The Baroque painting and Merlin

The term Baroque originally meant “irregular, contorted, grotesque”, to define the art style that emerged by the year 1600 across Europe. This art period represents the contradictions and agitated ideologies involving religion, politics and social behavior. With the Counter Reformation of the catholic church, the Baroque style played an important part of reimagining religious scenes through direct commissions for young artists in Rome, in order to continue with the endless campaign of Catholicism as the greater religion.

There are important cue points to identify Baroque art compared to the preceding two centuries in art:

  • Crudely depicted subjects and scenes
  • Violence, eroticism and sex are constantly shown not only in painting, but also in sculpture directly and indirectly to the viewer
  • The viewer is part of the picture, since the characters and elements are coming towards us with masterful foreshortening
  • While the naturalistic approach remains, the classical, perfectly conscious and passive characters are substituted with dynamic poses, acting and depth of field, moving the figure across space

Caravaggio. "David and Goliath".  c. 1600, oil on canvas, 110 x 91 cm. Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Caravaggio. David and Goliath. c. 1600, oil on canvas, 110 x 91 cm. Museo del Prado, Madrid.

An asymmetrical but balanced composition. Our primary subject, David, dominates the visual plane looking downward to Goliath’s head. Both bodies are constantly moving back and forth in the depth of space with the use of dramatic lighting, hiding body parts and clothing details. David’s right arm is the point of highest contrast, which guides us to the inferior right corner where the head is situated.

Warm colors are predominant in Caravaggio’s work. His dramatic scenes look like theatrical snapshots, where characters are lighted by spotlights, spreading the value range from darkest dark to lightest light. On this particular painting, the color scheme desaturated and almost monochromatic, making the image very intimate and gloomy.

The “two o’clock” light source  is not shown on this painting, but it’s spotlight effect and low intensity affect the way the figure is shown to ourselves, as well as the environment and props. The value spectrum is covered entirely. The darkest dark is the predominant value of the image.


We can observe parts of  linework that Caravaggio left (or put there intentionally) uncovered by the painting’s rendering, such as David’s right arm, folds in clothing and wrinkles in Goliath’s features, as well as flesh rims caused by articulations of the body.  Reminds me a little of Botticelli’s use of line, but in a more subtle and almost stealthy way. According to some sources and contemporary critics, Caravaggio painted directly on the canvas from the live model, which may discard the idea of him spending time doing a full detailed under drawing.

formThe shapes found in the painting are soft and rounded, following human anatomy flawlessly. Squinting our eyes, we find the natural and slightly tilted main shapes (right arm, right leg, back) of David guiding our eye to Goliath’s head, partially hidden by shadows.

As part of the post, I did a quick study of Caravaggio’s painting style but with a much simpler character subject, that is Merlin from Disney’s Sword in the Stone, animated film released in 1963 based on the story written by T.H. White. Playing with the volume and textures of the character, I found out that Baroque style guide could be applied even to the most simple character or shape by thinking of the dimension of elements as picturing them as actual objects that move and react through space and light.

"Tenebrous Merlin" Francisco Guerrero. Digital Media, 2014.

Francisco Guerrero. “Tenebrous Merlin”. Digital Media, 2014. Character design property of Walt Disney Studios.

Hope you enjoyed the post!



  • Janson, H. W., and Anthony F. Janson.History of art. 5th ed. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2001. Print.
  • Web Gallery of Art.

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