Relating Baroque Art to Baroque Music

If you are a first time visitor to my site, you may not be aware that this fall my studio went Baroque--I call it a Baroque Bash. The studio-wide theme means every student is working on a Baroque piece, learning about the major composers of the time, adding ornaments to their performances and much more. As is the case with the arts, one medium usually reflects or parallels the other and frequently share similar characteristics. Here's a post about relating Baroque art to the music of the time which I'll be sharing with my students.

To understand the visual art of the Baroque period and how it relates to the music, I asked my mom for some help.  Joanne Alberda is a retired art professor, a textile artist and a fine musician as well. Since she's my mom, I need to brag a bit.

Here she is at the Quilt National '15, an international juried quilt competition, explaining her award-winning quilt called Tales From a Ghost Town:

Per my request, Mom promised to keep things simple and brief.

Professor Alberda explains...

To understand Baroque art you have to understand a bit about the period just before it, which I will refer to as Classical Renaissance.
The Classical Renaissance artists valued:
  • Realistic perfection
  • Balanced compositions, usually symmetrical
  • Composed and quiet settings
  • Rich but controlled colors
  • Subject matter including religious subjects, portraits of wealthy patrons or royalty and Greek mythology.
The Baroque artists went far beyond what would have been acceptable in the earlier period.  They valued...
  • Realistic perfection, just as before
  • Action and movement
  • Asymmetrical composition
  • Strong contrasts in lighting
  • Powerful emotional content
  • Subject matter including religious subjects as well, but also people of all classes (the rich and poor) in realistic settings.         
Michelangelo is a great transitional figure between the Classical Renaissance Baroque period and is a Baroque artist at heart.
Three famous artists and artworks of the Baroque period include:
  • Caravaggio: Entombment and Crucifixion of St Peter    
  • Rembrandt: Nightwatch
  • Bernini: David.

Click on the slide show below to view the artworks mentioned above that portray strong emotions, action, contrast between light and dark and asymmetrical composition.

Check out the sculptures of David by Donatello and Michelangelo and Bernini. The images show the progression from the "quietness" of the Classical Renaissance to the "emotional" characteristics of the Baroque.
David donatello michelangelo bernini

Leila compares the art to the music

How are the traditions of the Baroque ART similar to the MUSIC of the same period? Here are some brief comparisons I made.

ART: Contrast in light from dark.

MUSIC:   The differences between loud and soft, fast and slow, complicated textures (polyphony) and single melodies, solo and ensembles (as in the concerto below) and different instruments and timbres (how instruments sound) all contribute to the diverse contrast and drama of Baroque music.

ART: Realistic perfection.

MUSIC: Vivaldi's concerto "Four Seasons" as well as Bach's cantatas, and Rameau's operas demonstrate how their music portrayed realistic images, stories and scripture and brought them to life with sound.

ART: Action and movement.

MUSIC: Currents of driving rhythms and/or soulful melodies adorned with ornaments color every Baroque composition.

ART: Compositions are often asymmetrical.

MUSIC: Forms of the Baroque era grew directly from the dramatic nature of the music such as the opera, the oratorio and the cantata. These elaborate forms were elongated with a wide range in mood, tempo, texture, rhythm, dynamics and ornaments.

ART: Strong emotional content.

MUSIC: Baroque composers believed music was their tool for communicating emotions which gave rise to the opera during this time period.

ART: Subject matter including religious subjects as well, but also in the Baroque, people of all classes were painted in more realistic settings.

Note: The famous painting, "Girl with a Pearl Earring" by Vermeer stands out not only because of its beauty but the subject is a peasant gal and not one of royalty.

MUSIC: Most composers earned a living writing music for royalty and/or the church. Many of the compositions of the time were dictated by the demands of those who could pay.

Note: Vivaldi was a priest who wrote many of his works for orphanage girls, obviously, they were not royalty.

Girl with a Pearl Earring, oil on canvas, 1665 by Vermeer.

Your turn

I'm sure you could think of many more examples of how the Baroque visual arts hold similar characteristics to the music. Look for them as you study this rich and intricate music at the piano.

If you want to learn more about the music, art and dance of the time through videos, make sure to visit my latest Get Inspired Episode 12. In addition, print out one of the Baroque-inspired designs I made available in the episode. Color as you listen as it will help you focus and develop your own creative, Baroque style.

The movie The Girl with a Pearl Earring is a favorite of mine. I highly suggest it as the PG-rated story line depicts the daily life and hardships of people and artists living in the Baroque period. Don't miss Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth. :-)

Thanks for your help, Mom!


Information for this post was also inspired by these sites: