Architecture of the Baroque Period

Italian Architecture in the Baroque Period

The highly theatrical Baroque architectural style dominated Italy in the 1600s.

Learning Objectives

Define the characteristics and examples of Roman Baroque architecture

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Baroque architecture was linked to the Counter- Reformation , celebrating the wealth of the Catholic church. It was characterized by new explorations of form , light and shadow, and dramatic intensity .
  • Bernini was the master of Baroque architecture in Rome ; St. Peter’s Square was one of his greatest achievements.
  • Carlo Fontana became Rome’s leading Baroque architect following Bernini’s death in 1680.
  • Other influential Baroque architects in Italy included Carol Maderno, Pietro la Cortano, and Francesco Borromini.

Key Terms

  • Counter-Reformation: The period of Catholic revival beginning with the Council of Trent (1545–1563) and ending at the close of the Thirty Years’ War (1648); sometimes considered a response to the Protestant Reformation.
  • Baroque: A period in western art from c. 1600 to the middle of the 18th century, characterized by drama, rich color, and dramatic contrast between light and shadow.

The Baroque Period in Italy

The Baroque period of architecture began in the late 16th century in Rome, Italy. It took the Roman vocabulary of Renaissance architecture and used it in a new rhetorical and theatrical fashion, often to express the triumph of the Catholic Church and the absolutist state. It was characterized by new explorations of form, light and shadow, and dramatic intensity.

Whereas the Renaissance drew on the wealth and power of the Italian courts and was a blend of secular and religious forces, the Baroque was, initially at least, directly linked to the Counter-Reformation, a movement within the Catholic Church to reform itself in response to the Protestant Reformation . Baroque architecture and its embellishments were on one hand more accessible to the emotions and on the other hand, a visible statement of the wealth and power of the Catholic Church.

Architectural Accomplishments

A number of ecclesiastical buildings of the Baroque period in Rome had plans based on the Italian paradigm of the basilica with a crossed dome and nave , but the treatment of the architecture was very different than what had been carried out previously. One of the first Roman structures to break with the previous conventions of the Mannerist style was the church of Santa Susanna, designed by Carlo Maderno. The dynamic rhythm of columns and pilasters , central massing, and the protrusion and condensed central decoration add complexity to the structure. There is an incipient playfulness with the rules of classic design, but it still maintains a level of rigor.

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Facade of Santa Susanna by Carlo Maderno: The design elements of this church signaled a departure from the prevailing Mannerist style of architecture at the time.

Pietro de Cortona

The same concerns with plasticity, massing, dramatic effects, and shadow and light are evident in the architectural work of Pietro da Cortona, illustrated by his design of Santi Luca e Martina (of which construction began in 1635) with what was probably the first curved Baroque church façade in Rome. These concerns are even more evident in his reworking of Santa Maria della Pace (1656–8). The façade of the building, with its chiaroscuro half-domed portico and concave side wings, closely resembles a theatrical stage set and projects forward so that it substantially fills the tiny trapezoidal piazza .

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Santa Maria Della Pace: Pietro da Cortona restored the edifice of Santa Maria Della Pace, adding a Baroque façade.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Other Roman ensembles of the Baroque and late Baroque period are likewise suffused with theatricality and, as urban theatres, provide points of focus within the surrounding cityscape. Probably the most well-known example of such an approach is Saint Peter’s Square, which has been praised as a masterstroke of Baroque theatre. The piazza, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, is formed principally by two colonnades of free-standing columns centered on an Egyptian obelisk . Bernini’s own favorite design was his oval church of Sant’Andrea al Quirinale, decorated with polychome marbles and an ornate gold dome. His secular architecture included the Palazzo Barberini (based on plans by Maderno) and the Palazzo Chigi-Odescalchi (1664), both in Rome.

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St. Peter’s Square by Gian Lorenzo Bernini: St. Peter’s Square is an iconic example of Baroque theatricality.

Francesco Borromini

Bernini’s rival, the architect Francesco Borromini, produced designs that deviated dramatically from the regular compositions of the ancient world and Renaissance. His building plans were based on complex geometric figures, his architectural forms were unusual and inventive, and he employed multi-layered symbolism in his architectural designs. His iconic masterpiece is the diminutive church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, distinguished by a complicated plan arrangement that is partly oval and partly a cross, giving it complex convex-concave wall rhythms.

Carlo Fontana

Following the death of Bernini in 1680, Carlo Fontana emerged as the most influential architect working in Rome during the Baroque period. His early style is exemplified by the slightly concave façade of San Marcello al Corso. Fontana’s academic approach, though lacking the dazzling inventiveness of his Roman predecessors, exerted substantial influence on Baroque architecture both through his prolific writings and through the number of architects he trained, who would disseminate the Baroque idioms throughout 18th-century Europe.

Spanish Architecture in the Baroque Period

A particular strand of Baroque architecture evolved in Spain and its provinces and former colonies in the late 17th century.

Learning Objectives

Identify characteristics of Spanish Baroque architecture, its most famous examples, and how it differs from the art of Northern Europe in the 17th century

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • In contrast to the art of Northern Europe, the Spanish art of the Baroque period appealed to the emotions rather than seeking to please the intellect.
  • The Churriguera family, which specialized in designing altars and retables, revolted against the sobriety of the previous Herrerian classicism and promoted an intricate, exaggerated, almost capricious style of surface decoration known as the Churrigueresque.
  • Between 1720 and 1760, the Churrigueresque column , or estipite, in the shape of an inverted cone or obelisk was established as a central element of ornamental decoration.
  • Some of the most notable examples of Spanish architecture from the Baroque period include the façades of the University of Valladolid (1719) and the western façade of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (1750).

Key Terms

  • Herrerian: A style of architecture developed in Spain during the last third of the 16th century under the reign of Philip II (1556–1598) and continued in force in the 17th century, transformed then by the Baroque current of the time.
  • Moorish: Of or pertaining to a style of Spanish architecture from the time of the Moors, characterized by the horseshoe arch and ornate, geometric decoration.
  • Baroque: A period in western art from c. 1600 to the middle of the 18th century, characterized by drama, rich color, and dramatic contrast between light and shadow.
  • Obelisk: A tall, square, tapered stone monolith topped with a pyramidal point, frequently used as a monument.

The Development of Baroque in Spain

Spanish Baroque is a strand of Baroque architecture that evolved in Spain and its provinces and former colonies, notably Spanish America and Belgium, in the late 17th century. As Italian Baroque influences spread across the Pyrenees Mountains, they gradually superseded in popularity the restrained classical approach of Juan de Herrera, which had been in vogue since the late 16th century.

For example, by 1667, the facades of Granada Cathedral (by Alonso Cano) and Jaén Cathedral (by Eufrasio López de Rojas) suggest the artists’ fluency in interpreting traditional motifs of Spanish cathedral architecture in the Baroque aesthetic idiom . In Madrid, a vernacular Baroque with its roots in Herrerian and in traditional brick construction was developed in the Plaza Mayor and in the Royal Palace of El Buen Retiro, which was destroyed during the French invasion by Napoleon’s troops. Its gardens still remain as El Retiro park. This sober brick Baroque of the 17th century is still well represented in the streets of the capital in palaces and squares.

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Plaza Mayor: Three sides of the Plaza Mayor, well known for its Spanish Baroque architecture.

Comparisons to Northern Europe

In contrast to the art of Northern Europe, the Spanish art of the period appealed to the emotions rather than seeking to please the intellect. The Churriguera family, which specialized in designing altars and retables, revolted against the sobriety of the Herrerian classicism and promoted an intricate, exaggerated, almost capricious style of surface decoration known as the Churrigueresque. Within half a century, they transformed Salamanca into an exemplary Churrigueresque city. Between 1680 and 1720, the Churriguera popularized Guarini’s blend of Solomonic columns and composite order, known as the “supreme order. ” Between 1720 and 1760, the Churrigueresque column, or estipite, in the shape of an inverted cone or obelisk was established as a central element of ornamental decoration.

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Caravaca de la Cruz.: The Churrigueresque column, or estipite, was a central element of ornamental decoration in the Spanish Baroque, as shown here in the Estipite in the Church of Caravaca de la Cruz.

Notable Examples

Examples of the most eye-catching creations of Spanish Baroque are the energetic façades of the University of Valladolid (Diego Tome and Fray Pedro de la Visitación, 1719) and the western façade (or Fachada del Obradoiro) of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (Fernando de Casas y Novoa, 1750). In these examples, as in many others, the Churrigueresque design involves a play of tectonic and decorative elements with little relation to structure and function. The focus of the florid ornamentation is an elaborately sculptured surround to a main doorway. If one removed the intricate maze of broken pediments , undulating cornices , stucco shells, inverted tapers, and garlands from the rather plain wall it is set against, the building’s form would not be affected in the slightest.

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Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.: The facade of the Santiago de Compostela reflects the Churrigueresque facade; the lavish details of the facade have little structural use.

At the same time, Churrigueresque baroque offered some of the most impressive combinations of space and light. Buildings like Granada Charterhouse (by Francisco Hurtado Izquierdo), considered to be the highest example of Churrigueresque styles applied to interior spaces, or the Transparente of the Cathedral of Toledo (by Narciso Tomé) integrate sculpture and architecture to achieve notable light and dramatic effects.

The Royal Palace of Madrid and the interventions of Paseo del Prado (Salón del Prado and Alcalá Doorgate, also in the same city), deserve special mention. They were constructed in a sober Baroque international style, often mistaken for neoclassical, by the kings Philip V and Charles III. The Royal Palaces of La Granja de San Ildefonso in Segovia and Aranjuez in Madrid are good examples of Baroque integration of architecture and gardening. They have a noticeable French influence (La Granja was known as the Spanish Versailles) but contain local spatial conceptions that in some ways display the heritage of the Moorish occupation.

In Flanders , which was the richest imperial province of 17th century Spain, florid decorative detailing was more tightly knit to the structure, thus precluding concerns of superfluity. A remarkable convergence of Spanish, French, and Dutch Baroque aesthetics may be seen in the Abbey of Averbode (1667). Another characteristic example is the Church of St. Michel at Louvain (1650–70), with its exuberant two-story façade, clusters of half-columns, and the complex aggregation of French-inspired sculptural detailing.

English Architecture in the Baroque Period

English architecture during the 17th century can be characterized by its use of Palladian, Jacobean, and English Baroque styles.

Learning Objectives

Define the architecture of 17th century England

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Inigo Jones is known for introducing Palladian architecture to England, a highly symmetrical style based on the principles of formal Classical temple architecture of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
  • Popular during the early 17th century, the Jacobean style can be classified by its adoption of decadent and detailed Renaissance motifs such as columns and pilasters , round arch arcades , and flat roofs with openwork parapets , as seen in Hatfield House.
  • The architect Sir Christopher Wren was responsible for the genesis of the English Baroque style; after the Great Fire of London in 1666, he rebuilt many of the city’s churches, such as St. Paul’s Cathedral .
  • English Baroque architecture can be characterized by heavy structures adorned with elaborate decoration; compared to the contemporary Baroque of the European continent, however, it tends to be relatively plain, with more Classical subtleties.

Key Terms

  • arcade: A row of arches.
  • parapet: Part of a perimeter that extends above the roof.
  • pilaster: A rectangular column that projects partially from the wall to which it is attached; it gives the appearance of a support but is only for decoration.

English Architecture in the 17th Century

The architecture in England during the 17th century saw a continuation of the use of Classical forms , which eventually gave way to a uniform style, derived chiefly from Italy and exemplified predominantly in the work of Inigo Jones. Jacobean architecture was prominent in the first quarter of the 17th century, and English Baroque architecture, a distinctly English take on the Italian Baroque style, became prevalent during the later part of the 17th century following the Great Fire of London.

Development of English Baroque

Inigo Jones and Palladian Architecture

Palladian architecture is highly symmetrical and based on the principles of formal Classical temple architecture of the ancient Greeks and Romans. It was a style seen during the 17th century in England and became truly prominent in the 18th century. Inigo Jones, one of the first significant English architects, is known for introducing the Italian Renaissance style to England. He is responsible for the Queen’s House at Greenwich (1635) and the Banqueting House in the Palace of Whitehall (1622), which he designed based on the work of Palladio, an influential Italian Classical-style architect; its ceiling was painted by Peter Paul Rubens.

Picture of the Queen's House with a green yard in the foreground. The white house is a simple, symmetrical box design.

The Queen’s House at Greenwich: The Queen’s House at Greenwich was built by Inigo Jones, one of the first significant English architects known for introducing the Italian Renaissance style to England.

Jacobean Architecture

The second phase of Renaissance architecture in England is termed the Jacobean style. This style was popular during the first quarter of the 17th century during the reign of King James I. Chronologically following the Elizabethan style, the Jacobean style can be classified by its adoption of decadent and detailed Renaissance motifs such as columns and pilasters, round arch arcades, and flat roofs with openwork parapets. These classical motifs were, however, not strictly applied (as they were by Inigo Jones) but used rather freely and synthesized with elements of Elizabethan style architecture. Architectural examples of the style include Hatfield House, Knole House, and Holland House by John Thorpe.

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Hatfield House: South facing view of Hatfield House, an example of English Jacobean architecture, showcasing the decadent and detailed Renaissance motifs.

English Baroque

The later 17th century saw Baroque architecture come to prominence in a style that is termed English Baroque. It was the architect Christopher Wren, one of the most acclaimed English architects in history, who was responsible for the genesis of the English Baroque style. When the Great Fire of London in 1666 forced much of the city to be rebuilt, Wren was hired to replace many of the churches. His most ambitious construction, St. Paul’s Cathedral, was a magnificent piece of architecture and is the only English cathedral in the Classical tradition.

Picture of the west front of the cathedral. It shows a boldly projecting Classical portico with paired columns and two towers on either side.

St. Paul’s Cathedral: Built by Christopher Wren, St. Paul’s Cathedral is the only English cathedral in the Classical tradition.

Characteristics

Popular from 1666 to about 1715, English Baroque architecture is characterized by heavy structures adorned with elaborate decoration; compared to the contemporary Baroque of the European continent, however, it tends to be relatively plain, with more Classical subtleties. Baroque country houses, such as Chatsworth House by William Talman and Castle Howard by Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor, began to appear in the 1690s. The most significant architects after Wren were Sir John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor, who built Castle Howard (1699) and Blenheim Palace (1705).

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Chatsworth House, England: English Baroque architecture, as seen in Chatsworth House, can be characterized by heavy structures adorned with elaborate decoration; however, it tends to be relatively plain, with more Classical subtleties, compared to the Baroque architecture of the continent that was being built at the same time.

French Architecture in the Baroque Period: Versailles

The Palace of Versailles was built during King Louis XIV’s reign and contains 700 rooms, extensive gardens, and lavish decoration.

Learning Objectives

Identify the most impressive features of Versailles and those artistically responsible

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Palace of Versailles was executed in the French Baroque style , characterized by its large curved forms , twisted columns , high domes , and complicated shapes.
  • The architect for the palace was Louis Le Vau, the interior decorator was Charles Le Brun, and the landscape designer was Andre Le Notre.
  • Interior design from this period is known as Louis XIV style. Originated by Le Brun, it is characterized by richly woven red and gold fabrics or brocades , heavy gilded plaster molding , large sculpted side boards, and heavy marbling.
  • The gardens at Versailles cover nearly 2,000 acres of land and were executed in the French formal garden style, or jardin a la francaise.
  • Notable features of the palace include the Hall of Mirrors and the Grande Canal.

Key Terms

  • parterre: A garden with paths between flowerbeds.
  • brocade: A thick, heavy fabric into which raised patterns have been woven.
  • molding: A plane or curved narrow surface, either sunk or projecting, used for decoration by means of the lights and shades upon its surface and to conceal joints, especially between unlike materials.

Overview: Versailles

The Palace of Versailles is an opulent palace built by Louis XIV that contains 700 rooms, extensive gardens, and lavish decoration. Initially a small hunting lodge built by his father, Louis XIV transformed Versailles with four intensive building campaigns over his reign. The formal aesthetic of the palace was meant to glorify France and show the power and greatness of the self-proclaimed Sun King, Louis XIV. The architect for the palace was Louis Le Vau, the interior decorator was Charles Le Brun, and the landscape designer was Andre Le Notre. These three artists had worked together previously on the private Chateau Vaux le Vicomte for the king’s minister of finance before he was imprisoned. In 1682, Versailles was transformed into the official residence of the king, and such notable features of the palace as the Hall of Mirrors and the Grande Canal were built.

The Art and Artists of Versailles

The Architecture: Louis Le Vau

The Palace of Versailles was executed in the French Baroque style by architect Louis Le Vau, a French Classical architect who worked for King Louis XIV. French Baroque architectural style is characterized by its large curved forms, twisted columns, high domes, and complicated shapes. In comparison to the Baroque architecture of the rest of Europe, it is commonly thought to be more restrained and characterized by its mixture of lavish details on symmetrical and orderly buildings.

The Interior Design: Charles Le Brun

Charles Le Brun was the interior decorator for the Palace of Versailles, as well as first painter to the king. Louis XIV declared Le Brun the “greatest painter of all time,” and Le Brun worked on such notable features of the palace as the Halls of War and Peace, the Ambassadors’ Staircase, and the Great Hall of Mirrors. Interior design from this period is known as Louis XIV style, originated by Le Brun, and was characterized by richly woven red and gold fabrics or brocades, heavy gilded plaster molding, large sculpted side boards, and heavy marbling.

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Louis XIV style: This elaborate bench showcases the style of Louis XIV at Versailles, which is characterized by richly woven red and gold fabrics or brocades, heavy gilded plaster molding, large sculpted side boards, and heavy marbling.

The Hall of Mirrors is the central gallery of the Palace of Versailles and is one of the most famous rooms in the world. The main feature of this room is a series of 17 mirrored arches that reflect 17 arcaded windows overlooking the gardens. Each arch contains 21 mirrors. The arches are fixed between marble pilasters upon which bronze symbols of France are embedded.

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The Hall of Mirrors: The main feature of the Hall of Mirrors is a series of 17 mirrored arches that reflect 17 arcaded windows overlooking the gardens. Each arch contains 21 mirrors.

The Gardens: Andre Le Notre

The landscape design at the Palace of Versailles is one of the most extravagant in history. Headed by Andre Le Notre, the gardens at Versailles cover nearly 2,000 acres of land and were executed in the French formal garden style, or jardin a la francaise. This style is characterized by its meticulously manicured lawns, parterres of flowers, numerous fountains, and sculptures.

A common feature of sculpture and decoration at Versailles is the use of classical mythology as allegory . The Bassin de Latone was designed by Le Notre and sculpted by Gaspard and Balthazar Marsy between 1668–1670. This fountain depicts scenes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, chosen as allegories to revolts during the king’s reign. The Bassin d’Apollon is another fountain that depicts the sun god driving his chariot to light the sky. The Grotte de Thetys is a freestanding structure with an interior decorated in elaborate shell-work to represent the myth of Apollo.

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Gardens at Versailles: Plan for the extravagant gardens at the Palace of Versailles.

The Grande Canal is a notable feature of the gardens, with an impressive length of 1,500 x 62 meters. King Louis XIV ordered the construction of “little Venice ” on the Grand Canal, which housed yachts, gondolas, and gondoliers received from Venice. It also served a functional purpose by gathering the water that drained from the fountains and redistributing it to the gardens by horse-powered pump.

The Grande Commande is a series of 24 statues that were commissioned by Louis XIV to decorate the gardens. The statues illustrate the classic quaternities (sets of 4) at the time of the Four Humors, the Four Parts of the Day, the Four Parts of the World, The Four Forms of Poetry, the Four Elements, and the Four Seasons. Four additional sculptures depict abductions from classical mythology.