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The Dramatic Image: Baroque Prints of the 17th Century

The Dramatic Image: Baroque Prints of the 17th Century

In the late 1500s and early 1600s, a new style of art developed, characterized by dynamic compositions, direct emotion, high drama, and appeal to the common man. In Italy, the Catholic Church strongly influenced the style as it made a renewed commitment to spreading the Catholic faith in the face of the growing Protestant movement. It was through movement, light, and drama that ideas of salvation and the Sacraments of the Church were conveyed to the populace.Through the support and patronage of the Church, Annibale Carracci (1560–1609) introduced a style heavily influenced by the classicism of the High Renaissance, while Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610) created starkly realistic and controversial images of biblical subjects with striking contrasts of light and dark. It was perhaps Caravaggio’s use of tenebrism (tenebre means “darkness” or “gloom” in Italian) and adherence to naturalism that had the most dramatic influence on the art of Northern Europe in general and that of Rembrandt van Rijn in particular.

While the Baroque is most often associated with painting, sculpture, and architecture, the art of printmaking thrived during the period, with contributions from some of the greatest printmakers of all time, such as Jacques Callot and Rembrandt.

Though initially a derogatory term coined in the 18th century that implied irrationality and deformity, today Baroque has come to signify a vibrant and highly creative era—an era of renewed naturalism that found inspiration in the early Renaissance art of Raphael and Michelangelo.

This catalogue is presented in conjunction with the Toledo Museum of Art exhibition The Dramatic Image: Baroque Prints of the 17th Century (February 25–July 31, 2011). All works of art are from the Museum’s collection.