History of Art Survey II
27 April 2014
Wӧlfflin’s Principles of Art History Paper [The baroque,] in place of the perfect, the completed, gives the restless, the becoming, in
place of the limited, the conceivable, gives the limitless, the colossal. The ideal of beautiful proportion vanishes, interest concentrates not on being, but on happening. The masses, heavy and thickset, come into movement” (Wölfflin 10).
In the reading, Principles of Art History, Heinrich Wӧlfflin’s distinguishes the formal differences between Renaissance and Baroque style painting. Wӧlfflin notes the opposition between the two beyond the development of style in five different cases. The important general elements and characteristics are organized by, the development from the linear to the painterly, plane to recession, closed to open form, multiplicity to unity, and the absolute and relative clarity of the subject. The first term in each comparison is associated with Renaissance art and the second with Baroque. An Italian
Baroque painting titled, The Denial of St. Peter, by Caravaggio fulfills all of Wӧlfflin’s principles except the development from plane to recession.
Wӧlfflin provides great formal examples of the painterly aspects distinguished in Baroque art.
The Denial of Saint Peter fulfills the formal definition of the first category he titled, The Development from the Linear to the Painterly. Baroque art is defined as painterly because it uses lights and darks without stressing the edges. Each light and dark patch are held together as a whole. The light becomes a very helpful element to the painting. Caravaggio carefully uses light effects in this painting to hold both
the light and dark forms together seamlessly. The soldier is the darkest even though he is in the front.
The outline of his silhouette and his contours are lost in the shadows. As a result, the figures standing in front of the dark background appear to “emanate” from the darkness of the picture space without relying on an outline. Not everything in the picture is evenly illuminated. The intensity of the light changes on each figures face depending on whether or not they are facing the only strong light source which is coming from one direction, outside of the canvas. Wӧlfflin also mentions that, “the eye in the painterly stage has become sensitive to the most various textures, the painterly mind knows a beauty of the incorporeal” (Wölfflin 27). The textures in the skin of the three figures are clearly visible and they all differ. The women in the middle has soft illuminated skin whereas St. Peter’s skin is tense, stiff, and wrinkled. The use of brushstrokes help to reveal the features in each character's face but also obscure the shapes around them. Rather than trying to obtain plasticity, like in Renaissance style, the brushstrokes in the drapery of the clothing and the background also bring everything together and create movement as a whole giving it an overall appearance. Even though there are no defined outlines, “it does not matter about the object, but that the eye can perceive everything in one way or the other, painterly or not painterly” (23).
Wölfflin proposes another contrast between the two styles known as the development from closed to open form. Closed form has elements that includ rationality and a balanced composition.
Renaissance artists were concerned with including elements with vertical and horizontal orientations which echoe the frame of the canvas. This particular painting on the other hand is not at all concerned with the framework. The background structure of the painting was left distorted and hidden. Caravaggio chooses to make the the space beyond the borders feel limitless by allowing the figures to be cut off slightly on each side. The darkness of the background also is an important element because it allows the