Definition of Art
Heinrich Woelfflin (1864-1945) was an art theorist whose most notable work ‘Principles of Art History – 1915’ tries to define the development of art in terms of opposing styles between two general periods of pre/early renaissance and the inspired Baroque style that followed Renaissance.
The 5 principles are: from linear to painterly, from plane to recession, from closed form to open form, from multiplicity to unity and lastly from absolute clarity to relative clarity.
The first principle can arguably be referring to the likes of Chiaroscuro (light and shade). With the introduction of this technique, the figures in paintings began to be affected by the natural effects of light and shade and thus became to look more realistic; whereas beforehand pictures were confined strictly within their contours, no consideration of outside effects.
The second principle talks of the plane schema that was used in the 15th and 16th centuries. The plane ‘schema’ or scheme was a technique used to place figures into a painting using different planes parallel to each other. The effect of this is that the eye can travel across it very easily and acknowledge the different planes in which the figures have been placed (for example the foreground, middle ground or background). The later 17th baroque style of recession was different in that the use of colour, light and diagonal positioning of the figures began to make the planes seemingly merge into one and as consequence figures in paintings genuinely seem to recede in front of your eyes rather than just being ‘in the background’.
The third principle discusses the closed (tectonic) form where a painting would have a one point perspective, of which Bruneslleci is often the credited inventor. This would mean a painting would be composed in such a way that your eyes would trace upwards to the focal point no matter where you initially looked because every theoretical horizontal and vertical line of the image points back to the focus. The opposing open (a-tectonic) form overrides any sense of an image having a self-contained focal point. Instead, it feels as if the painting is reaching out into open space.
The fourth principle put forward by Woelfflin is that figures in classical art are independently considered pieces put together. Baroque art shifted away from this and instead entire paintings are unified scenes in which the figures radiate a sense of communication, movement and purpose within both the painting and in context with whom they are painted.
Lastly, between the two periods there was a change from absolute clarity to relative clarity in pictorial means. This is not akin to deterioration in skill but rather the sophistication of realising what had to be portrayed and what could be left out to achieve the desired effect/meaning of the art.