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What is Baroque, Anyway?

By Kahren Jones Arbitman

“Baroque” is a very curious word: foreign looking and funny sounding. It is equally difficult to define. Even experts can’t decide where it came from or exactly what it means as an artistic style. The word may have been first used to describe an illegal monetary transaction. Or it might have been coined to describe misshapen teeth or irregular pearls. Regardless, none of these origins could possibly be taken as complimentary. The word Baroque was certainly used pejoratively by stiff-necked, 19th century Neo-Classicists to make clear their collective distain for the over-exuberant art of the preceding century.

“What is Baroque, Anyway?”
By Kahren Jones Arbitman
Mon, Aug 10, 5pm
Bellas Artes
Hernández Macias
100 pesos
Donation to the San Miguel
International Music Festival

Whatever its entomology, and despite its initial derogatory usage, the term Baroque has evolved over time to describe the art of the 17th and early 18th centuries. No one would deny that the art that now falls under the single heading “Baroque” contains some rather strange bedfellows. How does Andrea Pozzo’s painted ceiling in San Ignacio in Rome, which looks like the church’s enormous roof has been blown open by exalting angels, ever fit into the same stylistic box as a painting by Vermeer? Or, how does Nicolas Poussin’s ordered landscape filled with characters exhibiting perfect decorum, ever square with Jan Steen’s bumptious tavern scenes brimming with all sorts of foot stomping and ale guzzling? And yet, these works are contemporaries.

What caused 17th century art to follow such disparate stylistic paths? The Catholic Counter-Reformation certainly explains some of it, as does the emergence of the Republic in Protestant Netherlands. Are religious and political differences solely responsible? Might there be characteristics that are common to all that can explain calling the entire century Baroque? And what is Baroque, anyway?

The one-hour illustrated lecture takes place Monday, August 10 at 5pm in the concert hall in the Bellas Artes. Tickets are 100 pesos. All proceeds benefit the San Miguel International Music Festival. Tickets are available at the Festival office on the second floor of the Bellas Artes or at the door.

This lecture is part of the series entitled “Art:Works! Insights by Art Historians,” I created with  Hope Palmer to support the San Miguel International Music Festival, which this August celebrates its 37th consecutive season. I hold a Ph.D. and I am a former curator and art museum director. Hope Palmer, MFA, is a former art history professor and longtime artist. Please mark your calendar for two additional lectures: on August 17, I will present “A Baroque Sampler: Masterpieces by Caravaggio, Bernini, Rubens, Velazquez, and Rembrandt” and on  August 24, “Frida’s Footsteps: The Legacy of a Painter’s Painter” will be presented by Hope Palmer. Both will be held at 5pm, Bellas Artes concert hall.


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