Baroque Sculpture
History, Characteristics, Sculptors, of 17th-Century Statues, Reliefs.

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St. Peter's Baldachin (1623-34)
Sculpted bronze canopy above
the high altar in St. Peter's Basilica.
By Bernini.

GUIDE TO PLASTIC ARTS
See: Art of Sculpture.

EVOLUTION OF SCULPTURE
See: History of Sculpture.

Baroque Sculpture (c.1600-1700)

Contents

Introduction
Architectural Sculpture
Traditional Sculpture
Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa (Cornaro Chapel)
Famous Baroque Sculptors
Greatest Baroque Sculptures

Introduction

The Baroque period did not lack sculptors, although few of them were outstanding - perhaps only Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), who was even greater as a sculptor than as an architect. Those sculptors who did rank as the foremost in their occupation were employed with unprecedented intensity, for despite the importance of Baroque architecture, sculpture was the most characteristic Christian art form of the Baroque age and was certainly the most widespread. Not only did it succeed, unlike architecture and painting, in the creation of an artistic idiom largely common to all Europe, but it affected the appearance of almost every artistic artefact produced during that period. In short, the first recognizable characteristic of Baroque sculpture is its omnipresence.


The Merciful Christ (The Christ of
Clemency) (1603) Seville Cathedral.
By Juan Martinez Montanes.


The Blessed Ludovica Albertoni
(1671-74) Cappella Altieri, Rome.
By Bernini.

TYPES OF SCULPTING
For different types of 3-D
carving, see:
Stone Sculpture
Granite, limestone, sandstone
and other rock-types.
Marble Sculpture
Pentelic, Carrara, Parian marbles.
Bronze Sculpture
Lost-wax casting method,
sandcasting, centrifugal casting.
Wood Carving
Carving of softwoods and hardwoods.

TYPES OF SCULPTURE
Basso, Alto, Relievo works,
see: Relief Sculpture.
For freestanding works, see: Statue.

Plastic art produced in this period can be divided into two broad categories: those intended for decoration, to add the finishing touches to architecture; and sculpture in the usual sense of the word, as an item in itself.

Architectural Sculpture

Architecture made use of decorative sculpture in three typical ways. The first was in the form of a horizontal line of statues or other sculptures to complete the top of a building. Again this was not a Baroque invention, but it was in the Baroque period that it became a conventional stylistic feature, a systematic method. It derived from the custom which became fashionable in the seventeenth century of surmounting a building by an 'attic'. In effect this was a low parapet concealing the sloping sides of a roof, which gave the building seen from below the appearance of ending in a horizontal line. This feature came to be almost always decorated with a row of statues regularly placed and standing out against the sky. Examples include St Peter's Basilica, Rome, whose oval colonnade was the work of Bernini himself, and the palace of Versailles, where the place of statues is taken by huge urns and friezes. From the attic or roof of a building the practice was extended to other horizontals - the walls enclosing gardens, the parapets of bridges, and so on.

Note: One of the leading exponents of garden sculpture was the Italian Carlo Bartolomeo Rastrelli, father of Bartolomeo Rastrelli (1700-71), who arrived in St. Petersburg from Paris in 1716 during the era of Petrine art in Russia (1686-1725). He was tasked with embellishing the grounds of several palaces belonging to Tsar Peter the Great.

 

Another architectural use of sculptured elements such as statues was to replace columns as supporting features, whether as caryatids (uprights in the female form) or telamons (those in male form). This use had a history going back to classical Greece and became a vogue especially in the Baroque of Austria and Germany.

The third and most typical use of sculpture in combination with architecture was in friezes, groupings of coats-of-arms, scrolls, trophies, and similar elements. The combination of sculpture with architecture even reached the point where sculpture seems to be, or actually becomes, architecture, as in Bernini's baldacchino in St Peter's, in which the roles of the two forms mingle to a degree very much in keeping with Baroque taste.

Such, then, were the ways in which sculpture was linked with architecture.

Note About Sculpture Appreciation
To learn how to evaluate Baroque sculpture, see: How to Appreciate Sculpture. For later works, please see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture.

Traditional Sculpture

The work traditionally undertaken by the sculptor in former ages, on tombs, altars, commemorative monuments and the like, continued meanwhile to be produced in the Baroque period. It generally had designs which approached, or could even be taken for, scenography, with a theatrical approach akin to stage-setting - perhaps appropriately in a period that saw the rise of melodrama and the modern theatre. Thus in a side-chapel Bernini presents the ecstasy of a saint as a theatrical event, with members of the family who commissioned the work portrayed life-size, seated in boxes just as though they were in a theatre watching the spectacle. (The Ectasy of Saint Teresa (1647-52) Marble, Capella Cornaro, Rome - SEE BELOW.)

Traditional Baroque sculpture typically had two outstanding characteristics. Firstly, it was technically perfect. The skill of the Baroque sculptors constituted a true virtuosity in, for example, rendering the appearance of human skin according to whether the subject was man or woman, old or young. Curls, drapery, different fabrics such as wool and silk, the texture of armour - all were precisely imitated. Such was the mastery of the sculptors over their material that in statues carved from marble it is impossible to deduce or imagine the original shape of the block. Michelangelo, epitomizing the ideals of Italian Renaissance sculpture, had said that a statue should give the impression of being able to roll from top to bottom of a hill without being harmed. No such thing could have been said of Baroque sculptures. They have what might be called a photographic objective - to perpetuate a movement. This involves the use of free, loose design, and also of shapes for the human form far more slender than those considered desirable by Renaissance sculptors.

In sculpture the other special characteristic of the period - and the most important - was the appearance of movement. Figures are never depicted in stillness or in attitudes of repose but always in motion, and most typically at that moment of least equilibrium which is the climax of a movement, the imperceptible but dramatic moment, for example, when a vaulter is no longer rising but has not yet begun to descend and is motionless, in an attitude of potential, in mid-air. When he wished to portray Apollo in pursuit of Daphne, Bernini chose the most dramatic moment, when Daphne is transformed into a laurel tree to escape from the god: the moment of climax of the action. (Apollo and Daphne (1622-5) Marble, Galleria Borghese, Rome.)

It was because of the preference for movement that the outline known as the figura serpentinata, the serpentine figure, enjoyed such a vogue in the seventeenth century. As a way of representing the human figure it first came to the fore in the second half of the sixteenth century, the period immediately preceding the Baroque. This shape facilitated the representation of the body in the act of performing a spiral movement, or in swift rotation as in an athlete throwing the discus, or a struggle - see: The Rape of the Sabine Women (1581-3, Marble, Piazza della Signora, Florence) by Giambologna.

Note: For analysis of a Greek statue whose emotive character, as well as its movement, had a huge impact on Baroque sculptors, see: Laocoon and His Sons (c.42-20 BCE, Vatican Museums).

Sometimes the composition became exaggerated in a way suggestive more of agitation than of motion. The artist was sometimes so enamoured of the effects he was producing, of his technical skill, that he lost sight of the harmony of the total composition. Such an effect was always likely, however, when from the work of masters we pass on to that of the journeymen. One merit of the Baroque was that it created conditions in which second rate work could be assimilated into the execution of complex works of greater artistic value: the great fountains inhabited by bearded figures, satyrs, nymphs, dolphins, and assorted monsters which adorned the piazzas and the avenues of Baroque cities and gardens, the decoration of the great staircases in the palaces of the time, down to the stucco work and other profuse ornamentation of galleries, salons, churches, in every sort of interior. In these works the overall impression created was sometimes merely orgiastic; generally, however, the Baroque style achieved an effect of triumph.

 

Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa (Cornaro Chapel)

The Cornaro Chapel is the centrepiece of the lavishly decorated Baroque Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. It is the home of one of Bernini's most ambitious works The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, designed and created to resemble a mini-theatre. Commissioned by Cardinal Federigo Cornaro, and occupying a space along the side of the church, the chapel in an incredible mixture of painting, sculpture and interior design. Theatrically illuminated by a hidden window to the rear of the altar, shafts of divine light descend upon the agitated, swooning Teresa at the very climax of her spiritual ecstasy. Sculpted in white marble, she is surrounded by gilt bronze "rays" which symbolically reflect the divine light. Rising out of the sculpted and cloaked Teresa, a marble angel prepares to plunge an arrow into Teresa's heart. The imagery follows the account by St. Teresa of Avila, of an angel piercing her heart with an arrow of divine love, thus symbolizing her mystical union with Jesus Christ. In shallow relief, observing the spectacle from front-row opera boxes, are sculpted groups of the Cornaro family. In all, a stunning amalgam of Baroque art and architecture, which illustrates many of the main features of the Baroque: dramatic religious inspiration, movement, illusionism and virtuoso sculpture.

List of Famous Baroque Sculptors

Among the greatest sculptors of the Baroque era are the following:

ITALY

Stefano Maderno (1576-1636)
Foremost Mannerist/Baroque sculptor in Rome before Bernini.
- Statue of Saint Cecilia (1600) Church of Santa Cecilia, Trastevere.

Francesco Mochi (1580-1654)
First Baroque sculptor; the sculptural equal of Caravaggio and Carracci.
- Angel Annunciate (1605-08) Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Orvieto.

Francois Duquesnoy (1594-1643)
Flemish artist, one of the top sculptors in Rome. (See Flemish Baroque).
- Statue of St Andrew (1629-33), Marble, Basilica di San Pietro, Vatican.

Alessandro Algardi (1595-1654)
Main exponent of High Baroque classicism.
- Tomb of Pope Leo XI (1634-44) St Peter's Rome.

Bernini (1598-1680)
The greatest ever Baroque architect and sculptor.
- The Ectasy of St Teresa (1647-52) Marble, Capella Cornaro, Rome.

See also: Italian Baroque Artists.

FRANCE

Pierre Puget (1620-94)
The greatest French sculptor of the 17th century.
- Milo of Crotona (1671-82) Marble, Louvre, Paris.

Gaspard and Balthazar Marsy (1624-1681)
French sculptors employed by King Louis XIV, at Versailles Palace.
- Horses of the Sun (1668-70) Jardins du Chateau, Versailles.

Francois Girardon (1628-1715)
Along with Coysevox, the finest sculptor of Louis XIV's reign.
- The Rape/Abduction of Proserpine (1693-1710) Bronze, Palace of Versailles.

Jean Baptiste Tuby (1635-1700)
Court sculptor at Versailles.
- Fountain of Apollo (1671) Stone, Chateau de Versailles.

Antoine Coysevox (1640-1720)
Court sculptor to King Louis XIV.
- Portrait Bust of Charles Le Brun (1676) Wallace Collection, London.

Guillaume Coustou (1677-1746)
French Late Baroque sculptor.
- Horse Restrained by a Groom ("The Marly Horse") (1745) Louvre, Paris.

See also: French Baroque Artists.

GERMANY/AUSTRIA

Jorg Zurn (1583-1638)
South German Baroque wood-carver.
- Altar of the Virgin (1613-16) Uberlingen Church.

Balthasar Permoser (1651-1732)
Foremost Late Baroque sculptor, carved in wood, ivory, stone, marble.
- Apollo (1715) Staatliche Kunstsammulungen, Dresden.

Andreas Schluter (1664-1714)
One of the greatest German Baroque sculptors.
- Equestrian statue of Frederick William the Great (1703) Schloss Charlottenburg.

See also: German Baroque Artists.

SPAIN/PORTUGAL

Juan Martinez Montanes (1568-1649)
Spanish wood-carver of Seville, known as "the God of Wood."
- The Merciful Christ (The Christ of Clemency) (1603) Seville Cathedral.

Alonso Cano (1601-1667)
Sculptor, painter, architect - dubbed 'the Spanish Michelangelo'.
- The Immaculate Conception (1655) Granada Cathedral.

Pedro Roldan (1624-1699)
Spanish artist, master of polychrome woodcarving.
- Entombment (1673) Hospital de la Caridad, Seville.

Pedro de Mena (1628-1688)
Spanish Baroque scultor famous for unrivalled technical skill.
- The Penitent Mary Magdalene (1664) Valladolid Museum.

See also: Spanish Baroque Artists and Spanish Baroque Art.

CENTRAL EUROPE

Adriaen de Vries (1560-1626)
Dutch sculptor active in Prague, (see: Dutch Baroque).
- Mercury and Psyche (1593) Louvre, Paris.

Greatest Baroque Sculptures

Here is a short list of some of the greatest sculptures (statues, reliefs and other traditional works) carved or modelled during the Baroque, listed by sculptor.

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1647-52, Marble, Capella Cornaro, Rome)
Pluto and Proserpina (1621-2, Marble, Galleria Borghese, Rome)
Apollo and Daphne (1622-5, Marble, Galleria Borghese, Rome)
By Giovanni Bernini (1598-1680).

Tomb of Pope Leo XI (1634-44, Marble, St Peter's Rome)
The Ecstasy of Saint Philip Neri (1638, Santa Maria in Vallicella, Rome)
Pope Leo Driving Attila from the Gates of Rome (1646-53, St Peter's Rome)
By Alessandro Algardi (1598-1654).

Statue of St Andrew (1629-33, Marble, Basilica di San Pietro, Vatican)
By Francois Duquesnoy (1594-1643).

Milo of Crotona (1671-82, Marble, Louvre, Paris)
By Pierre Puget (1620-94).

Apollo Tended by Nymphs of Thetis (1666-72, Marble, Palace of Versailles)
The Rape/Abduction of Proserpine (1693-1710, Bronze, Versailles)
By Francois Girardon (1628-1715).

Fountain of Apollo (1671, Stone, Chateau de Versailles)
By Jean Baptiste Tuby (1635-1700).

Horse Restrained by a Groom ("The Marly Horse") (1739-45, Louvre, Paris)
By Guillaume Coustou (1677-1746).

Mercury Tying his Talaria (1753, Lead, Louvre, Paris)
Voltaire (1776, Marble, Louvre, Paris)
By Jean Baptiste Pigalle (1714-85).

Monument to Peter The Great ("The Bronze Horseman") (1766-78, Decembrist Square, St Petersburg)
By Etienne-Maurice Falconet (1716-91).

Woodcarving of a Cravat (c.1690, Limewood, Victoria & Albert Museum)
By Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721).

Apollo (1715, Marble, Staatliche Kunstsammulungen, Dresden)
Balthasar Permoser (1651-1732).

Equestrian Statue of Prince Elector Friedrick William The Great (1689-1708, Bronze, Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin)
By Andreas Schluter (1660-1714).

• For more about the style of 17th-century sculpture, see: Homepage.


ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCULPTURE
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