Baroque: Capturing (E)Motions

Woman Readind a Letter by Gerard ter Borch c.1660-65

 In the period of the Renaissance, we saw how the church greatly influenced the works of most artists. Paintings that focus heavily on history and religion slowly begin to decline as churches no longer provided commissions for artists as their new focus became fixated on building up the church itself. Without the support of the church, art that focused on history and religion began to decline as an interest in landscapes, seascapes, portraits, still life, and genre themes became popular among most. With the change of the church’s support and new emerging ideas for artists to focus on, we witness the period of Baroque

The Baroque period is a new personal favorite, as, within this period, artists were able to showcase dramatization within their work. Color and tone (previously used to display mood and flow of a piece of work) became enhanced by the dramatic use of light and shade, and the idea of focusing on all aspects of the work intertwined with the ability to recognize and capture dramatic motions and emotions. Yet it wasn’t until after the end of the 80-year war in Spain and the shift in power (and the growth) of the merchant class where Baroque style paintings became heavily desired. It was believed that as people put more attention to building up their land and home, art in the home was one way in doing so. As interior walls became adorned throughout the home (with paintings on every wall), paintings that were small and cheap were high in demand. With this demand, an artist often found ways to speed up the production of their work, and they also began to form different techniques in which to make their paintings more appealing. It was this demand and appeal that made Baroque style art even more popular. 

In the Baroque era of painting, it was the work of Gerard ter Borch that captured my interest (see the images above). Not only does Borch bring details into his art, he’s also able to tap into other senses. Looking closely, you can see the details he used throughout. From the beading of the necklace and hair accessory to the glare created on the chandelier, the painting captures many brief moments in time. When we think of emotions, does this painting bring anything to mind? Does the resting dog make you want to lay back or yawn? As I view the servant boy and notice his reaction, I’m instantly curious about what is being read aloud by the woman holding the letter. Then when I look upon the lady sitting at the table, I slightly began to wonder if she is somewhat annoyed and impatiently waiting to write a response for the young lady reading the letter.

It is so many different aspects of this painting that brings it to life, yet it is the realism of her dress that has me in awe. It is usually the small details that I appreciate the most. Like the way the artist can use shading to create a shining “satin” effect, then there’s the details in the border of the dress (and fringes in the tablecloth) and look at the creases and wrinkles upon the dress. The ability to create the “feel” and emotion within a piece of art was a dramatic difference in the period of Baroque compared to the Renaissance.

If you were to look at the picture of the two women side by side, one is from the Baroque era and the other from the Italian Renaissance era. Although the lady pictured with a child seems to be of a richer and more elaborate class, due to the embellishments upon her dress, it is the way the artist was able to paint the feel of satin in the joining picture that might make you think otherwise as the dull colors represented lower class in the Baroque era. During that period artists would put more emphasis (like texture and the illusion of softness and shine) to pictures depicting people of a higher class while the mediocre tone was used when painting the dress of someone of the lower class. The following hyperlink can give more insight on the artist Gerard ter Borch while more paintings in we he created can be found here Painting By Gerard ter Borch


Ginnyburges, /. “What’s in a Painting? Taking a Closer Look at Gerard Ter Borch the Younger’s Masterpiece: The Gallant Conversation (C.1654).” in Words, 13 Nov. 2017,

Janson, Jonathan. “A Brief Overview of the Dutch Art Market in the Seventeenth Century.” A Brief Overview of the Dutch Art Market in the 17th Century,

Zaki, Fady. “Baroque Art Movement.” Identify This Art – Your Guide through the Art Movements, Identify This Art, 16 May 2011,

3 thoughts on “Baroque: Capturing (E)Motions”

  1. I find this painting interesting with the simplicity yet realist depiction of the scene. The bored anticipation from the woman and the boy listening to the reader is quite reflective of the moment. Borch does seem to capture still life in this painting, a simple scene. What caught my eye was the reader’s incredible dress, how he was able to produce a metallic effect. It’s very unique and stands out in the art itself as there is nothing quite in comparison to it. I do see the significant difference in the two paintings that you compared.


  2. I love the subtle nods to wealth that are commonly seen in Baroque paintings, the gold decanter and chandelier and the velvet foot stool with a lap dog on it. I’ve noticed across dozens of works of art that feature dogs, the all look to be the same type of lap dog with white and brown patches. The dog itself is a symbol of wealth as these people could afford to have a dog that didn’t work. The young lady’s dress almost seems to be the focal point of the scene with the lighter cloth and detail painted into the fabric, it is stunning how real it looks.


  3. The use of incredible detail by Borch creates movement and draws clear attention to the protagonist of the painting. Using the other characters as a way to express emotion within the scene. I did not know it was possible to create such complex and vivid shapes using oil as Borch does in the work. I do like how you point out that the funding of art did come more from private estates during the baroque era. That certainly would explain many themes of the time period and certainly this piece in particular. Freezing a families valuable items into a painting for eternity.


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