Baroque Art: 1600s

When Martin Luther tacked his 95 theses to the doors of Wittenburg Cathedral in 1517 protesting the Catholic Church’s corruption, he initiated a movement (the Protestant Reformation) that would transform the religious, political, and artistic landscape of Europe. For the next century, Europe would be in turmoil as new political and religious boundaries were determined, often through bloody military conflicts. By the end of the 16th century, the Catholic Church was once again feeling optimistic, even triumphant. It had emerged from the crisis with renewed vigor and clarity of purpose. Shepherding the faithful—instructing them on Catholic doctrines and inspiring virtuous behavior—took center stage. In the art of this period, stone becomes flesh and ceilings dissolve into the infinity of heaven—artists such as Bernini, Caravaggio, Rubens, Velazquez and Rembrandt were masters of drama and illusion.

Anthony van Dyck, Charles I, before 1635, oil on canvas, 84.4 x 99.4 cm (Royal Collection Trust, London)
Whatever his character failings and political misdeeds as king, King Charles I was undoubtedly a great collector and connoisseur of art.

Charles I as art collector

Rembrandt, The Jewish Bride, detail
With its almost sculptural surface and dazzling range of textures, this painting once reduced van Gogh to tears.

Rembrandt, The Jewish Bride

Is this the eighth wonder of the world? Amsterdam’s leaders thought so—their hall contains a universe in miniature.

The Town Hall of Amsterdam

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, Girl at a Window, detail
In this painting, Rembrandt plays with the division between reality and illusion, present and past. Who’s the girl?

Rembrandt, Girl at a Window