Research notes on 17th Century


  • Rise of Dutch republic coincided with end 30 years war/decline of Spain with prosperity founded on free enterprise – also great advances in sciences and mathematics.
  • Same time as Descarte’s Discourse on Method Papacy recovered and Rome became great artistic centre again.
  • Carraci organised meetings of artists Academi degli Incamminati which freed artists from the confines of studios and allowed them to discuss ideas/solve problems etc. ‘Academy’ formerly just for literary associations and membership conferred intellectual rank. First art academy founded in Florence in 1563. 2 types of academy eventually combined in Academy of St Luke with lectures of theory or instruction in design … eventually others sprung up in Italy, northern Europe and essentially Paris where art education became the most highly organised.
  • Works of art most sought were by Italian artists – Charles I employed Orazio Gentileschi as one of two painters from the Bolognese school … daughter of Orazio is Artemesia who was the first prominent female artist since Lavinia Fontana (and subject of my final essay).
  • Dutch republic was where freedom of speculation could be practised – Descartes (France) and Spinoza (heretical Jew from Portugal) could write and publish their works.
  • 30 Years War
  • 7 United Provinces renounces allegiance to Phillip II and tacitly recognised as independent in 1609 … Calvinism tried to be overriding Christian religion but other Protestant branches tolerated, asylum given to Jews fleeing persecution in Spain and Portugal and Catholicism totally banned. Dutch republic was surrounded by unitary states more democratic than nominal republics with defensive foreign policies and economy based on trade/commerce rather than agriculture. Aristocracy left with the Spanish with upper classes consisting of bankers/merchants/manufacturers and such like. Easel paintings contributed to the economy with wide variety of genres – easel painting took to its highest level.
  • Large demand for easel painting meant little demand for religious or devotional works or grand scale architecture and sculpture.
  • Rhenen on frontier of the 7 provinces which made pact to resist Spanish tyranny in 1579 (portrayed in van Goyen’s View of Rhenen) and this pact marked struggle for Dutch Independence – this town often painted by artists including 26 by van Goyen.
  • Close cultural links between England and France – differing political alliances led twice to war though.
  • Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-83) reformed Parisian Academy of painting in such a way that it had the most thorough teaching of artistic practices ever devised.


  • Art collecting and then art dealing grew alongside the art academies – easel painting due to its easily transportable nature became prime importance. Vast collections meant that religious paintings only separated from others such as landscapes by the gilt frames – lost religious meaning and became just works of art. Art collecting meant demand for work was high and artists varied their style in accordance with demand – large commissions for churches appear to be supplemented by smaller works for the collectors and some painters worked almost purely for the free market.
  • Aside from rare works of High Renaissance art collectors in mid-17th Century became sensitive to the qualities of freedom of handling or ‘licentiousness of subject’ (p. 571 WHA).
  • Status of some artists including Diego de Velazquez exulted – became court painters due to patronage of the ruling kings/queens.
  • Patronage of court also raised status of Rubens (Habsburg region of Netherlands) and also of Anthony van Dyke (court painter to Charles 1 of England) whose excellence in portrait painting enabled him to achieve this position so both had an effect on the other.
  • Landscapes of courts and aristocracy purchased the landscapes of Claude Gellee – different patronage to the intellectual/lawyers/officials who were fans of Nicolas Poussin.
  • Forgeries of Gellee’s works meant he was forced to keep extensive records due to the popularity of his art.
  • Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez was a liberal and thereby reflects on the status of the artist … Velazquez was seeking a military knighthood which would elevate him to noble rank. Knighthoods excluded manual workers and Jewish or Moorish ancestry and the decision whether a painting was a liberal artwork or mechanical was the difference in whether the status would be conferred – liberal art had practical advantages including exemption from taxes or military service. Velazquez got his knighthood two years after the painting and the cross of his order was added to his breast in the painting.
  • Premium put on Dutch art work by the individuality or novelty of the works so changes in status could rapidly increase or decline as fashions changed. Frans Hals work declined when the smoother style of artists influenced by van Dyck introduced that portrayed the newly rich citizens with their new more noble manners.
  • Etchings such as those done by Rembrandt were purchased collectively across Europe and increased his fame – small in size and transportable and although often seen as incomplete in Rembrandt’s view if the piece was as he intended then it was in fact completed.
  • Market demanded Dutch landscapes soon after Dutch republic founded … painted for wide public and also with a style that had patriotic significance as well as other worldly significance. Works although exquisitely rendered were images of local scenery and sold for modest sums and also not topographically accurate.
  • Landscapes and still life works were in demand due to their size and sharp detailing as they represented a world familiar to the middle class households who purchased them for their living rooms – art was effectively developed for the patrons (merchants who distrusted idealization or imagination) but often the art still held a moral message within and Christian free-will was not allayed by Calvinist doctrination. Jan Vermeer was specialist of moralizing genre works (style used predominantly blue and yellow colour schemes).
  • Jan Vermeer possibly tried through his work to attain liberal status because Dutch as well as Spanish artists were trying to separate themselves from the craft guilds and thereby having their status recognised. Vermeer was omitted from Dutch art histories until rediscovered in mid-19th Century after French influence became dominant.
  • Towards end of 17th Century voices started to react against the Parisian Academy and formality and Dutch and Flemish art works began to change the path of French art.


  • Despite numerous drawings Rubens used colour and light not line in final composition of works.
  • Rubens skill was in drawing of forms even in chalk but this meant assistants could take over too with him just adding the final touches – in turn this affected price of works depending on how much input he had – effectively studio became like a factory as has been said but one with the master very much in control.
  • Bernini’s portrait busts were carved in such a way that although the head and shoulders were the only appearance you feel the presence of the rest of the body too … skilled carving of the marble combined with balanced asymmetry of opposing diagonals – one of Francesco I d’Este done purely from a painting which meant he concentrated on the form and not merely a description.
  • Bernini responsible for the baldacchino (canopy) in St Peter’s in Rome – elements to enhance Christian message done in new way with combination of Classical elements … of note to me is the impression of the tasselled fabric valance. Use of elaborate columns, scrolls etc showed off the flamboyant and emotional Counter Reformation to its best extent … put this under ‘materials and processes’ due to the re-use of the different elements but in a new way.
  • Bernini used yellow and purple for clouds in niches – use of colour unprecedented at the time.
  • Geometrician Francesco Borromini developed system of intersecting equilateral triangles and circles for S Ivo della Sapienza – created hexagonal central space … walls continued upwards and inwards until they met … spatial unity resulted without intervening elements. Plan apparently designed on drawing of a bee with folded wings from the coat of arms of the the family of Pope Urban VIII (reigned with Borromini started work) so symbolism played a huge part in the design process.
  • Claude Gellee one of increasing number of artists who used his sketchbook extensively observing and recording what he saw under different aspects of light – resulting works were idealized but with reality borne out of close observation. The light he used in his works was innovative in that it started on the horizon and came towards the viewer and hence draws you into the paintings ….light is a connecting factor with his contemporaries such as Caravaggio, Bernini and Velazquez amongst others.
  • Brushwork with Velazquez on close inspection was of blobs or smears in his work on Las Meninas and the long handled brushes meant he could stand back and judge the effect but with Frans Hals flicks of paint for beards or smears of white for reflections on glass etc produced a different style and technique – the latter developed into his artistic voice with the highlights he added to his work.
  • Rembrandt solved problem of numerous portraits in one image by in one instance putting the figures so they were emerging from a building (The Night Watch) …. Created atmosphere by use of chiaroscuro techniques as well as skillful use of colour, expressions and poses in the opposing movements common to the period … design means the viewer looks back and forth across the work.
  • Rembrandt although work declined continued to sketch/paint expressively and study characteristics of human nature – including in ‘development’ due to the high number of self-portraits he did of himself in various guises that developed his technique.
  • New technique by Jan Vermeer that created a luminosity – achieved partly by optical experiments but also by observation and ‘intuitive awareness of the subtleties of interpreting reflecting colours’ (p. 602 WHA).


  • Annibale Carraci – new idealistic style; Michaelangelo Merisi (Caravaggio) – naturalism which replaced symbolism in religious works but with still required mysticism … lost the stylish figures of mid-16th Century Mannerism … art played to the senses rather than the intellect.
  • Caravaggism – spread to Italy, Spain, France, Netherlands – illuminated figures against dark backgrounds.
  • Carraci – style – illusionism/idealistic – on Palazzo Farnes ceiling takes inspiration from the Sistine Chapel but with rationalisation and clarification of distinction ‘between levels of reality’ (p. 569 WHA). Note: some images rendered like framed pictures (quadri riportati).
  • Annibale Carraci, brother Agostino and cousin Lodovico Carraci – draftsmen who drew everything including people in the street – invented the word caricatures.
  • Baroque style – arcs and spirals in rhythm
  • Note term ‘baroque’ first used as critical abuse – ‘barocco’ (Italian) meant ‘tortuous medieval pedantry’ (p. 572 WHA) and ‘barrocco’ (Portugese) which meant a deformed pearl … effectively meant deviating from what was considered normal. In mid-18th Century theorists used the word to describe art or architecture that was deemed not pure or rational. Now term is used to describe specific period of art – decoratively rich, emotionally religious and also full of energy.
  • 17th Century style involved Naturalists, Classicists and Baroque with latter being created by some of the greatest artists of Europe – still level of idealisation in religious or mythological works.
  • Rubens developed new style of female beauty and did so without any ‘cosmetic artifice’ (p. 573 WHA) …. Very difficult to achieve with purely paint.
  • Complementary poses without rhetorical emphasis enhanced dynamic movement in paintings.
  • Rubens used diamond shape composition with intertwining diagonals as opposed to pyramid which enabled forms to twist and counter twist to give dynamic movement.
  • Subjects were corporeal as opposed to idealistic or mythological and therefore understood as human experience.
  • Jesuits in Antwerp – style varied as no expense spared with works of art in order to dazzle the witnesses who saw them …. In opposition to the austerity of the Catholic Church.
  • Anthony van Dyke – portrayed Charles I of England from low viewpoint in order to glorify his position and also due to the king’s small stature and also portrayed in in variety of grand architectural frameworks plus gave impression of ‘divinely appointed monarch’ (p. 578 WHA).
  • Il Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) – lighter palette than Guido Remi who was successful in the idealised religious/mythological works … the lighter palette of the former was a direct result of a change in style to satisfy patrons. Guercino also regressed towards Classicism as Gianlorenzo Bernini rose to prominence … the work of the latter is Baroque in all is essence. Bernini was a sculptor first and architect and painter second and indebted to the popes who were artistically minded.
  • Easel painting developed as a direct result of the demand for works – easily transportable and more affordable to collectors.
  • Realism – as used in S Maria della Vittoria on the Ecstasy of St Teresa … statue very cleverly illuminated by a hidden window.
  • Symbolism still heavily apparent in sculpture with variations of interpretations – particularly in religious aspects.
  • Nicolas Poussin reached pinnacle of his severity in his painting in The Holy Family on the Steps which combined aspects of Raphael and Michelangelo forms with the steps and the Virgin Mary symbolising the stairway to heaven … nothing is decorative and all in the painting is symbolic and pictorial … Poussin was said by Bernini to work with his head.
  • Claude Gellee can be said to have created the ‘Classical landscape’ … became one of the highest art forms thanks to him and before that was not an independent genre. Classical Golden Age that included his landscapes also theme in literature and art at the time.
  • Diego Velazquez style was of solid realism but with painterly effect and such a light touch at times the canvas showed through. Laz Meninas was the epitome of the possibilities easel painting and essentially a painting about a painting but captures a moment in time in an otherwise casual incident.
  • Frans Hals effectively founded Dutch school of painting and skill lay in his portraits – style was one of skilled expressions and characters with freedom to develop his own style.
  • Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn – style was of spiralling compositions with strong emphasis on chiaroscuro (many Dutch artists were followers of Caravaggio). Style was one of actuality created by illusionism … a realism that was neither idealistic nor natural in my personal view and studies.
  • After Dutch republic formed new style of landscape paintings developed that were without narrative but helped by the development of aerial perspective from the 15th and 16th Century Flemish artists.
  • Jan van Goyen skilled and most gifted of the Dutch landscape paintings in first half of 17th Styles varied with Jacob van Ruisdael as he, like others, chose to what to put in and what to leave out.
  • Still life genre developed in accordance with demand for easel art – although Rembrandt was proficient in many genres many artists specialised very narrowly and as such the style was specific to that artist or genre but with strong influence of nature.
  • Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750) was first female artist to gain international reputation … specialised in flower pieces.
  • Often still life works had memento mori i.e. symbols of mortality within the works in the immediate predecessors to the new still life genre.
  • Style of St Paul’s Cathedral worked out as building went up – Christopher Wren was mathematician and astronomer and worked out problems of design as it was built – studied Bramante’s design for St Peter’s as well as the Tempietto as well as French and Italian buildings – eventual design is middle of the road between Classical and Baroque (between puritanism and exuberance).
  • French style was expressed through the Louis XIV style named after the king himself – visual arts ordered and enrolled ‘in the service of the autocracy’ (p. 604 WHA). The style is flamboyant and rich in excess but nevertheless speaks of the wealth of the king – best seen at Versaille and The Louvre palace with the gardens of the former being designed by Andre le Notre (landscape architect). Style is that of Baroque with movement ever present but always contained.


  • Antique sculpture/High Renaissance/Venetian artists including Titian and series of poesie …. Also Venetian influence on artists such as Nicolas Poussin.
  • Influence of Italy on Flemish painters including Rubens.
  • Patronage of the courts (in case of Rubens … in Antwerp) direct influence on status that enabled him to become most highly esteemed artist in Europe … equivalent to Titian.
  • Italian masters directly influenced 17th Century artists including Titian and artists including Rubens studied them intently.
  • Nature itself directly inspired – Rubens it appears to capture a fleeting moment in time as he aged and also second marriage was personal influence on slight change of style too. Also landscapes of countryside around Rome inspired Claude Gellee in his landscape works.
  • Caravaggio influenced artists such as Artemesia Gentileschi – technique of chiaroscuro (light and dark) but Artemesia’s honest and forthright depictions of humanity meant his works seemed modest.
  • Bernini is the artist/architect/sculptor who contributed most to Rome’s present appearance due to his dominance in art for 50 years – although a later generation he appears to be the essence of Renaissance man.
  • Michelangelo huge influence on Bernini and in particular in his work on the baldacchino of St Peter’s … the baldacchino became a work of art in its own right due to the combination of the elements coming together in one seamless composition.
  • Influence of the unity of the Church strongly influenced the design of St Peter’s and also the design of the piazzo outside … all artistic forms, architecture, sculpture and painting unified together … called ‘un bel composto’ (a beautiful whole) which is in my view still an apt description today.
  • Corregio influenced Bernini … some work reminiscent such as the angel of St Teresa of Bernini that reminds you of Corregio’s cupid.
  • Francesco Borromini – took liberties with Vitruvius rules on architecture but also concentrated on solving problems … resulted in beautiful and intellectually appealing architecture.
  • Galilean conception ‘of the regular irregularity of the planetary orbits’ may have influenced Borromini as he was also a geometrician.
  • Rembrandt influenced strongly by other artists including non-European which was unusual for the time.
  • Religious influence not just confined to Catholicism but also Calvinism and Mennonites – Rembrandt was Calvinist and considered himself firstly a religious painter.
  • Influence of Protestantism in Dutch landscapes evident in towers of medieval churches that had been converted into Protestant churches.
  • Windmills often seen in Dutch landscapes – characteristic feature but with variety of symbolic meanings and sometimes given (as in Jacob van Ruisdael’s Windmill at Wijk) the presence of ancient Roman buildings in Classical scenes.
  • Spirituality both pervades and persists in Dutch landscapes as a strong influence as did the way the light was portrayed to create atmospheric scenes.
  • Dutch art very influential on England with Dutch paintings being purchased and also Rubens and van Dyck amongst others moving to England – Dutch influence dominated decorative arts and architecture.
  • Italian influence apparent on royal buildings (introduced by Inigo Jones) and taken up by Christopher Wren when designing St Paul’s Cathedral plus 51 churches destroyed by the Great Fire of London.
  • Design of Versaille almost certainly influenced Christopher Wren’s redesign of Hampton Court Palace.


  • Rene Descartes – ‘Discourse on Method’ – freed Western philosophy from Plato/Aristotle (p. 567 WHA) – no immediate effects on art from ‘speculative thinking’.
  • Karel von Mander (1548-1606) – wrote of Caravaggio works in Rome … contradicted all theoretical writing of 16th Century but suggested all artists follow his work (p. 569 WHA). Also wrote of Annibale Carraci’s work too.
  • Giovanni Pietro Bellori – influential art theorist – claimed Carraci rescued art from the Mannerists.
  • Annibale Carraci – no theorist but came to exemplify ‘rationalised version of 16th Century aesthetic theory …’ (p. 570 WHA) – his works provided base of all academic teaching for next 2 centuries.
  • Francisco Pacheco (1564-1654) – most important art writer of 17th Century plus inspector of art for the Inquisition of Seville. Wrote of the conception ‘of the role of painting in the service of Catholicism’ in The Art of Painting, Its Antiquity and Greatness in 1649 (p. 590 WHA).
  • Arnold Geulincx (1624-69) taught at Leiden and was a follower of Descartes – believed ‘that the soul is neither simulated by nor moves the body but simply follows it’.
  • Calvinist Constantijn Huygens (contemporary of Jan van Goyen) wrote about the Bible and nature – ‘God’s goodness appears on every sand-dune’s top’.
  • Samuel van Hoogstraten (art theorist and painter) in 1678 called Dutch landscape paintings ‘keurlijke natuurlijkheid’ which meant selective likeness to nature … artists had the freedom to modify the scenes as they chose.
  • Leon Battista Alberti’s treates De pictura written in 1435 but not published until 1540 effected artists when they were starting to demand recognition as practitioners of liberal arts.
  • 1664 – Giovanni Pietro Bellori – antiquarian and historian gave lecture at the Academy of St Luke ‘The Idea of the Painter, Sculptor and Architect’ (ref p. 570 WHA) and criticized artists such as Caravaggio for not copying the defects seen in nature and working from a ‘fantastical ideal’ as well as criticizing others for plagiarising other artists.
  • Charles-Alphonse Dufresnoy (treatise named De Arte graphica), Charles Lebrun and Andrew Felibien all had treaties that followed Bellori with the latter compiling a doctrine which including the hierarchy of the genres.


Encyclopedia Britannica (date unknown). Louis XIV style [online] [Date accessed: 20 March 2016]. Available at:

Honour, Hugh and Fleming, John. Revised seventh edition 2009. World History of Art. London.  Laurence King Publishing Ltd.

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