Creating smoke in the baroque

This collection of works focuses on the beauty and mystery of the element of fire during the Baroque art period. This movement took place approximately between the years 1600 and 1750. These captivating pieces of art history will focus on the formal artistic element of contrast that this primary element is so often seen representing.

Herdsmen by a fire, Leonaert Bramer, 1626 - 1626, From the collection of: The Kremer Collection
This painting by Leonaert Bramer depicts a group of Herdsmen and their herded cattle around a blazing fire. This painting is mostly composed of dark, muted colors that seem to add to a theme of the characters being tired after a long day of herding their animals. The fire in this painting adds in contrast to the drab color scheme by adding not only warmer tones with its orange and yellow glow, but it also adds in light to its surroundings. This contrast helps pull the focus to the figures surrounding the fire so the viewer knows where to look to receive the story Bramer was telling.
A Village on Fire, Flemish or Dutch, 17th century, From the collection of: Dulwich Picture Gallery
This 17th century painting shows a landscape containing an entire village up in flames in the distance. The outer parameter is mostly completely black in color. This really emphasizes the contrast of the warm/bright toned flames and draws the viewer not only into the distance to the burning town, but it also helps onlookers to focus on the buildings of the village due to this contrast of light and color as well. The drastic contrast of this light and color also adds to the tension and struggle that must be plaguing this poor burning village and all of its inhabitants.
Moses before the Burning Bush, Norbert Grund, 18th century, From the collection of: Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest
This painting is an artistic representation from the Bible of the story of Moses when God in the form of a burning bush visits him. The contrast of the fire is really apparent due to the color palette of this piece. The work is comprised of mostly darker, duller colors such as deep greens and browns. The contrast the burning fire brings is that it again uses the bright warm hues of orange and yellow to stand out against its surrounding area. Not only does this add interest to the piece and draw in a viewer, but it also emphasizes the story of Moses in that God is much more grand and would certainly stand out against the earth and even the figure of Moses before him.
Fire by night, Egbert van der Poel, 1658 - 1658, From the collection of: The Kremer Collection
This work from the collection by Egbert van der Poel shows us what seems to be a home or maybe even an entire village beginning to burn as the flames start to grow in the top right corner of the painting. It is actually hard to tell what is in the rest of the painting because of the stark contrast between the brightness of the fire with its vibrant yellow coloring and the otherwise dark and unrecognizable surroundings. I think that this contrast really embodies a story of fear, surprise, and devastation because of how a fire can occur even at random in the dark of night.
St. Dominic and the Devil, Pietro della Vecchia, about 1630, From the collection of: Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields
This startling painting shows St. Dominic writing by candlelight as a figure of the Devil creeps up behind him in the shadows. Although the colors of the flames in this painting are in heavy contrast to the dark palette surrounding them, I believe that even more can be said of the contrast in light these flames are creating. This contrast of the light against the dark created by the fire helps create the feeling of foreboding and gives more sense of action to the fact that the Devil is sneaking up to this man in the forefront.
Perspective of Arches, with a Smoking Fire, Plate 6 from Carceri d'Invenzione, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, 1749, From the collection of: Minneapolis Institute of Art
This drawing from the 1700s near the end of the Baroque era is unique in its form of showing contrast. This drawing is simply showing us what looks to be a section of some sort of castle or village with a fire in the center. As opposed to most works depicting the element of fire using color and light, the contrast shown here is done by line work. The style of drawing we see here is created by using straight parallel lines in varying quantities and distances from one another to create depth and texture that bring this work to life. The fire in the center stands out against its surroundings because of the absence of these lines and texture. The fire doesn't have the same outline and crossing of the lines in contrast to the rest of the piece. This contrast of depth created by the techniques of the artist really draws your attention to the flames.
Mucius Scaevola in the presence of Lars Porsenna, Matthias Stomer, early 1640s, From the collection of: Art Gallery of New South Wales
This painting by Matthias Stomer shows a group of people surrounding a podium holding a fire. A fire's color is commonly seen as an element of contrast in most pieces. However, this piece has an overall hue of yellow throughout due to the flames casting light on the rest of the subjects. This helps to not only have the fire be the main focus of the work, but it also helps make sure all of the other characters are still present since they are not all directly in the center as well. The contrast of the light against the outer vignette creates an almost spherical shape encompassing the people in the art piece. This contrast again helps include these figures in with the interest of the flames in the painting.
Villagefire by night, Adam Colonia, 1650 - 1659, From the collection of: The Kremer Collection
This devastating image by Adam Colonia shows a group of people fleeing their burning home by boat for safety from the flames. The flames in this piece have a lot of contrast to their surrounding area in both color and light. The bright orange coloring against the mostly darker and brown-hued work helps tell the story by helping the fire share focus with the fleeing townspeople. This contrast really pulls the viewer into the painting by helping to not only illuminate the locals running for safety, but it also makes sure that focus is also given to why they are leaving by emphasizing what's happening in the distance.
Old Woman Chopping Onions, Gerrit Dou, ca. 1660 - 1665, From the collection of: Huntington Museum of Art
Here we have another depiction of fire in the form of a burning candle. This painting shows us a simple task being carried out of a woman cutting onions in the dark. The candle flame in this piece creates a high contrast with both bright colors and light against the majority of the background that is just black. This contrast helps to illuminate the woman and really make her figure and her task stand front and center for the attention of the viewers. By choosing to only have a small-sized flame in the painting, the artist also doesn't pull too much focus from his character while still creating the contrast we need to see this image.
The Great Fire of London, with Ludgate and Old St. Paul's, Unknown artist, seventeenth century, ca. 1670, From the collection of: Yale Center for British Art
The final work in this collection of contrasting flames is another depiction of a burning location. This time, however, it is the historic artistic representation of the famous burning of the major city of London. While most artworks include flames to create contrast in smaller areas, this picture has a fire so large it is basically the backdrop of the entire work. This enormous fire creates a contrast between it and what's contained within it instead of what's outside. The mixture of bright yellows and oranges help to catch the attention of viewers to then only have them focus on the dark structures in dark contrast to these loud colors. This contrast also draws attention to the people fleeing from the city. This is another example of how stark contrast such as this can help represent tension and high emotions of fear.
Credits: All media
This user gallery has 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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