You may have come across various art terms or architectural descriptions as clues in our crosswords, such as ‘Ornate art style’ for BAROQUE or ‘Medieval architectural style’ for GOTHIC. Yet it’s interesting to realise that these terms were all originally created as insults, by contemporaries who didn’t appreciate the new ways of doing things.
Gothic architecture was at first called ‘the French Style’ because it came from France – eg Notre Dame cathedral – but the word Gothic was used later during the Renaissance as an insult. The Italian architect Vasari, who designed the Uffizi Palace in Florence, despised the pointed arches and vaulted ceilings of the 1550s as crude and barbaric. The architecture had nothing to do with the real Goths, a German tribe who attacked Rome in the early Middle Ages but Vasari meant to liken it to something barbaric.
Baroque pipe organ
The term Baroque was initially used in a derogatory sense to underline its over-the-top nature. In particular, the term was used to describe its eccentric redundancy and noisy abundance of details, so different to the clear and sober rationality of the Renaissance. The word comes from the French baroque ‘irregular’ which came from the Portuguese barroco signifying pearls and teeth of unequal size.
Cubism got its name from the insulting description of a Braque painting by a conservative art critic who could not understand its value. The style was pioneered by Braque and Picasso.
Impressionism takes its name from a painting of a sunrise by Claude Monet, one of a group artists who began using more natural methods and were dubbed by critics, ‘painters of mere impressions’.
Fauvism got both its start and its name at a 1905 exhibition held at the Paris Salon d’Automne where it was heralded as a new style under the unofficial leader of the group, Henri Matisse, who was to become the most enduring Fauvist. The works of Fauvist artists, marked by audacious transpositions, forceful brushstrokes and the emotional use of colour was inspired by Impressionism and the works of Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Signac.
I feel that the artists whose styles were so criticised in their day would be pleased to know that these styles are all highly revered by art lovers nowadays.