Northern Baroque

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The characteristics that made up the general style of the northern Baroque came from Holland, and to a lesser extent from the Low Countries, which were influenced to a great extent by the Italian Baroque. German and English production of Baroque art was very scarce and on the whole was done by artists from Holland or Belgium, imported by clients. This commercial quality was a fundamental characteristic of north European Baroque. Holland was a small merchant republic, with a sea faring tradition and a prosperous bourgeois population who wanted to emulate the nobility. As their houses were smaller than the nobles' palaces, they commissioned smaller decorative paintings, with visually beautiful themes, that had no relation to the complex mythological or religious compositions commissioned by the nobles and clergy. This meant that it was an glorious moment for still-life, landscape and genre painting. The most outstanding artists were Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Jan Vermeer of Delft and Jacob Ruisdael. There was also a minor school, known as the Caravaggisti of Utrecht who were influenced by the naturalistic tenebrism cultivated by the Italian Baroque. However, this was the only foreign influence on the painting of this period. Towards 1640, Dutch painting went through a stage where its palette darkened noticeably in the depiction of landscapes. The artists portrayed dense and stormy atmospheres that could have been due to a cyclical atmospheric phenomenon on the Norwegian coast. The result was lyrical and mysterious landscape paintings, as can be appreciated in the seascapes of Van de Welde, Van Goyen and Jacob Ruisdael. Dutch landscapes usually had a relatively low horizon, which allowed the artists to develop stormy or serene atmospheres charged with intention, full of clouds making the views varied. With regards to portrait painting, there were two types. One was the intimate portrait, a type of genre painting, which captured a member of the household at their daily work, such as in Jan Vermeer's Geógrafo. These intimate portraits were set in one of the rooms of the bourgeois house, and the figure was portrayed engrossed in their daily tasks. Another successful type of portrait painting was the group portrait, commissioned by professional brotherhoods or guilds, as in the case of Rembrandt's famous Anatomy Lesson. In these collective paintings a large group, similar in age and dress, was depicted in rows so that they could all be given equal prominence as the costs were shared between them. Genre painting depicted everyday life, such as popular festivities, open-air dances and strolls and sometimes even picaresque themes. This style was very successful in later English painting. Aside from Dutch painting, there was the art produced in Flanders, which had links to Spanish art because of the close historical connection. Its most important exponents were Rubens, Van Dyck, Jordaens and David Teniers. Their lush still lifes, their vulgar scenes, and their joyful colour in religious paintings pleased the Spanish court greatly. Flemish painters sent cartoons that were converted into fantastic tapestries used to decorate the palaces of Madrid. Rubens even settled for a few months in Spain as Ambassador and inundated the court with his overloaded compositions of a dynamic Baroque with Venetian colouring. Teniers was one of the most highly esteemed painters, both in the Iberian Peninsula and in the British Isles, just as Van Dyck was. Examples of all their paintings can be found in the Prado Museum, as result of the Spanish Royal family's traditional predilection for Flemish painting. Dutch painting however is not so widely represented and to a great extent the paintings in the gallery are a result of more recent acquisitions at the end of the 19th century and in the 20th century, as it was never accumulated in the Spanish Royal collections. However, the Baroque of all these regions was linked to Spain, enriching both the Spanish and the northern European Baroque.


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