Baroque style. This painting depicts Matthew, one of Christ’s disciples, Christ, and Saint Peter. It is hard to determine them as religious figures due to the modern setting of the scene, but it does hold a religious message while conforming to the realistic aspect of Baroque art. Christ appears to be pointing at Matthew, who points to himself as well. Matthew is represented as a tax collector -another modern twist employed by Caravaggio, as he oftentimes used models that he found on the streets of Rome. This is a moment of spiritual awakening and transformation, which is often represented in Baroque art. Caravaggio does not aim to show Christ in a spiritual place such as heaven, but rather in a tavern. Although Caravaggio was known for his unique style of Baroque art, he was later credited for his own style known as “Caravaggism”.
This pattern throughout the history of art appears all too often. After a tumultuous time, people find themselves thrust into a new style. This time, the split of the Catholic Church brought about two groups with their separate views on the depiction of religion within art. Undoubtedly, without the split of the Catholic Church, the artists of the time would not have found themselves moving away from the Mannerist style and into the Baroque style.