Arnold Hauser: On the Baroque

 Caravaggio – Supper Party

“The striving after the ‘painterly’—that is to say, the dissolution of firm, plastic and linear form into something moving, hovering and incapable of being grasped; the obliteration of frontiers and contours, to arouse the impression of the unlimited, the immeasurable and the infinite; the transformation of static, rigid, objective being into a becoming, a function, an interdependence between the subject and the object… The artistic outlook of the baroque is, in a word, cinematic; the incidents represented seem to have been overheard and spied out; every indication that might betray consideration for the beholder is blotted out, everything is presented in apparent accordance with pure chance. The comparative lack of clarity in the presentation is also related to this quality of improvisation. The frequent and often violent overlappings, the excessive differences in the size of objects seen in perspective, the neglect of the directional lines given by the frame of the picture, the incompleteness of the material and the unequal treatment of the motifs are all used intentionally to make it difficult to see the picture as a lucid whole. The normal progress of historical evolution itself plays a certain part in the growing distaste for the all too clear and the all too obvious, in the process which moves within a particular, continuously developing culture from the simple to the involved, from the plain to the less plain, from the obvious to the hidden and the veiled. The more cultured, fastidious and intelligently interested in art a public is, the more it demands this intensification of artistic stimuli. But apart from the attraction of the new, the difficult and the complicated, this is once again an attempt to arouse in the beholder the feeling of the inexhaustibility, incomprehensibility and infinity of the representation—a tendency which dominates the whole of baroque art.”

– Arnold Hauser,
The Social History of Art:
Volume 2 – Renaissance, Mannersim, Baroque


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