Why Baroque Artists Did Not Need A Manifesto For Their Paintings Essay

Length: 10 pages Sources: 30 Subject: Art  (general) Type: Essay Paper: #11824772 Related Topics: Baroque Art, Painting, Ts Eliot, Artist
Excerpt from Essay :

¶ … Manifesto: A Difference between Baroque and Modern Art

The manifesto of the Baroque artist was in the work itself -- there was no need to explain it in writing as the tools of the artist were fully capable of allowing the artist to present a view that was both pleasing to the artist and/or patron and illuminative/educative for the viewer. The entire Baroque artistic movement was rooted in a spirit of counter-reformation that supported a more realistic and visually stunning sense of the wholeness of things as well as of the "nature" of humanity -- neither purely angelic nor brutishly animalistic, but somewhere in between, touched by sin.[footnoteRef:1] [1: Paul Johnson, Art: A New History (NY: HarperCollins, 2003), 16.]

This sense of fallen human nature would gradually be rejected by the modern world, displaced by a more naturalistic, evolutionary perspective. A new definition of man would be established by modern thinkers, philosophers, writers, and statesmen -- whether Marx, Freud, Rand, or Chairman Mao. The modern artist thus comes from a different place than that of the Baroque artist, who worked under a still somewhat unified, coherent and accepted vision. The modern artist on the other hand was dealing with an environment that was increasingly fractured and fragmented, like T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land."[footnoteRef:2] It had no moorings and depended on the artist himself to illuminate the viewer with a creed or perspective that would shed light on the work, rather than the work shedding light on our own nature. Instead of looking outward at the Other, modern art looked inward at Itself, and the artist's manifesto became a necessary and popular way of explaining that Self to the Other. [2: David Allen White, T.S. Eliot, MN: Winona Seminary, 2000, 1.]

However, the modern artist's manifesto had other reasons for its origin too. Tom Wolfe notes that the manifesto movement grew out of the simple fact that modern art was indefensible without it. Others have contended that modern art itself was supported by the agents of the Marshall Plan, whose bottomless purse went to funding projects and movements meant to undermine Soviet order (in this sense, modern art represented a liberalizing force and an aesthetic attack on conservative Old World Asiatic and European values).[footnoteRef:3] [3: Frances Stonor Saunders, "Modern art was CIA 'weapon'," The Independent, 22 Oct 1995.]

Wolfe observes that in 1974, The New York Times ran an article by the paper's dean of the arts Hilton Kramer who observed that despite a recent exhibition at Yale of realist painters, the exhibit "lacked a persuasive theory" and therefore "lacked something crucial."[footnoteRef:4] For Wolfe, this was the moment he realized that modern art and modern art critics were dependent upon "the manifesto" and that without it, art had no meaning. Modern art, in other words, had "become completely literary: the paintings and other works exist only to illustrate the text."[footnoteRef:5] [4: Tom Wolfe, The Painted Word (NY: Picador, 1975), 5.] [5: Wolfe, The Painted Word, 5.]

Three hundred years earlier, this would not have been the case, as Baroque artists did not lack a manifesto so much as they might have lacked patronage or talent.[footnoteRef:6] Cuius regio, eius religio -- Whose realm, his religion. In Europe, Christianity was still the main tenet of the realm, though the Protestant Reformation had unleashed a tidal wave of "new thought" regarding how Christianity was to be interpreted and applied. The word "baroque" means "imperfect pearl" and was applied by later critics, who endeavored to criticize the artistic era for its elaborate, or excessively detailed, or highly dramatic compositions.[footnoteRef:7] It was precisely for these reasons that the Church supported the Baroque painters -- they contrasted with the "rationalism" and "idealism" of the Renaissance that had contributed to the undermining of the Catholic culture that had dominated Europe for hundreds of years.[footnoteRef:8] [6: Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Artists (UK: Oxford University Press, 1991), 505.] [7: Bussagli, Marco; Reiche, Mattia. Baroque and Rococco (NY: Sterling, 2009), 8.] [8: John Laux, Church History, (IL: TAN, 1989), 342.]

The primary reason that the Baroque artists did not write manifestos was because there was no need for such. All were in agreement, more or less, about the nature of the soul and the Christian narrative that explained the state of the world. Titian, the forefather of the Baroque era, was a favorite of Charles V, one of the last Roman Catholic Emperors to fight the Reformation (and the Moors) in order to maintain a Catholic realm.[footnoteRef:9] Both Titian and Charles...


(This point is especially important, as the Reformers -- Puritans, Calvinists, etc. -- were less enamored of the arts which had fostered and propagated the Catholic religion). Caravaggio, Velazquez, Rubens and Honthorst each appreciated the unique perspective that was the Catholic perspective. What they did in their art was to emphasize the essence of human nature, of royalty, of beauty, of nature, and of faith. The "manifesto" that explained these essences was not to be found in any texts written by the artists themselves because it was already found in the texts produced by the Church itself -- namely, in the texts of the Council of Trent, the Counter-Reformation Council which laid out the fundamental "manifesto" of the reason that the "imperfect pearl" (aka the human soul) was imperfect and in need of salvation (which outside of the Church, there was none).[footnoteRef:10] [9: Yvonne, Hackenbroch, "Some Portraits of Charles V," Met Museum of Art Bulletin, 27(6): 323.] [10: Laux, Church History, 345.]

In the Protestant Netherlands, the subject of Dutch Baroque art was less religious (the Protestants frowned on religious art) and the artists used their talents to reflect the everyday world around them: thus, Rembrandt painted the Dutch people with whom he came into contact -- and by the time that Vermeer was painting the movement had essentially evolved into realism.[footnoteRef:11] The arc of artistic representation was already turning -- from God and mythology in the Renaissance to nature and reality in the Baroque to the everyday persons and places of the Realist school to the Impressionists who sought to vitalize and vivify the real world with an illuminative spirit (as in the works of Van Gogh) to the abstract expressionists, who, in a world increasingly fragmented and fractured by war and inharmonious philosophies, broke with the past and created art that was completely conceptual and unexplainable without a "manifesto." Each modern artist supplied his own meaning (for lack of a universal one, as was had in the time of Christendom), and each artist had to write his own text or explanation -- which essentially became the "school" -- whether Dada, Futurist, Cubist, etc. This is why manifestos sparked modern art movements: as Wolfe states, the manifestos came first, the art second. The art illuminated the manifesto. [11: Fuchs, R.H. Rembrandt in Amsterdam (Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, 1996), 37.]

If the Baroque era artist were to write a manifesto, it would conceivably echo the beliefs and ideas of his patron. In the modern era, artists' manifestos became something of a fashion, just as fashion art became mass produced. Each new manifesto was like the latest fad in the art world -- each fad attempting to outdo, comment on, build upon, or depart from previous ones.[footnoteRef:12] If one had to create a Baroque artist manifesto, it might read thus: [12: David Shapiro, "Jeff Wall," MuseoMagazine. 2015.]

We are the imperfect pearls -- all of us, so let no one forget it! There are those across the Continent who think they may perfect themselves with political or sacred reforms -- but no, perfection belongs to God and through His grace His creatures may attain something like it…but we are all in need of it. We artists must reflect that, we who have come a long way from the High Renaissance only to see our world turn upside down with struggles and fights, with Christian turning against Christian and the Church losing its sons to deceivers and liars. We who create must create what is true and the truth is that we are all sons of Adam! Let us affirm our creed:

1. The Baroque artist is responsible for depicting the drama of life -- the light vs. The dark, the combination and correlation of good and evil -- in every canvas, no matter how subtle or how suggestive.

2. The mysterious clash of two forces, in every continent, in every time, and in every soul, is evident in the work of the Baroque -- and it is the drama of this clash that the artist strives to represent.

3. It may be as simple as the play of light in the background, or as obvious as Charles V mounted on his steed to face the opposing forces seeking to destroy the Church and bring down the Holy Roman Empire.…

Sources Used in Documents:


Bauer, Herman. Baroque. Cologne, Germany: Taschen, 2006.

Bussagli, Marco; Reiche, Mattia. Baroque and Rococco. NY: Sterling, 2009

Fuchs, R.H. Rembrandt in Amsterdam. Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society,


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