Differences between the Renaissance and the Baroque: how to distinguish them

The Renaissance and the Baroque were two artistic movements that developed after the end of the Middle Ages, one of the darkest periods of Western civilization.In this article we will address the historical context that was the cause of these two artistic movements, in addition to explaining how the Baroque and the Renaissance differ and how Baroque artists tried to differentiate themselves from the Renaissance that had preceded them.

Historical context of these two artistic movements

The end of the Middle Ages was the result of a great cultural, political and social change in Europe. Painters, sculptors, composers and other artists, through their art, were shaping and reflecting the society in which they lived, witnessing great scientific advances and seeing how humanity evolved and expanded their knowledge.

In 1418, Gutemberg invented the printing press, with which it was possible to produce books in bulk, allowing the expansion of knowledge more easily as well as favoring more and more literate people. In that same century, in 1492, Christopher Columbus made the trip that would later confirm the discovery of a new continent for Europeans: America .

In addition, in 1543 Nicholas Copernicus publishes his work, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, where he exposes his heliocentric theory, that is, that the Earth revolved around the Sun.

These, along with other knowledge, motivated the society of the time, and encouraged creativity and the desire for discoveries, considering the capacity of the human being as unlimited. However, not everything was positive for Europe. In 1453 Constantinople, one of the most important cities of the continent, falls into the hands of the Turks, assuming a blow to all Christianity.

All these facts were the triggers of changes in medieval thought. A new vision about the human being was acquired, taking a perspective that everything could be done and taking away some importance from the religious . This led to the emergence of the great artistic movement that was the Renaissance, which took place between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

The end of the Renaissance

This movement did not last forever. As of 1527 the Renaissance movement began to suffer from ups and downs, since the vision that had been acquired about the human being, idealized and perfect, began to break down .

The new European regimes, faced with the fear of Islam and the almost perpetual struggle against this religion, initiated measures to expel Muslims, especially in Spain.

This population had been a real economic engine, working the land, contributing to the sanitation of the crops and being an exchange of knowledge between Christianity and Islamic countries. This led to lower agricultural production around 1609, which involved famines, diseases such as plague and high mortality.

Society became pessimistic and this influenced art itself. The idea that man could with everything vanished, recovering in some way a medieval view of the world but without neglecting the technological advances of the previous century.

The Catholic world suffered a schism . Luther, faced with the abuses exercised by the pontifical authorities, proposed a reform of Catholic Christianity, which evolved in the creation of Protestantism. In turn, before this boldness, the Catholic dome initiated the Counter-Reformation, with the intention of persecuting those who disagreed and fought against the papal power.

Art became a propaganda weapon against heresy , being used by the papacy to prevent the population from turning from the side of pagans and atheists.

The Baroque was an artistic movement that resorted again to medieval thought, focusing on religiosity and beliefs, returning to take God as the center of everything . It encompassed the entire seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

Differences between the Renaissance and the Baroque

Once the historical background of these two movements has been explained, let’s look in depth at the differences between the Baroque and the Renaissance in terms of painting, architecture, music and poetry, as well as looking at their vision of the world.

1. Philosophical Approach

During the Renaissance, humanism develops , a movement that focuses on the human being, that is, acquires an anthropocentric vision.

Classical culture is revalued, considering it as the cusp of the perfection of Western civilization. In addition, a critical movement arises that defends the use of reason to approach the truth ; That is why the Renaissance was a time of great scientific advances, although religion was not abandoned completely.

Ideas that were already present during the Middle Ages are revalued, such as beauty and love, but acquiring a perspective closer to Greco-Latin, addressing symmetry and homogeneity as earthly ways to approach perfection, an abstract idea and metaphysics.

The Baroque chooses to focus on everyday contexts , on the elements of everyday life. Understand that the human being is not perfect and tries to find beauty in it.

The artists and thinkers belonging to this era try to overcome the previous period through originality. Many baroque artists considered that in a certain way the Renaissance movement had quickly become outdated , merely imitating itself and being a replica of classical art.

2. Architecture

Renaissance buildings are divided into sections. These parts are based on Greco-Roman art, in which everything followed an order and showed itself with a homogeneous clarity.

Renaissance architecture does not intend for the observer to look at a specific part of the structure , since most of the building is identical, with no details that highlight a section above the others. Thus, the Renaissance intended to make their buildings as symmetrical as possible, predominantly horizontal elements versus vertical, inspired by the architecture of the temples of ancient Greece and Rome.

Among the distinctive elements of Renaissance architecture are the semicircular arch, the barrel vault and the hemispherical dome.

Some examples of buildings built during the Renaissance are the famous cathedral of Santa María de las Flores in Florence, the Church of Santa María Novella, the palace of Carlos V in Granada and the cathedral of Jaén.

On the other hand, the Baroque’s own architecture is less clear . Everything is treated as if it were a continuum, but it is not divided into clear and equal parts, but incorporates details that might appear to be a somewhat chaotic structure.

Baroque facades usually have elements that are concentrated in a very rich and striking way, such as columns, arches, statues, low and high relief and curved walls.

Some examples of baroque buildings are the Royal Palace of Madrid, the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the palace of Versailles and the basilica of San Pedro.

3. Painting

Countless schools of painting emerged during the Renaissance , which, despite their divergences, influenced each other.

Renaissance painting improves perspective compared to medieval art. The human anatomy is represented in great detail, thanks to the improvement of pictorial techniques and the use of a new style of painting: oil. It is intended to represent the man and his environment in the most realistic, but idealized and symmetrical way .

The Quattrocento was the moment of success of great painters such as Masaccio, who is considered the first to apply the laws of scientific perspective and a new concept of expressiveness in painting. His work was revolutionary, especially for its use of light. During the Cinquecento the greats of the Renaissance emerged: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Rafael.

The famous Vitruvian man of da Vinci is well known, a very reliable representation of human anatomy, in addition to his well-known work the Gioconda. Rafael’s work is considered the stereotypical painting of the Renaissance , for its perfection, use of perspective and color. On the other hand, the figures in Renaissance painting are characterized by their dynamism, a lot of color and grandiloquence.

In Spain we have El Greco, whose work represents the combination of Byzantine knowledge acquired in his youth along with Renaissance trends. His figures are very expressive, elongated and somewhat shady. Although he is considered Renaissance, his work is at the foot of the Baroque.

Instead, the baroque painter captures reality as he sees and feels it , with its limits, violent postures, diagonal compositions. It focuses on the individual human being. Art becomes less distant from the public.

The church uses painting to send a less distant and grandiloquent message, which had been the norm during the Renaissance.

Caravaggio is one of the representatives of the Baroque. His work is more human, without resorting too much to solemnity. The drama is very accentuated, showing a psychological realism .

Diego Velázquez, painter of Felipe IV, painted great works such as the Surrender of Breda, the portrait of Pope Innocent VII. His last two masterpieces are the Meninas and the Spinners, with a large number of characters placed at different distances from the front.

These painters show environments with chiaroscuro, realistic people, with their strengths and weaknesses. The baroque had no qualms about showing the paleness or signs of illness of some of their patrons.

4. Music and poetry

Renaissance music is characterized by its polyphonic texture , following the laws of the counterpoint, and with a certain legacy from the Gregorian chant.

In the ecclesiastical field there is the mass and the motet, while in more profane areas there are the carols, the madrigal and the chanson. Among the best known composers of this period are Orlando di Lasso, Josquin des Prés, Palestrina and Tomás Luis de Victoria.

The poetry of the Renaissance follows the style of the lyric of the songbook , speaking of aspects such as love, beauty in the divine and to some extent mythological aspects recovered from classical civilizations. Great Renaissance poets were Fray Luis de León, Garcilaso de la Vega and Petrarca.

Baroque music gave humanity one of the great musical genres: opera . It is the period in which it is traditionally related to what we understand today by classical music, in addition to the subsequent periods.

During the Baroque, the tone and the use of the continuous bass appear, in addition to the emergence of the sonata and the concert.

Great musicians of this period were Georg Friedrich Handel, Antonio Vivaldi and the composer whose death ended the Baroque, Johann Sebastian Bach.

Baroque poetry on board issues such as disappointment, disgust to continue living, despair, love issues or nonconformism , with touches of acceptance that human beings can hardly succeed and can only wait for death as inevitable final. It is a very ornate poetry, which aims to excite sensitivity and intelligence. Baroque writers seek originality and surprise.

by Abdullah Sam
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