The term baroque is commonly used to define both a historical period and an artistic style that evolved mainly in the Catholic countries of southern Europe over the course of the seventeenth century.

It is characterised by dynamic compositions, heightened drama and emotion, and a direct appeal to the senses. But the baroque period in fact encompassed a broad range of styles.

For example, a strong naturalistic trend originated with the work of Caravaggio in Italy, and of Velazquez in Spain, whereas a more restrained, classical style emerged in opposition to the flamboyant baroque. This is particularly associated with the French painter Poussin. He and his compatriot Claude Lorrain also made fundamental contributions to the development of landscape painting.