Renaissance and Baroque Eras: Art Comparison


Comparing the Eras of the Renaissance and Baroque

Since the beginning of time Art has been used as a form of expression. With each historical art era came new advances and techniques. Each era was influenced by the unique characteristics, style and social conditions of its time. Although each era bought forth new forms and unique styles of art many historical art periods were influenced by an earlier period of history. The following essay will describe and explain the characteristics, style and influences of the Renaissance and Baroque eras as individual periods. It will also analyze painting from each period and explain the similarities and differences of both paintings; it will also discuss the relationship between the two eras.

A look at the Renaissance

The Renaissance era is known as the period of transition into modern day. The term Renaissance originated from the French language meaning rebirth, which precisely describes the period of the Renaissance. The Renaissance began in Italy and quickly spread across Europe between the 14th and 17th century. During this period Europe experienced large social, intellectual and economic changes. Europe’s ability to surface from the stagnated economy of the Middle Age had large effects on the period. Possibly the most significant and popular advancements made were in the cultural, social and political institutions. The progression into Individualism during the Renaissance made way for major advancements. This progression removed the traditional values of the Church and allowed individuals the freedom to explore the human mind, body and their surroundings. The issue of religion had a significant effect on the Renaissance era. With the Catholic Church tangled up in controversy over power, corruption, simony, nepotism and the Pope’s fathering of illegitimate children, many followers turned away from the Church and embraced a new reformed version of their beliefs causing a decrease power level for the Church. The increase of literacy also affected the Catholic Church, as believers learned more they realized that the Church was preaching only what they favored to the followers. Possibly the most significant religious event during the Renaissance history, was the Protestant Reformation, which was founded by Martin Luther in Germany. The new found views towards religion had major effects on society and their way of thought. Freedom from the Church allowed individuals to explore freely which resulted in a completely new way of life in all fields. (“The Renaissance”,n.d.)

The Renaissance era allowed art to develop and mature far beyond the traditional and conventional religious subject matter to replicate human emotion and realism in art. While religion remained the main influence during the renaissance the origination and recognition of human form, expression and scientific study became very active influences in the arts. Painting and sculpting techniques developed greatly during the Renaissance. Artists began using new techniques such as linear perspective, laws of portion, balance and physical presence. The key distinctiveness that characterized Renaissance art includes an adoration and praise of the human figure and nature, realistic linear perspective and prominence on the association of light and shadow. Most of the best known artists and masterpieces were produced during the Renaissance period. During the Renaissance era famous artists such as Masaccio, Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci created unique and untraditional techniques never used before. (“The Renaissance”,n.d.)

A look at the Baroque period

The term Baroque originates from the Portuguese language meaning “irregular pearl”. The era was dubbed the name to imply strangeness and irregularity. The baroque style began roughly at the end of the 16th century and lasted until the mid 17th century. The Baroque style first developed out of the Catholic spectacle and poise associated with the Counter-Reformation. Later, as the technique expanded north, it quickly became famous at royal courts, where it represented the rising rule of the new monarchies. The religious differences which begun during the Renaissance with the Reformation and Counter Reformation continue well into the 17th century. The religious conflict among the two groups influenced art greatly in this era. As a result of the Catholic Church’s Counter-Reformation, amazing churches were built, decorated and furnished to the extreme. Consequently, the demand for unique extraordinary religious themed artwork was great. As the economy flourished many European capitals began to raise, therefore the increase for architecture and decoration was high. (Guisepi, n.d.)

Art during the Baroque period produced a sensation of progression, dynamic and apprehension. The technique of powerfully using distinction of light and shadow and a never-ending quantity of space is famous during this era. The presence of passionate spirituality and realism were also vastly utilized. Artists were famous for showing an individual’s personalities, passion, emotions and thought merely through their facial expressions. Baroque art was a form of exaggerated Renaissance style art.

Baroque painters utilized the fundaments of art distinctively from prior eras. In paintings lines were typically smooth and gentle; the color scheme consisted mainly of a single tone. The difference between shade and little was an essential technique. Time was particularly important to painters during the Baroque era. Artists viewed time as an assessable object. They believed time fades lies away leaving truth and justifies good over evil. The use of time would be a recurring theme throughout the Baroque era. Similar to the Renaissance, the Baroque artists ornamented the interior of grand buildings such as chapels and palaces. Along with art, the Baroque style surpassed the modern form of sculpture. Baroque sculptures were full of uniqueness, expression, and action. The sculptures of this period also expressed a passionate emotional bliss and creativity. (Guisepi, n.d.)


Both the Renaissance and the Baroque eras created several of the most famous artistic works produced in the Western world. While the two eras illustrate distinctive distinction in work style and theme, nonetheless they reveal many characteristics in common. To better understand the similarities of the eras a comparison of two works of art from the two different periods is helpful.

The two paintings that will be analyzed and compared are Leonard da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Peter Paul Rubens’ The Straw Hat.

Analysis of the Mona Lisa

The woman portrayed in the Mona Lisa painting is known as La Gioconda or “the Smiling One”. The structure of the Mona Lisa forms a pyramid shape, her folded arms and hands serving as the bottom base, her shoulders and arms forming the sides and her head as the peak all connecting to form a pyramid. The support on which her left arm lays is hardly noticeable, extending to a vanishing armrest. Leonard da Vinci’s keen Renaissance period infatuation with features and detail is enthusiastically obvious in the painting. The smallest details such as the creases in her gown, the superior use of detail of the background, and the structure of her hair are accurately and thoroughly painted. The painting looks as though it was submersed in a smoky haze which was created by da Vinci’s expert ability to gradual blend one area of color into another without a sharp outline. This technique allows the viewer to recognize the shadows and light of both the image and background. The paintings lighting is submissive, however extremely natural. The use of natural and realistic highlighting and shadowing characterize the shape, features and expression of Mona Lisa. Unlike her face, her dark tone clothing easily blends into the softly lit setting behind her, merging the work of art in the classical Renaissance manner. Regardless of the proficiently blended colors, the features of the scenery behind Mona Lisa are obviously noticeable, another distinctive technique of the Renaissance. The utilization of linear perspective is delicately understated due to the absents of individually positioned lines, but nonetheless are still present and noticeable, as the observer stares back into the scenery the vanishing point can easily be located behind the head of the figure. The stream flowing behind her, the distant mountains, the path and canal near the center of the painting are distinctive features of the painting regardless of the haze and create addition interest to the entire painting. ( da Vinci, 1605)

Analysis of The Straw Hat

The subject of Peter Paul Rubens’ The Straw Hat is Susanna Fourment. In the painting Fourment’s stand is positioned to formed a pyramid structure. Resembling the structure of the Mona Lisa her folded arms also serve as a base, her shoulders and arms as the sides and her head as the peak all corresponding to form a pyramid like shape. The hat on her head is placed casually with a minor slant, which creates a line that cuts the peak of the pyramid. Her flared skirt which is slightly noticeably under her folded arms creates the sense of a second, shorter pyramid that is concealed under the first. In his painting, Rubens demonstrates the classic Baroque freestyle brushstrokes. This technique is noticeably observed in the features of Foument’s dress and hat. Her laced cuff and the feathers in her hat are visibly identifiable; however their finer details are buried by the graceful flowing brushstrokes, which is a typical technique of the Baroque era. Rubens employed the classic Baroque method of strongly contrasting shadows and lights to highlight and focus on features in his painting. To create a naturalistic light in the painting the lighting was focus directly on Fourment. Rubens use of strong bold colors for Fourment’s clothes along with the contrast of color and texture among fabric and skin allow her to stand out and clearly portray her as the focal point of the painting. The backdrop of this painting is merely a mistily illustrated group of clouds with a hint of blue sky scarcely peeping through. As a result, the background of The Straw Hat painting is utterly inferior to the focal point of the piece. Without distinctive images in the backdrop to supply an allusion point, the use of linear perspective is unseen. ( Rubens, 1625)

Similarities in both paintings

Both artists treat the similar themed topic according to the technique of their particular periods. Both paintings illustrate a young lady in nearly identical poses, both bodies are positioned at a 75 degree angle with the head somewhat turned back in the direction of the observer. Both women have their hands carefully positioned under the bust in front of them. Both woman gaze towards the right of the viewer neither one stares directly towards the viewer. Both women display a slight content grin on their faces. Another similarity among the paintings is observed in the background of both painting. Both paintings create mysterious and foggy sceneries behind the woman. In addition Rubens’ composition resembles the Mona Lisa so much that many questioned if Ruben intentionally setup his painting that way.

Differences of the paintings

In the Mona Lisa painting da Vinci uses precise and magnificent technique in the details of the background; the era’s passion for details is enthusiastically noticeable. On the other hand, the background of The Straw Hat demands no attention. During the Baroque era artist primarily focused on the main subject matter. Another difference in the paintings is the use of linear perspective, in the Mona Lisa da Vinici creates a clear vanishing point in the background of his painting, unlike Rubens’s painting were he pays no attention to the background scenery and only focuses on the main subject. Another distinction in the paintings is the color scheme, in the Mona Lisa deep dark colors are blended smoothly with the background and the sfumato technique is used perfectly to bring focus to the details of both the image and background, in The Straw Hat bold daring color tones are used to make the image stand out, also instead of the sfumato technique Rubens uses the traditional Baroque technique of combining strongly differing lights and shadows to focus on and emphasize the features in his painting.

Relationship and connection of both historical eras

Although both eras are unique in different respects, yet the eras share similarities and also continuing relationship. The Baroque era is said to have been generated at the end of the Renaissance era, which progressed to a dramatic, illuminate, energetic sophisticated form of art. The techniques of the Baroque art era united the sophisticated techniques and magnificent advances of the Renaissance along with the emotion, intensity and drama of the high Renaissance with the Baroque style of mixing the basic fundaments of the naturalist and classicist manners that are characterized by magnificence, energy and emotional enthusiasm. Many art scholars consider the Baroque style a representation and continuation of the Renaissance era. Similar characteristics of both eras include the use of light and color, focus on realism and idealism, strong perspective effects, religious themes and nude portraits. ( Myers, n.d.)

To conclude the Renaissance and Baroque eras generated several of the most celebrated artist as well as masterpieces of all time. Although both eras share many similarities each era has its own unique characteristics and is unique in its own way.

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