The prevailing style in visual art and architecture between 1600 and 1750 is called ‘Baroque’. It is typified by contorted poses, strong contrasts of light and dark and other theatrical effects meant to enthral the beholder. This designation was coined at the end of the 18th century. Critics called this pictorial language barroco (Portuguese for ‘irregular pearl’), in a derogatory sense.

The Baroque evolved from Mannerism in Italy and quickly spread throughout Europe. However, this florid style found little favour in the moderate Dutch Republic of the 17th century. While Rembrandt’s chiaroscuro and Artus Quellinus’ sculptures can, indeed, be described as ‘baroque’, their work is less colourful and dynamic than that of ‘true’ Baroque artists, such as the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens. In the 17th century princes and church authorities used Baroque art as a means of propaganda. Spectacular altarpieces were produced primarily in the southern Catholic countries. The intense emotions of the figures in these works of art were meant to kindle religious zeal among a broad public.

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