Art Comparison: Baroque and Realism

Art is often defined by the society it represents.  In order to understand the context of the art, one must understand the society that the artist lived.   Efland writes, “Also entering into any discussion of the arts are various ideas of reality, by which we mean a general system of beliefs or a kind of consciousness that characterizes a particular epoch” (5).  Social structure and beliefs are perhaps the most important subject found in art.  Historically, men dominated most aspects of the humanities as status and wealth often defined their importance in society. For many centuries, women were seen by society in a matronly role.  Lerner (2015) writes, “With the rise of social history and increasing concern with groups out of power, women received some attention, but interest was mainly focused on their position in the family and on their social status” (1).  The artistic movements between the Baroque and Realism periods document a relevance to progress where society redefined the role of women based on social awareness of class systems, wealth, economic, and educational advancement.  Analyzing Baroque and Realism Art will show that artists displayed a difference in ideologies and technical preference that reflected through their artwork.  Judith Leyster (Baroque Artist) and Gustave Leonard de Jonghe (Realism Artist) both represented the role of women in society.

Baroque Art, a European movement during the seventeenth and eighteenth-century displays, “….the emphasis on the dramatic” (Janson 2).  The movement received patronage from wealthy aristocrats who wanted to support the reformation attempts of the Catholic Church.  The art produced during this period reflects both religious and aristocratic ideologies that signified the lifestyle that the people lived.  The artists emphasized, “…. lifelike and naturalistic renderings and the dramatic use of color and ornamentation…” (MindEdge Inc 2.05). The movement allowed artist Judith Leyster to become one of the few female painters in Europe during this period to find success in the arts.  Historically, “…access to instruction was affected by class, gender, and the general social status of the visual arts as a subject for study” (Efland 3). Leyster broke gender barriers by becoming a member of Guild of St. Luke of Haarlem that she used to educate her students in the style and art technique that she was known for.  In particular, Leyster helps to document the role of women in the Baroque Period because of her ability to capture the styles, customs, and beliefs during the seventeenth-century.

Leyster’s portrait is extraordinary because it was produced by a woman capturing her daily routine as an artist.  The painting itself has many secrets.


Fig. 1: “Self Portrait” by Judith Leyster (Baroque Art 1630) Dutch Golden Age Painterart11.PNG

art 1

Fig. 2: “Self Portrait” by Judith Leyster Infrared Photograph of Original Painting


The National Gallery of Art writes, “This infrared photograph shows what is underneath the top layer of paint. The painting on the easel was originally a self-portrait of Leyster” (NGA.gov).  However, her customary style was of painting what the NGA describes as “merrymakers” (NGA.gov). The top layer of paint that she applied over the original has a man playing a violin on the easel in a lively fashion.  It would be difficult to know this if the historical information and technology were not available today.  Leyster understood the audience that bought her work and made changes in anticipation of selling it to those that preferred scenes of merrymakers.  While she originally may have made the change to ensure a sale, she also documented her place in history as a merrymaker painter.

The age of Realism is, “…a reaction against the emotionalism of Romanticism and was influenced by the rising stature of science and the new technique of photography” (Janson 3). Gustave Leonard de Jonghe was a leading painter of the Realism era. Research shows, “Artists sought to produce accurate and objective portrayals of the ordinary, observable world, with a focus on the lower classes and with a critique of the established social and political order” (MindEdge Inc 3.15).   Invaluable, LLC, a leading auction house of his work, writes, “Although Jonghe started his career painting historical and sacred matter, he is famous for his genre painting with bourgeois themes and rich materials” Invaluable).   The themes often replicated nature and people in various activities either at work or leisure.  In addition, social movements and politics were leading issues during this period. The goal of the Realist painter was to paint what he or she saw in a life-like representation. Qualities of this period included heavier use of paint consisting of warmer colors that were simple and natural (Mindedge Inc 3.15).  Interestingly, the painting may represent a great push for higher education for women that started around 1857.  Research shows that the Langham Group (1857-1866), “…began to develop what is seen as a politics of ‘liberal feminism’; this embraced not just education but suffrage for women, employment opportunities, and reform of the law regarding married women’s property” (HerStoria, para. #2).  The group believed that since women were still being tutored at home, changes should be made to ensure equal education opportunities for women.  Even during the 1860s, people believed that education would enhance a woman’s ability to be a better homemaker and mother.  Women, however, began to start schools for young women that started to gain much support in society.  The young lady in Jonghe’s painting (1868) may represent the movement because of the time frame it was commissioned.

Fig. 3

art 2

Fig. 3: “A Moment of Distraction” Gustave Leonard de Jonghe (Realist Art 1868) Belgian Painter


While the theme of using a woman as the subject exists in both paintings, they tell a very different story.  The Baroque artist painted in a society ruled by the aristocracy. Interestingly, she painted during a period that defined the role of women as homemakers and not artists.  One might speculate that she was aristocratic because of her defiance of social standards. Leyster is also making two distinct statements in her piece.  The first is the style of dress which shows she was mindful to follow the norm for fashion but also of wealth.  Her body language shows a friendly and welcoming position that contrasts the style of dress.  One might argue that her wealthy clothes and confident poise might reflect a successful artist. As she looks in a direct fashion, it speaks of her confidence as an artist. The National Gallery of Art writes, “She’s smiling, something new for a portrait of a woman in the seventeenth century” (NGA.gov). Portraits were popular, but Leyster’s painting of merrymakers were also in high demand.  A woman working was rare, but a woman working as a successful artist was almost unheard of during this period.  While male artists might have chosen to paint her in the expressionless fashion, she chose to display her manner of confidence because of her belief in her abilities as an artist.

The Realism Period reflected a society that had a social and political conscience.  Jonghe’s subject, while probably from a wealthier family, represents an educated woman, but not necessarily one belonging to an aristocratic family.  The theme also reflects a society much less rigid in the role of women.  While most women did not learn to read in the seventeenth century, the mid-nineteenth-century produced educated women not afraid to step outside of the role society had set for them.  Of a certainty, a social change in class and gender systems can be deduced because of the varied differences between the two paintings. In Jonghe’s painting, the woman is adhering to the latest fashion just as Leyster did, but her body language also tells a different story.  The woman is bending over the book that might help to reflect that women were now choosing to seek out educations and literacy as opposed to earlier centuries where reading was discouraged. In addition, her expression is much less confident than Leyster decided to show.  The woman is distracted but what exactly is she distracted from? One might wonder if the artist is making a statement about the importance of education or that education is the distraction.

Both women represent an artistic view of the progress that women have made in society.  The Baroque period shows that title and money were essential to success, but in the Realism period, the world was in a great state of progress where women were fighting for equality.  Both paintings document how class systems had evolved as well.

The technique and style used by the artists are different as well.  The colors used by Leyster are more vivid and brighter and reflect the affluence the period was known for. The piece itself is dark, yet the face is lighter which creates a focal point in the painting.  Jonghe’s piece represents the additional use of thicker paint the Realist artists were known for.  The technique, as well as the colors used, seems to reflect a duller image than the Baroque piece.

Table 1

Period Texture/


Identity Cultural Context
Baroque Art/

Dutch Painter

Oil on Canvas Self Portrait” by Judith Leyster (Baroque Art 1630) 17th and 18th Century/European influence/Aristocratic and Religious Influence
Realism Art/

Belgium Painter

Oil on Canvas A Moment of Distraction” Gustave Leonard de Jonghe (Realist Art 1868) 19th Century/French influence/Lower Classes/Political/Social Influence


The Baroque and Realism periods had many differences socially that influenced the artists. While both were creative and talented, they had styles all their own.  Leyster chose to document merrymaking while Jonghe documented leisure.  However, both created art that spoke directly to their audiences.  Society today can relive history in the details of art by following the artistic movements.  The progress of women was clearly documented during each of the movements in a way that tells the full story and not specifically the story of their respective movement.

In a reflection on learning these two periods, it was important to learn about each of the movements in order to understand the influence of the artist.  It also helps to research art scholars who have studied the art movements in great detail as many things are hard to comprehend visually.  A person might like a piece of art without understanding it.  However, research will define the ideologies of the artists to allow someone to appreciate it fully.  The Humanities class offers the ability to learn about each movement, but it also allows students to learn how to interpret the work.  A person with no artistic ability or knowledge may see the art as just paint and easel.  However, the painting, sculpture, or even a building represents history.  Individuals can easily identify different styles or ideas after learning about them.  The value of the Humanities is that people can relate their struggles and even their differences to continuing to pursue their dreams even when the odds are against them.  These artists represent social change captured in the moment.  Artists tell a story, but it would be quite difficult to read the story in the paint unless you understood the period represented.  By learning about them, students learn about what our ancestors had to face to become the society we are today.  As an ESL teacher, I think that students learning English can visually practice their speaking ability by describing the work.  While literature is often the chosen method of teaching, I think that the Humanities also offer excellent education opportunities for students who are learning English.  When students learn from a historical perspective, it will deepen their language skills as well as their knowledge of the humanities.


Works Cited

Efland, Arthur. A history of art education: Intellectual and social currents in teaching the visual arts. Teachers College Press, 1990.

Invaluable.  “Gustave Leonard “de” Jonghe” Invaluable, LLC. Retrieved on February 21 from website http://www.invaluable.com/artist/jonghe-gustave-leonard-de-tntrhhhmo7. 2015.

HerStoria.  “Women’s Success to Higher Education” HerStoria. Retrieved on February 21, 2015 from website http://herstoria.com/?p=535. 2015.

Janson, Horst Woldemar, and Anthony F. Janson. History of art. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2001.

Lerner, Gerda. The majority finds its past: Placing women in history. UNC Press Books, 2005.

Leyster, Judith. “Self Portrait.“Leyster, Image. Mindedge Inc. 2015. Retrieved on February 6, 2015 from website https://snhu.mindedgeonline.com/content.php?cid=55744

MindEdge Inc.  “Module Two: The Baroque and Age of Enlightenment.” MindEdge Inc.  2015.

MindEdge Inc.  “Module Three: Realism in Art.” MindEdge Inc.  2015.

National Gallery of Art.  “A Look at Judith Leyster” National Gallery of Art Images.  Retrieved on February 21, 2015 from website http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/education/teachers/lessons-activities/self-portraits/leyster.html. 2015.

Sotheby’s.  “A Moment of Distraction.” Image.  De Jonghe, Gustave Leonard.  2015. Image retrieved on January 31, 2015 from website http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2007/19th-century-paintings-including-spanish-painting-and-symbolism-the-poetic-vision-l07103/lot.357.lotnum.html



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