French and Italian 17th century

In Italy, the Counter-reformation helped drive a style of painting that was emotional and direct. Artists again emphasized careful observation of the natural world and looked to the examples of past masters. Their classical approach would leave its mark all over Europe for more than 100 years and, in France, would be institutionalized in the French Academy, founded in 1648.

Fueled by the wealth of the Vatican and the spate of construction of new buildings, seventeenth-century Rome offered great opportunities for artists. Domenico Fetti saw the Veil of Veronica when it was exhibited at Saint Peter's in Rome and made it the subject of a moving portrayal of Christ in his suffering.

The French state from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries witnessed a form of government based on the absolute monarchy, which reached its apogee under the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV, from 1643 until 1715. Louis' desire to glorify his dignity and the magnificence of France found expression in a distinctly French style that rivaled the more exuberant Italian form of the baroque. The history and landscape paintings of Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain are characterized by symmetry and clarity of form; the artist's organization of his compositions was to demonstrate the power of reason that pervaded seventeenth-century French culture.