Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Dutch Baroque (pt. 1)

From the Catholic art of the South we will now transition to the Dutch Baroque art of the North.  It is important to remember that this is the same time period as El Greco, Velàzquez, and Caravaggio, but artists in the North did things differently because of religious distinction.  Flanders in the South was Catholic, while Holland in the North was Protestant after the Reformation.  So, what does Protestant art look like?
Protestant art is naturally going to flow out of Protestant theology.  John Calvin said that Nature and the whole world is the theater for God's glory.  Martin Luther had established the fallibility of the Roman Catholic Church's practice of selling indulgences for salvation.  Anybody, he argued, could be saved according to the promises in Scripture.  The Christian-faith Protestantism focused on a personal relationship with God.  No priest was required, no works, and certainly no money was required for a person's salvation but only the staple Lutheran "five solae": salvation was through grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone through Scripture alone to the glory of God alone (sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, sola scriptura, soli Deo Gloria).  The anyman of Europe could be saved and brought into the Kingdom of God through Lutheranism; and, as Calvin said, all of Creation would act as the stage for this divine play of salvation.  This led the Dutch to paint differently than the Flemish and Italian Baroque painters.  The Dutch usually painted secular scenes, whereas the Catholics, as we saw, dealt heavily (and somewhat overbearingly) in religious topics.  In truth, religious paintings were going out of fashion during this time.  The secular scenes that Protestants of the North painted were of their comfortable homes and profitable businesses.  These are often called genre paintings, which are paintings of scenes from everyday life.  The transition is critical: we go from the lives of saints to the lives of ordinary people.  This is secular art.  And, by the way, the word "secular" today has come to earn some very negative connotations towards sinful worldliness or carnality; that is not the meaning of the word in this context.  By secular I mean that the paintings presented nonreligious scenes of contemporary, earthly, day-to-day normality.  Make sense?

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