The characteristics and stylistic aspects of Baroque art are difficult to define because other than the break during the Mannerism period Baroque is simply a continuation of the Late Renaissance. The Baroque period in art occurred roughly 1600 to 1750 C.E. The main differentiating characteristic between the Late Renaissance and Baroque is that Baroque is considered dynamic while Renaissance is considered static.
Some words that are commonly used to describe Baroque art are spacious, colorful, dynamic, brilliant, theatrical (this was also a period of great popularity for live theatre), passionate, sensual, ecstatic, opulent, extravagant, versatile and virtuoso. Events going on during this time period both inside and outside the art world affected the appearance of the art that was being created.
One of the societal influences on art was the feeling of nationalism prevalent in this region. There were wars going on in America as well as between the Renaissance cities. Citizens of the cities were feeling loyal to their hometowns and this was reflected in the visual art.
Also during this time period major advances were being made in the fields of science, including astronomy and physics. Some of the people who played major roles in this advancement of science were Galileo, Kepler, and Newton. Three aspects of art that were greatly influenced, but not completely transformed, by science were space, time, and light.
Never before had outer space been studied so closely and with such great detail. The concept of the universe and outer space seeped into the visual arts. Milton describes the new understanding as “the vast and boundless deep.” The new concept of space can been seen particularly in the Perspective Illusionism of Fra Andrea Pozzo.
In centuries previous light was primarily conceptual and was very important in religious depictions. Not only was light ethereal, as seen in gothic architecture, but it was also a symbolic representation of truth and the Holy Spirit. Now light became a physical entity. An example of this new concept of light is Gianlorenzo Bernini’s (also known as Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini) Ecstasy of St. Theresa. In this sculpture gold spikes, representing rays of light from above, seem to lunge toward the figures. In order to further accentuate the light in the piece, a small opening is located above the spikes so they shine with actual sunlight.
The concept of time played important roles in religion, psychology, philosophy, and literature. Previously people could not and did not attempt to define time. Time was accepted as a concept and not something that exists in reality. During this period however scientists began to apply measurements to the concept of time bringing it closer to being an actual aspect of nature. Artists began use time as a central theme in much of their work; often it was depicted as fleeting and fierce.
Scientists began to study nature through careful observation and experimentation. Artists did the same, studying the human figure closer than had ever been done before and adding elements of the natural to depictions of the ideal (classicism). Artists continued to use space, time, and light symbolically and to create art that illustrated the invisible and unchanging truth. However, in the Baroque period artists began to add naturalism to their paintings believing that since nature was pure and perfect it would make their artwork more valid.
Finally artists had all the tools they needed to created realistic art that was completely convincing and accurate. They could move on and concentrate more on the drama of human life than the recreation of it on a flat surface.
Gardner's Art Through the Ages Tenth Edition