High baroque is a term for the art, architecture, and music popular from approximately 1625 – 1675, characterized by extreme emotion, detail, and complexity. The movement began in Italy, but spread throughout Europe, especially in Catholic countries. Baroque artists often combined painting, sculpture and architecture to create one overwhelming experience.
The baroque period began in Italy around the year 1600. At first baroque art was primarily propaganda for the Catholic Counter-Reformation, since the Council of Trent decreed that art should directly display biblical events and scenes from the lives of saints with emotion. High Baroque lasted approximately from 1625 to 1675, when emotional, sensual, and dynamic work was at its height. Although this style began with the Catholic church, many secular leaders followed suit.
Works of the high baroque period often combine several different mediums to create one complete emotional experience. For example, the Santa Bibiana Church in Rome combines architecture, sculpture, and painted frescoes to emphasize the life of the church’s namesake. Gian Lorenzo Bernini created the façade and marble sculpture of Santa Bibiana, while Pietro da Cortona painted a series of frescoes with different scenes from the saint’s life. During services, music would be played to enhance the religious experience of church-goers.
Movement, exaggerated lighting, detail, and sensational emotions characterize the paintings of the high baroque period. In addition, most paintings concerned religious subjects, such as “The Assumption of the Virgin Mary” by Dutch painter Peter Paul Rubens. Greek and Roman mythology was also a common subject during the Baroque period, resulting in works such as Luca Giordano’s fresco in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi.
Sculture was an extremely popular art form during the high baroque period. “The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa,” located in Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome, is probably the most famous of these sculptures. Bernini completed the figure in 1652, and was also responsible for sculpture’s setting within the chapel.
Impressive displays of wealth and power dominated the architecture of the high baroque period. In France, King Louis XIV hired architect Louis Le Vau to remodel Versailles as a baroque palace. Just as important was Andre Le Notre’s design for the complex, balanced gardens of Versailles.
The music of the high baroque period is notable for its complexity and emotions, as well as its technical restraint. The Well-Tempered Clavier by German composer Johann Sebastian Bach illustrates this type of music with a prelude and a fugue in every key. Other famous Baroque composers include Antonio Vivaldi, Georg Friedrich Handel, and Johann Pachelbel.