Beautiful white marble in the 17th Century may have inspired the marble sculpture and many other forms of sculpture in contemporary times.
Sometimes the picture plane seems more like a large impenetrable door to a bank vault rather than a delicate transparent window. The surface of a work of art can either be inviting or separating. The point where a person’s gaze rests upon an artwork can stop the viewer from entering the scene. Thankfully during the Renaissance perspective in painting helped create the illusion of a welcoming space for viewers in these scenes. But in the emotional marble sculpture of the Baroque period, artists employ more impressive techniques for incorporating the viewer. Baroque white marble sculpture really began to destroy the barriers between the viewer and the art object that was later important in Contemporary Art.
Baroque White Marble
This union of the art object and the art observer can be experienced on the surfaces of Baroque white marble sculpture. No longer is surface a stubborn unwelcoming museum guard. In earlier sculptures the viewer’s space seems to stop exactly at the surface. Viewers are witness to beautiful sights and even emotions, but are not welcome past the surface of the work. Baroque sculptures, however, can’t transcend their viewers without welcoming them in. Gianlorenzo Bernini’s David has a much more twisted pose than those of the past carving a larger space for both the marble sculpture and the viewer. Bernini also focuses on the moment of the kill and not the tension before it making the viewer feel more on edge. Bernini knows that if the audience is not somehow part of the marble sculpture they will not feel the same feelings that David might be feeling. Not only does Baroque white marble sculpture extend the space of the work but incorporates viewers into it as well.
Another Marble Sculpture
Like David, in Bernini’s Triton and Neptune, viewers catch two other figures caught in operation. The strong knot of figures fills the room with authority. Triton and Neptune twist creating more command over the space around the sculpture. The two men form a tight knot of white marble that feels strong and in control of the entire space. The poised trident and the activated conch shell both draw imaginary lines around the viewer. Triton’s trident and Neptune’s conch shell in this marble sculpture trap the viewer in a network of drama and movement. The spaces that the trident and the conch shell’s reverberations are about to occupy are in the viewer’s space. This visual action leaves viewers tangled inside a turbulent moment of action.
These Baroque sculptures were intended to welcome and transform. White marble was intended to transform Protestants into followers. But marble sculpture was transforming itself. One of the most exciting transformations was when viewers not only claimed a space, but added their their own narrative. Viewers were truly given a space inside the work of art and even welcomed to add their own ideas in Minimalist sculpture. This application of the viewer’s ideas instead of the artisan’s was obviously much more Contemporary. But perhaps Bernini was sculpting seats instead of men. Baroque art may well have been the beginning of the viewer having a valid space inside a work. Perhaps it was more about who’s in the driver seat and less about who’s making the sculpture. It didn’t matter in the 17th century what the driver was doing. The transcendental beauty of these sculptures, though, comes from the accessibility. These Baroque sculptures destroyed the barriers of a stoic picture plane and gave the audience a connection to the work.
Stokstad, Marilyn, and Michael W. Cothren. Art History, vol. 2. 5th ed., Pearson 2014.
“‘Neptune and Triton’ by b.” Victoria and Albert Museum, http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/n/berninis-neptune-and-triton. Accessed 24 February 2017.