The artists of the Baroque had a remarkably different style than artists of the Renaissance due to their different approach to form, space, and composition. This extreme differentiation in style resulted in a very different treatment of narrative. Perhaps this drastic stylistic difference between the Renaissance and Baroque in their treatment of form, space, and composition and how these characteristics effect the narrative of a painting cannot be seen more than in comparing Peruginos Christ Delivering the Keys of the Kingdom to St. Peter from the Early Renaissance to Caravaggios Conversion of St. Paul from the Baroque.
Perugino was one of the greatest masters of the Early Renaissance whose style ischaracterized by the Renaissance ideals of purity, simplicity, and exceptional symmetry of composition. His approach to form in Christ Delivering the Keys of the Kingdom to St. Peter was very linear. He outlined all the figures with a black line giving them a sense of stability, permanence, and power in their environment, but restricting the figures sense of movement. In fact, the figures seem to not move at all, but rather are merely locked at a specific moment in time by their rigid outline.
Peruginos approach to the figuresthemselves is extremely humanistic and classical. He shines light on the figures in a clear, even way, keeping with the rational and uncluttered meaning of the work. His figures are all locked in a contrapposto pose engaging in intellectual conversation with their neighbor, giving a strong sense of classical rationality. The figures are repeated over and over such as this to convey a rational response and to show the viewer clarity. Peruginos approach to space was also very rational and simple. He organizes space along three simple planes: foreground, middle ground, and background.
Christ and Saint Peter occupy the center foreground and solemn choruses of saints and citizens occupy the rest of the foreground. The middle distance is filled with miscellaneous figures, which complement the front group, emphasizing its density and order, by their scattered arrangement. Buildings from the Renaissance and triumphal arches from Roman antiquity occupy the background, reinforcing the overall classical message to the ainting even though the event represented in the painting took place long before the Roman Empire.
The center temple that occupies the background has a vanishing point running through its doorway and if it werent for this illusionistic technique, the painting would be very two-dimensional. The combination of the vanishing point with three well-defined planes interlocks both two-dimensional and three-dimensional space, as well as organizing the action in the painting systematically. Peruginos approach to composition was, keeping conventional with the Renaissance style, also very rational and orderly.
He employed the Early Renaissance compositional triangle giving clarity, static balance, and symmetrical order to the painting. At the base of the triangle, the central figures of Christ and Saint Peter are placed to give clarity to the subject matter. The static, straight lines used in his overall composition do not make the eye move from place to place, but rather makes the eye look at each object itself, see how it relates to the other objects around it, and then see how all the separate figures come together and create harmony.
The overall clarity of the form, space, and composition that Perugino presents in this painting gives an overall clarity of narrative. In Renaissance art, the aim was the persuasion of the observer to the subject through the imitation of nature and beauty. Thus, Perugino gives the observer simple geometric forms in his composition that are found in nature and the repetition of basic forms that are found in nature. He paints beauty through clarity achieved by static balance and clarity achieved by clear lighting over the forms of his figures.
All these elements of the Renaissance style and the goal of achieving symmetrical balance and clarity in a painting gives the painting a rational or classical narrative and the viewer a rational experience. The Baroque painter, Caravaggio, was the complete opposite of any Renaissance painter that had lived before him and because of this was probably the most revolutionary artist of his time. He abandoned the rules that had guided a century of artists before him and because of his dramatic break in style from the Italian Renaissance, he yields a completely different treatment of narrative.
Caravaggios treatment of form in his Conversion of St. Paul is, to say the least, remarkably different from Peruginos treatment of form in his work. Instead of outlining Paul and his horse with lines, Caravaggio abandons this static style and implies movement by using a painterly style in which he uses paint to create an image and not rigid outlines. He uses color and value to create form, causing a sense of movement in the figures. They are not locked in time like Peruginos figures and convey the exact opposite message of classical, passive figures.
These are strong, vibrant, and emotional figures. Perhaps the emotional aspect of the figures is created by Caravaggios introduction of dramatic light and dark effects, termed tenebrism. This technique was a great breakthrough in art, which added great emotional effects and mystery to the art. Caravaggio doesnt light Paul with a clear even light like Perugino would have, he gives Paul a dramatic light radiating out of his body for a conversion is a mysterious experience and the painting, Caravaggio believes, should portray this.
In Peruginos work, there was a repetition of basic forms, which gives it order and clarity. In Caravaggios, there is not any repetition of forms. Paul is on his back, a man leans over to look at him, and his horse is in a spooked position. This variety of forms implies movement and adds emotional interest to the painting, rather than classical understanding. Rather than organizing space in simple planes like Perugino, Caravaggio does not apply planes to his work. Instead, he creates a receding effect in which planes gradually recede in to the distance.
Again, this adds interest and mystery to the painting. He creates receding space by an implied vanishing point rather than the one that Perugino gives the observer. His perspective comes from a diagonal upwards, bringing the viewer into the painting as close as possible to the space and action of the scene. This diagonal,combined with the dramatic light effects in the painting, create an emotional response from the observer. While Peruginos approach to composition was symmetry and static balance, Caravaggios approach to composition was movement and dynamic balance.
The predominant geometric shape in Conversion of St. Paul is not a static, symmetrical triangle, but a dynamic oval. This oval is not really there, but is implied by dynamic lines on the outer edges of figures. The oval shape implies great movement and gives the painting dynamic balance. The implied movement forces the eye to move and comprehend all of the figures in the painting as a whole, unlike Peruginos figures that exist in and of themselves and come together to create harmony.
The figures in Caravaggios work have to exist with the other figures in the painting to be complete and this adds great mystery to the painting. Caravaggio brought new life and immediacy to the emotional aspect of painting. He abandoned the rules of Renaissance artists like Perugino that had idealized the human and religious experience, he rejected the preciosity of Renaissance theory and practice, and his emotional insight into his Conversion of St. Paul, was ideally suited to the aims of the Catholic Reformation.
For the goal of Caravaggio as a Baroque artist, was to illustrate the subject in an emotional way, present an emotional narrative, and thus, get an emotional response. His overall representation of dynamic balance, painterly forms, variety of forms, gradual recession of space, and tenebrism create heightened mystery and that emotional narrative. Peruginos art was the art of classical persuasion, but Caravaggios art was the art of heightened persuasion because it persuaded the emotions.