Historical Traces on Landscapes of the Baroque Era Essay

Historical Traces on Landscapes of the Baroque Era Essay

So much has been said about how artists’ works represent their era. The socio-political scenario, the country’s economic affluence, and the religious beliefs of the people are said to affect how artists construct their works consciously and unconsciously. This statement holds truth in the landscapes of the three masters, Annibale Caracci’s “Landscape Flight into Egypt” (1603), Claude Lorrain’s “Pastoral Landscape” (1638), and Jacob van Ruisdael’s, “View of Haarlem from the Dunes Overween” (1670). These landscape paintings show subjects, form, and style typical of the Baroque Period.
According to American Heritage Dictionary (as mentioned in The Getty, n.d.) the term landscape derives from the Dutch word “landschap” which meant “region or tract of land.” The popularity of the landscape thus owes itself to the Dutch, who, during the 17th century, experienced land transformation occurring primarily in the North Netherlands. A dramatic physical restructuring was experienced as nearly two hundred thousand acres of land from inland sea was reclaimed to make a complex system of dikes and drainage (Geocites.com). The major physical change must have had a great effect on the minds of the people, as artists including Ruisdael grew more conscious of the land and the space around them, making landscape the main subject of art.
The land conversion was a commercial investment made by private citizens, who by that time must have been composed of the rising Protestant middle class. Considering the major change, the reconstruction of the land may be linked to the reforms in religion during the period. From the Italian Renaissance which promoted the revival of learning and beliefs, Western civilization experienced religious transformation with the rise of Protestantism. As such, subjects varied greatly from religious themes in the late 1500s with the work of Annibale, the pastoral landscape of Lorrain which reflects daily secular life, to the religiously detached landscapes of Ruisdael.
Although religious theme faded in the works of the later artists such as Lorrain and Ruisdael, the common subject of landscape was explored by the three artists. In Annibale, the treatment of the subject reflects traces of the late Renaissance with the landscape serving as background of the religious figures. However, in this particular work, the artist does not use the landscape as mere background, but treats it an important element along with the human figures in the scene. Similarly, in Lorrain, we see the vast landscape occupying the scene, which projects the value of the landscape to the artist, besides the human figures that appear in minute details. In Ruisdael, the vision of the landscape is greatly exulted, making it the main subject and theme of the work. Moreover, nature serves as the common theme in the three landscapes. However, a few distinctions can be noted, as Carracci focuses on land formation, Lorrain on pastoral elements such as trees and animals, while Ruisdael gives importance on the space above, with a dramatic view of cloud formation.
Aside from similarity in subject, the styles employed by the artists have similar characteristics. Particularly, the artists employ the isometric view in their works, although Ruisdael tends to give a bird’s eye view, with the view of the roofs of the Haarlem community. Adhering to the Baroque style, the artists show color contrasts, particularly in the work of Lorrain, where light and darkness provide functional aesthetics to the work.
The similarities in the elements employed by the artists confirm the relevance of historical information to art during their time. Specifically, since Lorrain was the one who lived exclusively during the Baroque Period, his work—both subject and style best characterizes the Baroque Period. The color contrast, implication of movement, and pastoral theme are among elements that ideally describe the era. Nevertheless, the subject of landscape and movement projected in the works of Carracci and Ruisdael also adhere to the characteristics of Baroque art that flourished during their time.

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