Baroque and Realism Essay

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The Baroque period of art that flourished in the seventeenth century. Although the focal point of Baroque art was Italy and France, its influence was felt throughout Europe. In Italy and other heavily Catholic countries, Baroque art is characterized by overtly strong religious themes, emphasizing the power of the Church during the counter-Reformation. Baroque architecture in Catholic countries was often ornate. In Protestant regions like the Netherlands, Baroque art manifested in completely different, mainly secular forms that included subject matters such as those depicting daily-life scenes and especially the burgeoning bourgeoisie.

Realism as an art movement flourished primarily in France in the 19th century. Landscapes, cityscapes, and depictions of ordinary life were common subjects, with no attempt to embellish or idealize. Realism preferred also to highlight the real lives of the poor and working class. However, Dutch realism flourished much earlier, in the 17th century and differed significantly from French realism in that painters like Vermeer and Rembrandt depicted members of the merchant and upper classes. In both cases, though, painterly techniques were honed to the point where details were rendered with immaculate precision in order to show light, bodies, and objects as if with photographic detail.

There is a strong relationship between Baroque and Realism. Realism followed closely from Baroque Art, which stressed the importance of verisimilitude in depicting human forms and human emotions. Landscapes and portraits were rendered in ways that captured their actual light, shadow, and shapes. In fact, much Baroque art and especially Dutch Baroque painting is characterized by its realism as a methodology. Whereas much Baroque art focused on lofty subject matters including religious figures and stories, Realism was more interested in the realities of daily life. Moreover, Dutch Baroque art depicted the lives of the bourgeoisie, whereas Realism preferred to show how the poor and working class conducted their daily lives.

Caravaggio's 1602 painting "The Incredulity of Saint Thomas" depicts a Christian story of the "doubting Thomas," one of the apostles who did not believe Jesus's resurrection until he felt the wounds with his own hands. In the painting, Caravaggio shows Christ's wound in gory detail, with Thomas's finger poking through the hole in Jesus's flesh. Two other men look on, as Jesus guides Thomas's tentative hand into his flesh. The depiction of the torn flesh, the lighting, the facial expressions, and everything except the subject matter itself is rendered with absolute realism and verisimilitude. However, the religious subject matter highlights the importance of Catholic themes in Baroque art.

Gustave Courbet's "The Grain Sifters" was painted in 1855. The painting shows three laborers: two women and one man. The woman in the center is kneeling on the floor sifting grain. One of her colleagues is off to the side about to take a nap, and the other is checking the oven. Their labor is hard, and Courbet deliberately depicts their work to showcase the rising awareness of class conflict in nineteenth century Europe. Because the scene is a snapshot of everyday life for the working class, Courbet's painting encapsulates the spirit of the French Realism movement. Unlike "The Incredulity of Saint Thomas," there is no religious imagery in "The Grain Sifters." Both Caravaggio and Courbet use realism as a technique to depict human forms, but Caravaggio is more adept at the use of chiaroscuro to showcase light and shadow.

The composition of the two paintings is remarkably similar in spite of their different subject matters. Caravaggio's is a tighter composition, because all four of the bodies present are huddled together. In "The Grain Sifters," the bodies are spaced more loosely apart and there is no direct interaction between the three workers. However, their labor links them thematically. Moreover, the two paintings are both composed with a cruciform shape. The arms of Thomas form the horizontal plane, and his head is the midpoint…

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