The Extravagance of the Baroque Era and Its Reflection in the Works of Caravaggio and Antonio Vivaldi

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The Baroque era was defined by extravagance. As with the acronym we learned in class, it was big, bold, and dramatic. It was also full of action, tension and emotion. Two artists who encompassed what it meant to be a part of the Baroque era are Caravaggio and Antonio Vivaldi. Both were influential artists of their time whose legacies have carried on through generations.

Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio was born on September 29, 1571. He was born to father Fermo Merisi, an architect decorator to the Marchese de Caravaggio, and mother Lucia Aratori. In 1576, Caravaggio’s family was forced to relocate as the result of a plague that had swept through Milan. His father died just shortly after, in 1577. His mother passed not long afterwards, in 1584. Not a lot is known of where Caravaggio went after that. It is known, however, that he kept relationships with the powerful Sforza and Colonna families. In 1592, Caravaggio fled towards Rome. This happened in the wake of some quarrels and after injuring a police officer. He came to work broke and needy, but soon found work with Giuseppe Cesari, who at the time was the personal painter to Pope Clement VIII. He started out small, painting simple flowers and fruit. This is where his earliest known painting, ‘Boy Peeling a Fruit’, was created. He also created ‘Boy with a Basket of Fruit and Young Sick Bacchus’ around the same time. The last of those is what caused his split with Cesari, as he was very sick at the time of the painting. Back on the streets with no money to his name, he made connections with Prospero Orsi, Onorhio Longhi, and Mano Minniti. These men not only helped to get Caravaggio back on his feet but helped expose his work to the world. His next work was ‘The Fortune Teller’. This work was very influential, as it was a theme that was new to Rome. It captured much of the realism that Caravaggio set out to paint. This is arguably the beginning of the Baroque period of art. His first major work was ‘The Cardsharps’. This work helped to get Caravaggio onto his feet and bolster him into the spotlight, making him the famous artist he is known as today.

Caravaggio pioneered the use of religious figures in regular garb. Instead of the usually flashy, perfect clothing that was usually prescribed to religious figures in works of art, Caravaggio painted them in normal dress. This helped to humanize the figures he was depicting. This can be seen in some of his major works, such as ‘The Calling of St. Matthew’. Caravaggio also used chiaroscuro in his works. This helps to highlight the focal points of his paintings by drawing attention away from the scene and onto the figures portrayed.

Upon looking through some of Caravaggio’s works, the one I decided to review is ‘The Entombment of Christ’, painted in 1603. The painting is currently sitting in the Vatican Pinacoteca. Caravaggio uses horizontal lines to capture the tension of the scene that is unfolding in the painting. The painting depicts two men, Nicodemus and Saint John, holding the lifeless body of Christ. Mary stands behind, with her arms outstretched. The light in the painting highlights the faces of Christ and Mary. Mary is looking up, as if seeking divine intervention or guidance. As a believer, I believe this is a very powerful image. It truly captures the emotion and gravity of the moment. The realism that Caravaggio manages to capture in the work it truly remarkable and helps to capture the emotions that the situations bring. The body of Christ is the focal point of the painting. The lighter colors used for the body and the light highlighting his entire body help to show this. The other figures in the picture are all surrounding Christ, holding his body up. Caravaggio also uses chiaroscuro to drown out the background, so the viewer will focus more on the people in the painting. Overall, I believe this painting is incredible. As a person of faith, it’s incredible to see the detail in which Caravaggio has gone to depict Jesus being put into the tomb. One glance at the painting and you’re overcome with emotion.

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The composer I chose to write about is Antonio Vivaldi. Vivaldi was born on March 4, 1678 to Giovanni Vivaldi and Camilla Calicchio. Vivaldi was baptized right after birth, for fear that he was unhealthy. Antonio Vivaldi’s father, Giovanni, was a barber before becoming a professional violinist. It’s likely that Vivaldi received much of his instruction at a young age, as evidenced by his vast knowledge of music by the age of 24. Vivaldi was ordained in 1703, and soon after gained the nickname ‘The Red Priest’. However, within a year of being ordained, he complained about ‘tightness of the chest’. This is now believed to have been some form of asthma, but no one is certain. Vivaldi was destined for making music. He began working at the Opesdale della Pieta. The Opesdale della Pieta was an ‘orphanage’, but was filled with the daughters of noblemen of Venice. The girls were well looked after, and their musical quality was amongst the highest in all of Venice. He remained at the helm of it until 1709, when his contract was not renewed. In 1711, 12 of Vivaldi’s concertos were published, which began working towards the highest points of his career. In 1716, the Opesdale della Pieta performed his first great oratorio, ‘Juditha Triumphans Devicta Holofernis Barbaric’. Vivaldi was widely considered to be a master technical violinist, as many of his compositions were exercises which he would play with his many pupils. Vivaldi soon became enormously successful. Over the course of his life, Vivaldi wrote over 500 concertos. Vivaldi was in the graces of royalty and nobility as well. ‘La Gloria e Imeneo’ was written as a celebration of the marriage of King Louis XV. Over the next couple of years, many more were written for various occasions, such as the births of Henriette and Louise Elisabeth, and one to Emperor Charles VI. Charles held Vivaldi’s work in such high regard that he knighted Vivaldi. However, this was the beginning of the end. Vivaldi soon ran into copious financial difficulties and was forced to sell off many of his works at low prices in order to afford a migration from Venice. No one is for certain why Vivaldi chose to move away from Venice. He soon became impoverished and died of an ‘internal fire’. This was likely a symptom of the asthma he had suffered with for the entirety of his life.

Vivaldi’s works consisted almost entirely of the three-movement scheme. Vivaldi also pioneered ritornello form, or a recurring passage within a musical work. Vivaldi’s musical style was also widely influential. As it was often noted, “it was the most radically simple features of Vivaldi’s concertos that proved influential in their day”. Vivaldi’s work still remains prevalent today, with a recurring use of his ‘Four Seasons’ in many movies and commercials.

When deciding on a work of Vivaldi’s to review, it was immediately obvious that I would choose Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’. This piece has been a lifelong favorite of mine. Whether it be for studying or focusing before a big game, I always come back to this piece. It starts off with spring, and that all too familiar section that we’ve all heard a million times. It has a joyful, playful sound, one that would reminisce on what spring is like. Throughout the work, the music changes with the seasons. As winter approaches, the tone of the music becomes more and more gloomy. Each season can be broken down into 3 sections. My favorite part of the work occurs toward the end of the summer section, beginning the third section. The work follows the fast- slow-fast pattern that Vivaldi used in many of his works. Along with each section comes a sonnet written by Vivaldi. These sonnets help to give the listener a picture to go along with the work. For example, in the spring section, Vivaldi talks about the birds chirping and the gentle breeze that are present. In the winter section, he talks about the biting cold and the “stinging winds, running back and forth to stamp one’s icy feet” (Vivaldi). Each piece was written with an accompanying sonnet to feel as if each represents the feeling of it being that season. As I stated earlier, this work has always been a favorite of mine. It brings back memories of my childhood, when my mom would put on Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ for us as we were going to bed. I fell in love with it then, and still find myself coming back to it till this day. It was the work that got me into classical music and remains one of my favorites.

The Baroque era was filled with extravagance. Both Caravaggio and Vivaldi exemplified this in their respective mediums. Caravaggio used a sort of theatrical lighting in his work that had never been seen before. Vivaldi’s extensive works caught the attention of many in high society, and some of his major works remain in popular culture to this day. The work of these two far outlived them, inspiring and influencing many to follow them. Both Caravaggio and Vivaldi were pioneers and innovators in their fields, creating art that changed the scope of fellow artists that came into contact with it.

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The Extravagance of the Baroque Era and Its Reflection in the Works of Caravaggio and Antonio Vivaldi. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 20, 2024, from
“The Extravagance of the Baroque Era and Its Reflection in the Works of Caravaggio and Antonio Vivaldi.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022,
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