Baroque Style Art

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 Baroque Style Art

By Joseph Parish

As we progress on in our succession of art we boldly venture upon the 17th century Baroque style. This artistic endeavor was initially inspired by the mandates set forth by the Roman Catholic Church as they laid down specific rules which applied to art work. Their demands to the artist were that any work produced should be understandable to not merely the informed members of the society but to the illiterate as well. This moved art from a pure philosophical viewpoint to one of action.

For this article entry, I have chosen to explore an art piece created by the first female artist to be accepted as a distinguished artist. Artemisia Gentileschi goes down in history as the first recognized female painter to portray both historical and religious canvases. This is a significant achievement since during that time period most heroic type themes were considered outside the realm of a woman’s comprehension. As with many artists of value we once again see a talented and capable person who had a father who was also proficient at the trade.

The particular painting of which I would like to discuss is “Judith Slaying Holofernes”. As was customary in early Baroque paintings the gestures were created with much broader brush strokes than we would view in the previous Mannerist style. They are less confusing, less esoteric and have eliminated the shroud of mysterious previously viewed in the styles presented before it.

In “Judith Slaying Holofernes” we observe a scene from the Old Testament. The book which instilled the inspiration was the book of Judith. As we gaze upon the painting we come to appreciate the details of the deliverance of Israel from the hands of General Holofernes. It appears from the painting that the general had been “wine and dined” by the seductive Judith and as he lays in a drunken stupor Judith with the assistance of her maid proceed to behead him.

It is the physical aspect of this painting which draws the large crowd of followers. Previously violence of this magnitude was unheard of. You can readily view a tale of intrigue coupled with a sense of murder and suspense as visualized by the spurts of blood emitting from the general’s wounds.

We reflect amongst ourselves as to what a task this must have been for these frail ladies to overthrow the general considering his massive size. Comparing his fist with that of the maids displayed face and it confirms these suspicions. We see the delicate female heroines facing an enormous male foe but successfully accomplishing their task.

It has been said that Artemisia has portrayed herself as Judith and drew much of her inspiration and her repressed rage from her personal experiences with her mentor Tassi as he mercilessly raped her. You will notice the lack of any sort of decorative background in the painting and instead we are basked in darkness and obscured minor details.  

To appropriately analyze this work of art we are first greeted with the series of actions being displayed prominently in the painting. In order to add to the value as well as the suspense we discover a mellow, dark background void of descriptive objects. This forces us to immediately turn our attention to the actions which are taking place within the borders of the canvas. The thick lines which are attributes of this style provide us with a hard, firm image of the characters involved. The various shapes at first may appear confusing to us but after a moment of inquiry they provide support for the artist’s intent to provoke a negative, unstable influence.

The colors used to create the painting reflect cold, cool feelings with brilliantly mixed rich earth tones. The composition is essentially centered in one area drawing our focus to the main content. Even with the lack of a background we discover the painting to be full of deep embedded impressions. The figures as they move provide us with an artistic plane composed of shoulders and hips and ultimately create a realistic feeling with all the assorted counter directions.

As for achieving her purpose, I feel that with her Baroque character poses she has created a flash of apprehension within her work of art through her use of the less dramatic color tones which add a hidden quality to the painting. Would I personally add this piece to my private collection? You can bet I would. I enjoy the strong, clear images with the earth color tones. To me they bring the scene to life. This lady is often forgotten in the journals of art and we as viewer’s loss a lot as a result of this omission.

Copyright @2011 Joseph Parish

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