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Master Class I: The Age of the Baroque

Linda Blair, MA

The story of the Age of the Baroque is a tale of today. To examine the seventeenth century is to reveal the twenty-first: two centuries united by tribalism, sectarianism, and acquiescence to unreasoning power. We shall explore this dynamic period through the lens of its greatest artists.

Art has always been the handmaiden of power, a truism magnified in an era that was all about power: the power of grand monarchs, whether Philip IV of Spain, or France's Sun King, Louis XIV; the power of a monolithic Church confronting the existential threat of Martin Luther's Reformation; the power of belief, and of ideas, and, ultimately, of great art.

April 4: Bernini and Caravaggio

Following an overview of the political dynamics of seventeenth-century Europe, especially the cataclysm caused by the Reformation, we introduce the first great Baroque artist, Gianlorenzo Bernini, who fashions our dream images of Eternal Rome: fountains, piazzas, palaces, even St. Peter's. Bernini is so pious that he attends mass every morning, yet sculpts one of the most pornographic works in all European art. Bernini will be followed by Caravaggio, a serial murderer who faithfully executes the dictates of the Church's Counter Reformation, darling of Roman prelates who paints, in the name of religion, blatant homoerotic subject matter. His art is tough to experience — its realism just a little too realistic, too gritty, too underworld-true — yet his impact on Western art is great. His death results in one of the oddest DNA investigations in Western art.

April 11: Velazquez

Week two brings Caravaggio to conclusion before turning to the many paradoxes that characterize Velazquez. Called one of the premier artists of the Baroque Age, Velazquez was not a Baroque painter. Though the only artist permitted to paint the king, Caravaggio’s finest, most deeply-felt canvases portray the poor, the marginalized, the detritus of society. A Spaniard in the land of the Inquisition, he rarely paints religious subjects and, when pressed to do so, produces works that lack spiritual content and aesthetic value.

April 18: Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens, quintessential Baroque artist, was acknowledged as the greatest painter in Europe, his facility with brush and pigment unmatched. He was as glorious in life as he was in art: confidant of kings, diplomat, linguist, husband of a much younger, beautiful, woman. His brush caressed her body so intimately that he ordered her to destroy the canvases after his death. But one she couldn't part with.

April 25: Rembrandt and Vermeer

Had Rubens known of the ambitious Rembrandt 90 miles away in Amsterdam — a crass commercial center — would he have even cared? Surely not. But to Rembrandt, besting Rubens was everything, for he, Rembrandt, was certain that he was one of the greats of Western art. So he spends his first decade knocking out Rubens-like canvases until he finally realizes that what he really wants to paint is the soul. Ego suppressed, talent released.

Our final artist is sweet Vermeer, chronicler of domestic serenity, his solitary, contemplative women encased in cubes of silence. Despite recent research linking Vermeer to Velazquez, categories and comparisons become meaningless before such exquisite evocations. Unlike Rembrandt, Vermeer did not seek renown, yet he achieved greatness.

Instructor: Linda Blair has taught art history for many years, in the East (where she was also a docent at The Cloisters), at the Athenaeum Library in La Jolla, and at our Osher Institute, where she has long been one of our most popular presenters. Her BA is from Mills College and her MA in history is from the University of San Diego. She is a co-founder of the UCSD “Town and Gown” volunteer organization, which is dedicated to raising scholarship funds for university students.

Coordinator: Joy Urich

Course Number: OSHR-70055   Credit: 0 units

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