THE WORD 'BAROQUE' is of Romance origin and means 'irregular' or 'anomalous'. As applied to style in art it includes late Rococo and covers the period which begins with the supersession of Mannerism and ends with the rise of Classicism. This period extends approximately from 1600 to 1775.
By that time Humanism, the Renaissance and the Reformation had considerably lightened the burden of medieval constraint. The change had been accompanied by a progressive secularization of all walks of life and more independence of the sovereign power of the Church. But the Counter-Reformation movement, which set in about the middle of the 16th century, caused a reversal of these tendencies. The disorders of the wars of religion, which produced their worst effects during the Thirty Years' War, steadily diminished the economic and cultural importance of the middle classes. They relinquished the leading part which they had played during the Renaissance. The Church and the Princes recovered power. At the same time men began once more to take a deep interest in religion. The shock troops of the Counter-Reformation were constituted by the Order of the Jesuits, founded in 1534. The influence of this Order is still to be noted in the number of its churches still extant in Europe and in South and Central America.
In Spain the aims of the Counter-Reformation were allied with the idea of Spanish world-dominion. Spain endeavoured, by military violence, to force a decision in the Jesuits' underground campaign against Protestant Europe. The attempt failed with the loss of the Netherlands in 1581 and the rout of the Spanish Armada in 1588 by the rising naval power of England.
In England and the Netherlands these victories brought about, at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, economic progress and a consequent new cultural maturity. But Netherlandish art, as distinct from that of England and all the other European States, where secular and ecclesiastical absolutism determined -- from Paris to St Petersburg, and from Stockholm to Rome -- the aspect of art as of everything else, was supported by the broad masses of the people. It was given a general commercial value, to such an extent that pictures, for example, were accepted without hesitation as currency in case of need.
The dominant power in the 17th century was the France of Louis XIV. Its political absolutism affected the whole of public and spiritual life in Courts elsewhere, as though Versailles and its ruler, the 'Sun King', were the centre of the world. Every rank in society, each individual citizen, was allotted a fixed position in this 'planetary' system, where the monarch, enthroned at its centre in unapproachable majesty and a sort of divine perfection, subordinated the nation to his will. 'L'éat, cest moi,' he is said to have proclaimed -- 'I am the State.' Even the greatest minds of the period did not dream of disputing the claims