Baroque Sculpture: Characteristics & Style

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  • 0:05 Themes in Baroque Sculpture
  • 0:56 Italian Sculpture
  • 2:18 French Sculpture
  • 3:02 Spanish and German Sculpture
  • 3:45 Belgian Sculpture
  • 4:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Max Pfingsten

Max has an MA in Classics, Religion, Philosophy, Behavioral Genetics, a Master of Education, and a BA in Classics, Religion, Philosophy, Evolutionary Psychology.

In this lesson, we explore the development of Baroque sculpture across Europe, from the creations of the Italian genius, Bernini, to France and the sculptural excellence of Puget's glorified King Louis XIV. We'll also stop in Germany, Spain and Belgium.

Themes in Baroque Sculpture

It is difficult to make general statements about Baroque sculpture. Baroque sculpture shows a distinct variety depending on the country of its origin. In Italy, sculptures broke up the outlines of Baroque buildings and glorious altarpieces were created with breathtaking visual effects. In Belgium, Baroque sculptors created pulpits of extraordinary complexity and beauty. And in France, sculpture was dedicated to the glorification of a new breed of absolute monarchs.

Despite these differences, we can identify some themes of Baroque sculpture: stark realism, highly pictorial effects and technical mastery equivalent to, if not surpassing, antiquity. Keep an eye out for these themes as we explore the spread of Baroque sculpture across Europe.

Italian Sculpture

Let us begin in Italy, with the great genius of the Italian Baroque, Bernini. Bernini was both a sculptor and architect, and his architectural achievements serve only to highlight his sculptural genius. This can be seen quite clearly in the colonnade he designed for the Vatican. Note below how the sculptures add variety to the skyline of the heart of Christendom.

The colonnade Bernini designed for the Vatican
Bernini colonnade

We can see Bernini's sculptural magnificence in full force in his altarpiece depicting the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, seen below.

Altarpiece designed by Bernini
Bernini alterpiece

Note the powerful pictorial effect of this sculpture, the sculpted witnesses to the side, the marble clouds, and the rays of brazen sunlight heightened by colored lighting from a concealed source. Looking closer, we also see Bernini's technical mastery in the dramatic posture of the limp and defenseless Theresa, with her flowing folds of robe, and the delicate gestures of the angel.

Bernini's excellence brought him clients from all over Europe, including Louis XIV of France, who commissioned this magnificent bust from Bernini:

Bust of Louis XIV
Louis XIV bust

Bernini's skill and pictorial sensibilities are evident here as well, in the majestic, windblown curls and swaths of fabric, whipping around the calm controlled visage of France's great absolute monarch.

French Sculpture

This use of sculpture to worship Louis XIV was, naturally, carried out in France itself. We can see it clearly in this statue of the King by Coysevox:

Statue of Louis XIV by Coysevox
statue of louis xiv by coysevox

Yet, there is more than one way to glorify a king, besides merely depicting the king himself. Another way was with simple technical perfection. Louis commissioned many, many artists to surround him with priceless works of art. One of these was Puget, who glorified the King of France by means of his incredible skill, which was at least equal to that of the Greeks. Witness the dramatic pose of Puget's Milo of Croton and the airy weightlessness of his Perseus and Andromeda below.

Milo of Croton
milo of croton
Perseus and Andromeda
perseus and andromeda

Spanish and German Sculpture

In Germany and Spain, we see many of the same themes we saw in France. Like Coysevox in France, the German sculptor Schluter, produced some impressive statues, like this one of Prince Frederick:

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