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Art History: Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo

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Table of contents

  1. Abstract
  2. The Renaissance Period
  3. The Baroque Period
  4. The Rococo Period


In this essay I will discuss the relationship between the arts and the growing body of scientific knowledge during the Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo periods. Beginning with the Renaissance and then continuing on to the Baroque and Rococo periods, science and art were closely related. In the early 1500s, the renaissance period brought a new way of thinking about art that was contagious and spread throughout the land. In the early 1600s, the Baroque period brought more emotion to art and a less idealistic viewpoint was portrayed.

During this period traditions were tested and deeper knowledge of the world around us was gained. In the early 1700s the Rococo period was said to be the age of enlightenment, and the art reflected a lighter atmosphere.

The Renaissance Period

A collective yearning for knowledge led Leonardo da Vinci to study anatomy to better understand the body so he could create better painting and sculptures. The Vitruvian Man is a piece of work created by da Vinci that blends his love of arts, and his desire to better understand science. “The drawing, which is in pen and ink on paper, depicts a man in two superimposed positions with his arms and legs apart and inscribed in a circle and square. The drawing and text are sometimes called the Canon of Proportions or, less often, Proportions of Man. ” (Wikipedia) His work was inspired by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio commonly known as Vitruvius. Vitruvis was a Roman author, architect, civil engineer and military engineer during the 1st century BC, and his discussion of perfect proportion in architecture and the human body inspired da Vinci to analyze the proportions of the human body in his drawing of the Vitruvian Man.

According to Wikipedia, Da Vinci breaks down the human body in a way that it is related to itself, with the navel being the center of the circumference of a perfect circle, and the outreached hands and feet forming the perfect square. He further breaks down the human body into relation to itself by measuring parts according to other parts. He noted that that eight heads equal height, a palm is four fingers, a foot is four palms, a cubit is six palms etc. (A cubit is the forearm length from the tip of the middle finger to the bottom of the elbow. ) (Wikipedia)

The Baroque Period

If it is not Baroque, don’t fix it! In its early years the term Baroque was actually derogatory. To call something baroque meant that it was overly exaggerated and filled with unflattering details that were real, and not idealized like the art from the Renaissance Period. It was a new concept that painted a story of an emotion at a moment in time. (New World Encyclopedia) There were great discoveries during this period that related the earth to the stars, and innovations in science mimic those changes with the arts. Tradition was questioned, and determined that it was no longer useful or beneficial for scientists. An example of this is the artwork of Galileo Galilei demonstrating his telescope, the first to be used for astronomical observations.

With his telescope, Galilei directly contradicted the Catholic Church’s teaching that the earth was the center of the universe. This contradiction was not viewed as revolutionary, and unfortunately he was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life. The doubt in tradition was inevitably placed in many people’s minds, and may perhaps have changed the art of this time.

The Rococo Period

The Rococo art was an age of enlightenment, and the use of light colors, such as pastels were used create beautiful pieces. Attention to detail, ornamentation and the use of bright light colors broadened, as artists moved away from the Baroque style. The style of Rococo art was playful and light hearted, not serious and stern like that art during the baroque period. Life was about pleasure during this time period for those who were in the market to purchase this art. An example is Joseph Wright of Derby’s painting A Philosopher Giving a Lecture at the Orrery (1765). The painting depicts a mechanical model of the solar system, and was used to show the orbit of the planets around the sun. It has been stated that it made the universe seem almost like a clock. (Khan Academy)

In conclusion, the journeys of art and science together have directed the teachings of humans through space and time. A picture can paint a thousand words, and art has helped teach those who were illiterate by portraying a demonstrative message. Art and science have been intertwined through time and have conveyed messages in their pieces showing the principles of religion, theories of science scholars, and playful lighthearted humanly pleasures. We would not be as advanced of a species if we didn’t have the ability to communicate science through art.

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