This tutorial is about magic. Bernini turns stone into flesh and Caravaggio makes the distant stories of the Bible into immediate experiences that take place before our eyes. Here are glorious frescos that dissolve the ceilings of cathedrals and reach up to the infinity of heaven.
This tutorial focuses on the art of Peter Paul Rubens, whose work was in high demand by nearly every King, Queen and aristocrat in Catholic Europe (good thing he had a huge workshop!). Rubens was a master of color, dramatic compositions, and movement. Although he was from Northern Europe, he traveled to Italy and absorbed the art of the Renaissance, of classical antiquity, and of Caravaggio. He painted nearly every type of subject—landscapes, portraits, mythology, and history paintings.
In the Protestant Dutch Republic of the 17th century there was an enormous demand for art from a wide cross-section of the public. This was a very good thing, since the institution that had been the main patron for art—the Church—was no longer in the business of commissioning art due to the Protestant Reformation. Dutch artists sought out new subjects of interest to their new clientele, scenes of everyday life (genre paintings), landscapes and still-lifes. There was also an enormous market for portraits. One of the greatest artist of this period, Rembrandt, made his name as a portrait painter, but was also a printmaker, and his work also includes moving interpretations of biblical subjects (though from a Protestant perspective).
The main focus of this tutorial, and a leading artist at this time is the great Diego Velazquez, who spent most of his career as the court painter to the King of Spain painting official portraits. But in the hands of Velazquez, even mundane portraits became masterpieces of brushwork and color. Get up close to the princess in his later masterpiece, Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor), and you’ll see broad brushstrokes of red, pink, black and white, but step back and they magically resolve to create a perfect illusion of the silk of her dress and the light moving across her face and hair. No other artist, except perhaps Titian and Rubens, revealed so honestly the alchemy of painting—how paint can be turned into reality.
In France, the LeNain Brothers painted scenes of every-day life (genre paintings), often depicting peasants. There was a renewal of interest in their art in the mid-Nineteenth Century, when the art critic, Champfluery wrote that the brothers “considered men in tatters more interesting than courtiers in embroidered garments.” At the same time, Poussin created a very different style—one that was highly intellectual and looked back to Renaissance, and ancient Greek and Roman art.