Movement of the Month: Part 2 – Baroque

This week, Hannah continues her Movement of the Month by looking at the Baroque.


Well what a month we have had with the Baroque! From our collections on Instagram we’ve investigated a mystery artist with our possibly Italian school painting “Winter Vegetables”, fawned over a jacket from France and fell in love with a beautiful botanical skirt. Whilst these items all fall under the Baroque period, (1600-1750) we haven’t really looked at what actually IS the Baroque. Why is it important? What criteria are we looking for? Well hold tight, dear reader, for a whistle stop tour!

The Baroque

Baroque art dominated the visual culture of the seventeenth century. Originating in Rome, it spread throughout Europe with the help of those lucky few who could partake in the era of the Grand Tour.

A useful analogy to differentiate this period from the Renaissance, (that which came before), is to compare these with Star Trek and Star Wars (bear with me!). The Renaissance is our Star Trek – the stability we see of the Enterprise boldly going, often depicted vertically almost appearing to be standing still in space, is the same vertical perspective the Renaissance gave us. We saw vertical lines, backgrounds of paintings rich in symbolism and time again, seeming to stand still. If we look at Leonardo Da Vinci’s David for example, the clock seems to stop. However the Baroque period brought the drama, I.E. Star Wars. The ships flying through space would be shot diagonally or from underneath, to give the illusion of warp speed in space – whilst the background is the all-consuming dark universe. This is comparable with the Still Life the Baroque period gave us. Backgrounds were often painted in darker colours (as with Winter Vegetables), to give this illusion of something about to happen, we’re on the cusp of a moment.

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“Winter Vegetables”

Mystery Artist

Without further ado, let’s recap what we examined this month. The above Winter Vegetables from 1650-1699 is our mystery artist piece! Whilst I can determine from a stylistic perspective, the medium and subject matter that this is of Southern European descent, most probably Italian, we cannot determine the actual artist. Typical of Baroque still life, our painting has classic elements such as the dramatic dark background we discussed earlier with our Star Wars analogy, as the vegetables in the foreground burst into life. The very existence of a life outside of the humanist realm we are to know it. Perhaps I’m getting too existential – but there is something so profound with taking such care and precision to paint vegetables in their everyday state. Of course, during this time period of the 17th century, religion heavily influenced painting and to celebrate the beauty of such still life was to celebrate creationism itself. Giving these vegetables a platform such as this then, inevitably informs a discussion as to life, death and fleeting aestheticism’s of beauty. Whoever our artist is, I’m sure we can all be grateful for a wonderful painting!

So what about textile in the Baroque?

Han baroque pic 2.jpg
French Coat c.1730 – 1749

To help us get a clearer picture, I found two wonderful items to examine. The first, an elaborate French coat from 1730-1749 pictured above. Textiles were heavier and more elaborate than ever before. Class division and wealth disparity were at the very forefront of societal commentary and this particular garment encapsulates this. There were visible differences in wealth and status and appearance of dress contributed significantly in defining one’s place and social structure. The use of an expensive woven silk and the stylish cut (the large cuffs and slightly padded, pleated skirt) announce that this formal coat belonged to a boy of high status. It would probably have been worn with a waistcoat and knee breeches made of the same fabric. Made for a life of luxury, this would definitely have you turning heads at that Christmas party!

The final textile to look from our collection, is the below wonderful ladies skirt from 1735-1737.

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Skirt c.1735 – 1737

This UK-made beautiful skirt is made from off-white moiré silk, which has been hand-painted with whimsical chinoiserie motifs including figures, birds, mythical creatures, fantastical architecture, various branches, flowers and foliage, draped and bundled fabric, musical instruments, garden furniture, parasols and ribbons. Blue, yellow, pink and green are the principal colours employed. This would have been perhaps the perfect springtime garment over domed hoops which were called Panniers which, depending on occasion, varied in size. The pastel colours and pattern of this skirt would have perhaps been worn by a younger woman, as more mature ladies preferred to wear solid colours. Botanical designs were very popular on both skirt’s and with what were known as “Stomachers”, and accurate portrayals of nature both showed how the wearer was interested in nature and able to afford such a luxurious item.

So, that’s our three pieces this month on our short tour of the Baroque! Next time, we will be looking at Romanticism and some fabulous Victorian powerhouses. Don’t forget to follow our Instagram to keep up with what I find next!


Follow Movement of the month on Instagram @whitworthart

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