The Baroque style of painting during the 1600 and 1700’s reflects an intense interest in expressing human emotion through art. Biblical scenes and representations of biblical characters are a common link between art works of that time throughout the different areas of Europe. Caravaggio represents the typical Italian Baroque artist at that time but possesses many artistic qualities uniquely his own. Bartolome Eseban Murillo, represents the typical Spanish Baroque painter. Both these painters demonstrate Baroque style, yet they have truly unique styles from each other.
Caravaggio’s St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness is typical of Italian Baroque style during the 1600s and 1700s. Characteristics of Italian Baroque style are sharp contrasts of light and dark, violent movement created through the use of diagonals, and intense emotional expressions of theatrical scenes. Caravaggio’s style exhibits many of these same characteristics. The painting was originally intended for an altarpiece in a small oratory in a town west of Genoa. The massive size of the canvas leads to the belief that this painting would have been the focus in the oratory. The size of St. John is extremely large in comparison to the size of the canvas.
His presence encompasses most of the canvas making him the focus of the piece. The actual iconography of Caravaggio’s painting is typical of it’s time period, yet the portrayal of John the Baptist is what makes this piece unique. Unlike most portrayals of biblical figures, that St. John appears naturalistic and not idealized. Caravaggio expresses this naturalism in the dirty, grimy feet of St. John. The fact that St. John is pictured alone is also nontraditional for this time period. He appears to be resting, his head hung slightly down, in the desolate wilderness, appearing defeated and worn out.
The atmosphere intensifies his loneliness. The wilderness behind him feels dark, morose, and lonely. Details are absent from the atmosphere except for a small plant which sits on the ground by itself. The plant echoes the loneliness of St. John. The atmospheric presence enhances the feel of the subject but is not the focus. Caravaggio possesses a unique style in which he manipulates lighting to create a vivid visual effect. The lighting starkly focuses on St. John, putting him into the direct line of view. Caravaggio’s creative use of lighting also becomes apparent in the sharp contrasts of light and dark in this painting.
These contrasts are most obvious in the folds of the drapery. Using drapery to create shadows and highlights is typical of the Baroque style. The drapery is intentionally textured by the brushstrokes to appear thick and heavy, echoing the emotional state of the subject. Caravaggio demonstrates again that sense of defeat St. John suffers from, by shadowing beneath his eyes. Shadows in this painting work to create the impression of depth and emotion. Though Bartolome’s paintings are from approximately the same time period of Baroque style, he represents the effect geography has on art.
His style reflects the influence of the Renaissance in Italy and Flanders. His style contrasts immensely with Caravaggio’s, yet they do share some similarities. Both artists use the same medium and support which is oil on canvas, yet the way in which they manipulate them is unique. The iconography of Virgin of the Immaculate Conception resembles Caravaggio’s in that they are both biblical figures depicting a particular biblical scene, yet Bartolome’s portrayal differs greatly.
An immediate and obvious difference in this painting is that the Virgin is surrounded by cherubs, whereas Caravaggio’s St. John is pictured alone. The Virgin’s face fits into an idealized image rather than the personal and realistic figure Caravaggio depicts. Her appearance is softened, whereas St. John’s appearance is rigid, harsh, and biting. Her size in relation to the cherubs illustrates her large, motherly body, but in comparison to the size of the entire canvas she encompasses less space than St. John. Use of space in this painting is realistic, as in Caravaggio’s, but Bartolome creates a realistic sense of space by foreshortening the angels. Making their heads appear larger.