The Counter Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church's response to the Protestant Reformation, and the rise of nationalism in many European countries helped bring about a major painting style - baroque, Baroque and a related style, rococo, dominated European painting during the 1600's and 1700's. The Reformation forced the Roman Catholic Church to organize against Protestantism. Church officials wanted to use art in order to spread Catholic ideas and teachings. The church told artists that they should create religious paintings that would be realistic and easy to understand and - most importantly - would inspire religious emotional reactions in viewers. These qualities formed the basic of the baroque painting style.
Peter Paul Rubens of Flanders was one of the greatest of the painters who adopted the baroque style. He skillfully combined realism and classical style. Rubens was also influenced by the Venetian technique of painting in thick oils.
The “Elevation of the Cross” shows Rubens' baroque style. This painting is a highly emotional religious scene. Several half-naked bodies strain to lift Jesus into the cross as spectators look on in sorrow and fear. Rubens intensified the feeling of action and struggle by drawing his composition in diagonal lines. He further heightened the picture's lights appeal by painting the highlights in thick masses of pigment and the dark colors in semitransparent brownish glazes. The painting shows Rubens' remarkable ability in drawing the studio and employed many assistants, of whom Anton Van Dyck was the most famous. Diego Velkazquez, who painted at the Spanish court, was another master of baroque. Both Van Dyck and Velazquez gained their greatest fame as portrait painters. Their portraits showed rulers in aristocratic poses. Such portraits were intended to display the vertues and dignity of the rulers. This type of elegant portrait is called a state portrait, and became popular during the 1600's. Anyhow, Velazquez' portraits seem more like personal pictures from a family album than paintings advertising the rulers.
Dutch painting. By the late 1600's, the Netherlands had become one of the world's major commercial and colonial powers. As the country gained wealth, the Dutch people became interested in luxury goods, including works of art. They liked almost any subject that
reminded them of their own comfortable middle-class lives. Dutch painters developed a distinct style during the baroque period. Many Dutch artists specialized in painting specific subjects, such as domestic scenes or tavern scenes. Painting that deals with such ordinary, everyday subjects is called genre painting.
Jan Vermeer probably ranks as the greatest Dutch genre painter of the 1600's. Vermeer and other Dutch genre artists painted small pictures, most of which had smooth, glazed surfaces. Vermeer, a master of painting interior scenes, usually portrayed women working at quiet household tasks. His art is particularly noted for its treatment of sunlight as it floods into a room or falls on objects.
Rococo was a painting style that developed out of baroque. Rococo artists gave their paintings the decorative quality of baroque. But they painted most of their pictures on a smaller scale than did the baroque painters. Much baroque painting was energetic and heroic. Rococo painting communicated a sense of relaxation. It also was light-hearted and had none of the seriousness of baroque painting. Antone Watteau and Honore Fragonard are the most famous rococo artists.
Neo-classicism was a movement in painting which reflected political changes in Europe. The French Revolution, which began in 1789, stressed the virtues of Roman civilization. These virtues included discipline and high moral principles. Neo-classical artists helped educate the French people in the goals of the new government. They painted inspirational scenes from Roman history to create a feeling of patriotism. They are Jacques Louis David and Jean Auguste Dominique of France.
Romanticism was a reaction against the neo-classical emphasis on balanced, orderly pictures. Romantic paintings expressed the imagination and emotions of the artists. The painters replaced the clean, bright colors and harmonious compositors of neo-classicism with scenes of violent activity dramatized by vigorous brushstrokes, rich colors, and deep shadows.
Two English painters - John Constable and Joseph M. W. Turner -made important contributions to romanticism. Constable was a master of landscape painting. He developed a style of rough brushstrokes, and broken color to catch the effected of lights in the air, trees bent in the wind, and pond surfaces moved by a breeze. In his works he tried to capture in oil paintings the fresh quality of water color sketches.