Landscapes of the Baroque Era: Exploring Space over Human Subjects Essay

Landscapes of the Baroque Era: Exploring Space over Human Subjects Essay

The Baroque Period of the 17th century witnessed an era of explorative art among landscape artists. Unlike their predecessors from the Renaissance period who used fine sceneries as background for still life subjects, Baroque artists such as Annibale Caracci, Claude Lorrain, and Jacob van Ruisdael made landscapes their subjects. Through their style, these artists embarked on a new movement that made landscape painting flourish and become a more popular art during their time and beyond. The development of landscape as a subject of painting relates significantly with the artists’ background. From the work of Caracci titled “Landscape with Flight into Egypt” (1603), Lorrain’s “Pastoral Landscape” (1638) to that of Ruisdael’s painting titled, “View of Haarlem from the Dunes Overween” (1670), landscape as subject becomes more and more exclusive. Analysis of the content, color contrast and style assists in showing the difference among the three works, signifying the evolution of landscape painting throughout the Baroque Period.

Born in Italy in 1560, Annibale Caracci’s background is far different from the other who were born later in the 1600s. Considering the time of his existence, Caracci’s art can thus be considered as a combination of the late Renaissance and the Baroque. Particularly, Caracci’s religious subjects show traces of the Renaissance Period, while the vivid and detailed landscape show the beginnings of the Baroque Period in his works. His “Flight into Egypt” illustrates how the artist employs the concepts of his era by positioning his human subjects amid a wide landscape. Unlike Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and Da Vinci who employed landscapes as background for their religious human subjects, Caracci’s work specifically shows more details of the landscape than the human figures. Although the human subjects remain as the focus, the landscape is likewise given importance both in the painting and its title. This demonstrates the beginnings of landscape art in the Baroque Period, where landscape serves not only as mere background to beautify excess space, but as an important element in the work of art.

Born a little later than his teacher Caracci, Lorrain perfected the classical landscape, which features quiet pastoral landscape and Greek antiquity (The Paul Getty Trust n.d.). Compared to his teacher, Lorrain similarly made landscapes part of his subject, and not as mere background to emphasize mood or theme. However, unlike Caracci who simply provides details of the scenery, Lorrain shows equal importance and relationship between the landscape and his human figures. This is evident in his series of “Pastoral Landscape.” These landscape paintings explain more the relevance between the setting and the human subjects, as they show the subjects’ activities and ways of life set in the scenic view. In particular, the human subjects act in accordance with pastoral space; they are depicted as shepherds tending flocks, maidens with their children, or as mere strangers finding shelter in the serene space. As such, there is a sense of realism in Lorrain’s concept of landscapes based on his subject.

Appearing a lot later than the two masters, the Dutch painter, Ruisdael shows more inclination to the use of landscape exclusively as subject of his art. In his “View of Haarlem from the Dunes Overween,” the artist focuses his subject on the landscape itself, and avoids the view of human subjects. Instead, a great expanse is devoted to clouds and aerial space, while the rest (about one-thirds) used to show the community of Haarlem. The absence of human subjects thus suggests the freedom to explore space in the late mid 17th century Baroque art.

According to Sullivan (1994), paintings during the Baroque Period are characterized by infinite space and rich, massy detail. These are very evident in the three works. In Caracci, the artist provides a detailed view of the tiered background—the clouds, the tress, and the distant mountains. In Lorrain, the panorama of green pasture is bordered by some city structures. Tall buildings rise from the distant background, giving a combination of country and city life, and implying harmony between them. In Ruisdael, the vast aerial space is likewise filled with a mixture of heavy white and turbulent clouds above a peaceful village.

Aside from influence of the previous era, some historical facts provide a more in-depth understanding of Baroque art. According to Sullivan, the 17th century could be called the first modern age because it was then that human awareness of the world expanded. Explorations of the wide infinite space are evident in the accomplishments of Galileo, who invented the microscope during this period. Astronomy was at its height with the finding of Copernicus that the planets did not revolve around the earth. These scientific explorations of space translated into the arts, and provided artists with the idea of landscape as the main subject. Evidently, the work of Ruisdael shows the artist’s consciousness of climate and meteorology (Ossing 2002). Likewise, the works of the earlier artists, Caracci and Lorrain show significant signs of the artists’ curiosity of space.

The arts during the Baroque era also suggest a feeling of movement, energy and tension (Palmisano n.d.). In Caracci, the holy family as main subject is portrayed in motion, disembarking a small boat from the river. The figures, although minute compared to the vast land, imply movement and activity. Similarly, the human subjects of Lorrain are depicted to be engrossed in some activities, such as tending flocks or simple conversation to while away time. Although the work of Jurisdael does not show any human subjects, the contrasting colors of clouds formed above the village suggest heavy movement of structures in space.

The works of the three masters provide information on the development of landscape art during the Baroque Period. First, with the work of Caracci, viewers note beginnings through the artist’s use of the landscape as an important detail along with human subjects. Following this, the works of Lorrain provide better emphasis on the genre of landscape as they portray the relationship between space and human subjects. Ultimately, the works of Judisrael, which focus on landscape as the main subject, show full recognition of landscape genre during the Baroque Period. Along with the use of landscape as subject, the realistic portrayal of life in the vast and infinite space, and the artists’ idea of contrasting details of darkness and light, nature and humanity, city and country life characterized what is now known as landscape art.

Works Cited

“Brief History of the Landscape Genre.” N.d. The Paul Getty Trust. 5 July 2009 <>.

Caracci, Annibale. “Landscape with Flight into Egypt.” 1603. 4 July 2009 <>.

Lorrain, Claude. “Pastoral Landscape.” 1638. 4 July 2009 <>.

Palmisano, Blair. “The Baroque Period of Art.” N.d. 4 July 2009 <>.

Ruisdael, Jacob van. “View of Haarlem from the Dunes Overween” 1670. Scholars Resource. 4 July 2009 <>.

Sullivan, Edward. “Baroque.” N.d. 4 July 2009 <>.

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