Faces of Europe

Baroque and Enlightenment

After the idealism of the Renaissance and mannerism - where artistic ‘rules’ were broken - came the drama of Baroque, reflecting religious tensions of the age. Italian painter Caravaggio took chiaroscuro – the painterly contrast between light and dark – to new heights. It created a sense of drama and tension in his work that was easily matched by events in his own life.

The dramatic illumination favoured by Baroque artists brought a new power to portraits. This famous civil guard portrait by Rembrandt marked the turning point in his career.

Spanish artist Diego Velázquez, working at the Court of Philip IV, produced revolutionary Baroque portraits. In the group portrait Las Meninas, Velázquez reflects on the Spanish monarchy and on his personal status as an artist.

Scientific advances by individuals like Galileo and Copernicus in the fields of astronomy – considered heretical at the time – and mathematics informed the Enlightenment: a philosophical movement stressing progress, rationalism and liberty. Its influence was strongly felt in the art of the period in work such as British artist Joseph Wright of Derby’s painting A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery, 1764-66. The dramatic use of light expresses how rational inquiry and learning are both profound and deeply solemn.