Visual Art Classic or Baroque 2008
posted by October 21 at 11:46 AMon
Here’s another binary opposition to throw into your binary-opposition machine.
Late-19th/early-20th-century Swiss art historian Heinrich Wölfflin described two opposing styles: the Classic and the Baroque. (The title of his study in Swiss German was Renaissance und Barock. See how we bring it back to Barack?) By Classic he meant High Renaissance (roughly 15th into 16th century). By Baroque he meant Baroque (roughly 16th into 17th century). Even more specifically, he pitted Dürer against Rembrandt.
By Wölfflin’s system, the Classic style was linear, with scenes arranged parallel to the picture plane, using closed form, emphasizing the multiplicity of the parts or forms as much as the whole, and engaging in absolute, almost sculptural clarity. The Baroque was painterly, with scenes receding into unbounded open or flexible space, unified and dominated by light (light over form), and endowed with only relative clarity. When you think of Rembrandt and Dürer, the terms come clearly to mind.
In sculpture, an easy example is Michelangelo’s David versus Bernini’s.
I’m partial to the Baroque. Just drawn to it. I admire the Renaissance but love the Baroque. Plus, Baroque is the underdog. For years the word “baroque” was not a category in art but an insult. In some ways, Baroque has gone down in history the way women have: as mysterious and not entirely serious. (I caught a glimpse of a James Elkins book the other day in which he posed the question: Why is serious always better than silly in art? What are we overlooking when we make that assumption? Seems worth thinking about.)
So this season I’m voting Bernini, Rembrandt, and Caravaggio over Michelangelo, Mantegna, and architects like Bramante and Sangallo. You?