17th Century Artists: Borromini, Bernini, and Caravaggio


During the 17th century, artists really tried to manipulate their viewer by using new techniques and controversial themes.�¯�¿�½ The three artists that really excelled in manipulating their audiences were Caravaggio, Bernini, and Borromini.

Caravaggio (1571-1610)

Caravaggio used realism to convey a new dimension of the subjects that he painted. Like Titian, he painted directly on the canvas, however unlike Titian he worked from live models. This gave his work a reality and geniuses, that many prior artists had refused to incorporate into their work. Caravaggio portrayed the things and life that he knew, full of turbulence, and full of life. This realism was often drawn from his own life and was autobiographical in nature as in his work The Calling of St. Matthew (Janson & Janson, 2004, p. 561).�¯�¿�½

Even in his religious works, deities and saints were represented by “low-life’s,” commoners going about their daily lives. In these portrayals of seemingly common people a spiritual element is still captured. Caravaggio was able to do this because of his study of Renaissance and classical art from Rome. He was able to use light in a “divine” matter that heightened the commoner with an added holiness. His ability to induce an externalization of spiritual contemplation is what made Caravaggio great. (Janson & Janson, 2004, pp. 560-561).Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

Berini (1598-1680)

Bernini was the successor and student of Michelangelo in both sculpture and painting. When he took over the construction of St. Peter’s he utilized the sculptural genius inspired by the Michelangeloesque style to his design. In the forecourt of St. Peter’s facade Bernini created a huge open oval piazza that created a structural “open arms” appearance. These open arms seemed to beckon people into the motherly warmth of the church. While this approach was not a new concept and had been utilized by Jacopo Vignola for a private commission in the 1550s, Bernini did install a revolutionary element to this design by placing the entrance to the church within the open arms. (Janson & Janson, 2004, p. 571).Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

The interior design was a challenge because of its enormity. Bernini fused together architecture and sculpture to create a sense of spirituality and optical delight. He also fused together Christian and pagan iconography to create a feeling of Christianity overcoming the pagan religions of the ancients. This was especially seen in the symbolic portrayal of this theme by hanging a cross above a golden orb. (Janson & Janson, 2004, p. 571).�¯�¿�½

The ecstasy of sta. Theresa, sculpture and natural light used to create the feeling that the viewer was experiencing the event within the sculpture. Carved marble used to create solid beams of light, while a window above the scene added natural radiant light.�¯�¿�½

Borromini (1599-1667)�¯�¿�½

While Bernini’s architectural designs were simple and unified, Borromini’s designs, like his personality, were complex and extravagant. In an age where artists were using the human body as a way to express spirituality, Borromini used his incredible insight into the use of geometric shapes to create a sense of spirituality. In the Dome of S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, he used to exhaustion the reflective and shadowing elements of concave and convex surfaces. This created both shadowed geometric shapes, and lighted geometric shapes. These shapes included, of course, the crucifix. Looking up into the interior of the dome is almost dizzying as the mind and eyes try to focus on the hundreds of shapes, textures, and focal points, drawing you into the work as if spiritually being lifted to the heavens. Other elements used by Borromini are just as bold. He uses sculpture to produce an audience for his work.


Janson, H.W. & Janson, Anthony F. (2004). History of Art: The Western Tradition. (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson-Prentice Hall.

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