Roman Baroque was dependent on political and ecclesiastical patronage. Its course was influenced by the Council of Trent, by the Jesuits, and by individual popes (five of whom gladly employed Bernini). The opportunity to create works of a public kind, in obedience to a new dynamic yet for patrons who were of necessity traditionalists, led to the formation of an habitual motive expressing itself in an habitual movement of the creative mind. The artists typical of the period accepted authority, whether the spiritual authority of the Church or the authority which the Renaissance had given to the art-forms of Rome and Greece. Yet this fidelity to tradition was accompanied by a desire to reconstitute the elements, rearrange and recombine them, so as to achieve new effects. In compassing these new effects, the artists of this age displayed technical virtuosity, dexterity, and resource to an unparalleled degree.
The nature of the new forms may still be usefully surveyed under the five heads proposed by Wölfflin. The transition from Renaissance to Baroque is marked by a change from the perception of an object by outline and surfaces to a perception with less tangible design; there is development from the linear and from stress upon limits toward an apprehension of the world as shifting semblance. Instead of employing a plane or parallel planes in design, the new technique lays emphasis on depth, recession, and diagonal penetration of space. There is also a movement from closed to open composition, from a stable equilibrium dominated by vertical and horizontal axes to a looser form, frequently spiral in its movement and suggesting by its sweep a completion beyond its own mechanical limits. In similar fashion, the Renaissance use of multiplicity in design, relying upon the union of independent parts in harmony with one another, gives way to a unity achieved by means of a single theme or by the subordination to one dominant element of all the others; that is, to fusion instead of co-ordination. Finally, there is a change from absolute clarity, in which explicitness is the chief aim, to relative clarity, in which light and colour have their own life and beauty is perceived in the very darkness which modifies form. Baroque, in the formal sense, represents a perpetuation of the traditional forms accompanied by a reaction against them, the two being compatible in that the reaction amounts to intensifying or accentuating certain elements already present, dislocating or deliberately "deforming" recognized shapes in the interests of greater expressiveness, and achieving, on the familiar stage, a new and striking effect informed by a sense of splendour and actuated by a fresh interest in movement.
It is probably possible to isolate one central motive leading to this vast and complex change in sensibility and creative urge. With a due regard for the fragile and tentative nature of all abstract terminology one would venture to assume that it is a desire for power, an intense desire to assert the predominance of the will. It is not difficult to discover that a good deal of reputable critical opinion points in that direction.
Friedrich regards as "perhaps the age's most revealing phrase" the well-known comment of Hobbes, "So that, in the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of Power, after Power, that ceaseth only in Death." "Riches, Knowledge and Honour are but several sorts of power." Stechow regards "the interpretation of this Baroque epoch as one revealing a basically new and optimistic equilibrium of religious and secular forces."
This era tended to harmonize the humanistic, the religious, and the scientific realms into one integrated whole, deliberately, yet often with a passsionate zeal and dynamic power of which the Renaissance had not been capable, and its new equilibrium was possible of attainment only thanks to the progressive revolution of the Reformation on one bana and the conservative revolution of the Counter-Reformation on the other.