The baroque period

Girona Art Museum

The baroque period at the Girona Art Museum

The baroque period
The baroque period corresponds to the historical era of the absolute monarchies in 17th- and 18th-century Catholic Europe, when artistic expressions with an exuberant and dynamic language prevailed.

Catalonia was not then a centre of power but, although it did not generate a cultural avant-garde similar to those existing in other European territories, it did engender an artistic production full of vitality that has left us with valuable heritage, later decimated by the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).

The visual arts of the time had a mainly religious theme and fulfilled a devotional function because they were linked to showing and celebrating the Catholic doctrine and beliefs.

It was an art intended to form part of worship and ritual and to play a mediating role in the relations between the faithful, the Church and the afterlife.

Altarpiece figures
Baroque altarpieces were large structures of architectural appearance in gilded abele wood bearing a variegated polychrome that was often scratched to highlight the precious metal underneath.

Here we evoke them with the imagery that occupied the compartments and niches.

This group may have formed part of the altarpiece of Our Lady of the Abandoned in the church of Sant Feliu in Girona, made by this Manresa-born sculptor in 1677.

Its style reveals the limitations of the artist to adapt to the dynamic and persuasive formulae characteristic of the baroque language.

The patron saints
Saints were the main subjects of the altarpieces along with the Mother of God. They could preside over them when they were the patron saints of a town or a professional guild or formed part of them as complementary images.

Saints could be recognised easily by their identifying attributes or by the narration of the miracles of their life and death.

Here we have San Jacinto, who has on his left arm an image of the Virgin and in his right hand a ciborium with the Eucharist.

They became models of Catholic virtues and heroic and superhuman examples, capable of enduring the most horrifying martyrdoms and perform fabulous miracles and, in case of need, comfort and protect the faithful who worshipped them. In the image we have Saint Joseph.

The saints that were most frequently represented were usually those who were attributed powers against the threats of the devil and illnesses, some of them as feared as the Black Death, combated by Saint Rocco (in the image) and Saint Sebastian.

There were also those who occupied a more distinguished position in the Catholic hierarchy, such as Saint Peter, Saint Paul, Saint John the Baptist (in the image) or the Evangelists.

The great intercessor
The Virgin Mary was an essential presence in temples and on any altarpiece, presiding over them or located in some of the most important niches.

The iconographies could be highly varied. The most common evoked the grandeur of the Mother of God holding the Baby Jesus in her arms.

On other occasions, she adopted forms of great symbolic substance such as the Immaculate Conception, standing on the crescent moon and treading upon the serpent of sin, to recall the belief or dogma that freed her from original sin.

Or she could appear as advocate of diverse devotions that at the time became popular: the Virgin of the Rosary, Our Lady of Sorrows, overwhelmed by grief faced with Christ's suffering,...

...or Our Lady of Mount Carmel holding the scapular that released the devotees from purgatory.

In all cases the portrayals of the Mother of God played a major role in the communication between the faithful and the afterlife: as an intercessor with the divinity and as the supernatural presence closest to the human being, especially in moments of affliction, sickness or when the time of death approached.

The divinity
The three persons of the Trinity –Father, Son and Holy Spirit– are the culminating figures of Catholic theology and played an outstanding role in the narrative of the baroque altarpieces, conceived to recall the principles of the Christian doctrine.

The Eternal Father was omnipresent, presiding over them from the centre of the attic or upper tier; He was usually portrayed as an old patriarch flying amidst the clouds, blessing with one hand and holding the celestial orb with the other, generally accompanied by the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.

Given the significance of the Trinity, its images were usually accompanied by child angels or cherubs who also played a decisive role in turning the altarpiece into a lively and imaginative evocation of the celestial glory.

Holy silversmithing
Silversmithing was one of the arts that most contributed to the dignity and magnificence of the Catholic ritual: its precious material perfectly symbolised the splendour of divine things.

The use of silver –gold was not usually within reach of meagre parish economies– was almost imperative for everything that had to come into contact with the supernatural, be it the holy species –bread and wine– or relics.

For Catalan silversmithing, the baroque was an outstanding period, prolific in terms of the craftsmen and the rate of production of the workshops and the large number of notable objects, the result of the revival of parish life derived from the application of the Counter-Reformation doctrine.

The examples and testimonies displayed here come from humble workshops that modestly interpreted typologies quite common throughout Catholic Europe based on the combination of floral elements, cherub heads or ornamental motifs produced with the chisel or embossed techniques.

Girona Art Museum
Credits: Story

Museu d’Art de Girona

Direction: Carme Clusellas
Texts and curating: Dr. Joan Bosch i Ballbona
Coordination: Isabel Fabregat
Technical support: Antoni Monturiol
Exhibition design: Cristina Masferrer Estudi
Conservation and Restoration: Elena Boix, Laia Roca, Ester Horno
Montage Elena Boix, Jaume Soler
Labeling: Vidcus
Translations: Link
Photographs: Archivo Museu d'Art de Girona, Rafel Bosch
Digital adaptation: Irene Forts

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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