Baroque Architecture
Definition, History, Origins, Characteristics.

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Church of Saint Yves at La Sapienza,
Rome. Designed by the architect
Francesco Borromini, and built
1642-60. A perfect example of
Italian Baroque architecture.

See: Definition of Art.
See also: Types of Art.

Baroque Architecture (c.1600-1750)


Definition: What is Baroque Architecture?
The Baroque Idea of a Building
Baroque Architecture's Undulating Motif
Vaults, Arches, Buttresses
The Baroque Concept of Building Design: Architectural Sculpture
Architectural Manipulation of Light
Undulating Order of Architecture
Italian Baroque Architecture
French Baroque Architecture
German Baroque Architecture
Spanish & Portugese Baroque Architecture
Urban Planning
Domestic Interior Designs
Baroque Architects

Architectural Resources
- Architecture, History.
- Architecture Glossary.

St Peter's Basilica Rome.
Pope Alexander VII commissioned
Bernini in 1655, to decorate its
Cathedra Petri, piazza & approaches.

Definition: What is Baroque Architecture? - Characteristics

It was characteristic of Baroque architecture that, though examples are to be found almost throughout Europe and Latin America, they differ notably from one country to another. How is it, then, that they are all designated by a single term? Partly for convenience, in order to summarize the art of a whole period with a single word, but mainly on account of their common aesthetic origin.

In Spain the term 'Baroque' originally denoted an irregular, oddly-shaped pearl, whereas in Italy it meant a pedantic, contorted argument of little dialectic value. It ended by becoming, in almost all European languages, a synonym for the extravagant, deformed, abnormal, unusual, absurd, and irregular; and in this sense it was adopted by eighteenth-century critics to apply to the art of the preceding century, which had seemed to them conspicuously to possess such characteristics. (For a brief overview, see: Baroque Art.)

Interior of the Basilica of the Fourteen
Holy Helpers, Bad Staffelstein, Bavaria.
Designed by Balthasar Neumann, it was
built 1743-72. An excellent example of
Late Baroque German architecture.

For details of art movements
and styles, see: History of Art.
For a chronological guide to
key events in the development
of visual arts around the globe
see: History of Art Timeline.

In the second half of the nineteenth century the Swiss critic Heinrich Wolfflin and his followers gave the word a more objective meaning. Still referring to the religious art of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, they defined as Baroque those works in which certain specific characteristics were to be seen: the use of movement, whether actual (a curving wall, a fountain with jets of water forever changing shape) or implied (a figure portrayed as making a vigorous action or effort); the attempt to represent or suggest infinity (an avenue which stretched to the horizon, a fresco giving the illusion of a boundless sky, a trick of mirrors which altered perspectives and made them unrecognizable); the importance given to light and its effects in the conception of a work of art and in the final impact it created; the taste for theatrical, grandiose, scenographic effects; and the tendency to disregard the boundaries between the various forms of art and to mix together architecture, painting, sculpture, and so on.

As in Renaissance architecture, the two most popular types of architectural commissions during the Baroque era involved either churches or palaces. In their different versions they respectively included cathedrals, parish churches, and monastic buildings, and town and country mansions, and above all royal palaces, these last being especially typical of the period. In addition to such individual buildings, Baroque architecture was also characterized by what is now known as town planning: the arrangement of cities according to predetermined schemes, and the creation of great parks and gardens around residences of importance.

The Baroque Idea of a Building

A building can be conceived of in many different ways: as an assemblage of superimposed storeys (the present attitude); or more like a piece of sculpture (the theory of Greek architecture); as a box defined by walls of regular shape (as Renaissance architects understood it); or as a skeletal structure, that is, one formed - according to the Gothic conception - by the various structures needed to sustain it. Baroque architects understood it as a single mass to be shaped according to a number of requirements. A verbal description of Renaissance forms might be accompanied by the drawing of imaginary straight lines in the air with an imaginary pencil; but a man describing the Baroque is more apt to mime the shaping out of an imaginary mass of soft plastic or clay. In short, for Baroque architects a building was to some extent a kind of large sculpture.


This conception had a vital effect on the ground-plan - the outlines of the building as seen from above - that came to be adopted. It led to the rejection of the simple, elementary, analytical plans which were deliberately preferred by Renaissance architects. Their place was taken by complex, rich, dynamic designs, more appropriate to constructions which were no longer thought of as 'built', or created by the union of various parts each with its own autonomy, but rather as hollowed out, shaped from a compact mass by a series of demarcations of contour. The ground-plans common to the architecture of the Renaissance were the square, the circle, and the Greek cross - a cross, that is, with equal arms. Those typical of Baroque architecture were the ellipse or the oval, or far more complex schemes derived from complicated geometrical figures. Francesco Castelli (1599-1667), better known by the name he adopted for himself, Francesco Borromini, designed a church with a ground-plan in the shape of a bee, in honour of the patron who commissioned it, whose family coat-of-arms featured bees; and another with walls that were throughout alternately convex and concave. One French architect went so far as to put forward ground-plans for a series of churches forming the letters which composed the name of his king, LOUIS LE GRAND, as the Sun-King Louis XIV liked to be called.

Baroque Architecture's Undulating Motif

Besides their complex ground-plans, the resultant curving walls were, therefore, the other outstanding characteristic of Baroque buildings. Not only did they accord with the conception of a building as a single entity, but they also introduced another constant of the Baroque, the idea of movement, into architecture, by its very nature the most static of all the arts. And indeed, once discovered, the undulating motif was not confined to walls. The idea of giving movement to an architectural element in the form of more or less regular curves and counter-curves became a dominant motif of all Baroque art. Interiors were made to curve, from the Church of S. Andrea al Quirinale by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, one of the main creators and exponents of Roman Baroque, to that of S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane or S. Ivo alla Sapienza by Borromini, his closest rival. So too were facades, as in almost all Borromini's work, in Bernini's plans for the Palais du Louvre in Paris, and typically in the work of Italian, Austrian, and German architects. Even columns were designed to undulate. Those of Bernini's great baldacchino in the centre of St Peter's in Rome were only the first of a host of spiral columns to be placed in Baroque churches. The Italian architect Guarino Guarini actually evolved, and put to use in some of his buildings, an 'Undulating order', in the form of a complete system of bases, columns, and entablatures distinguished by continuous curves.

Even excepting such extremes, during the Baroque period the taste for curves was nonetheless marked, and found further expression in the frequent use of devices including volutes, scrolls, and above all, 'ears' - architectural and ornamental elements in the form of a ribbon curling round at the ends, which were used to form a harmonious join between two points at different levels. This device was adopted primarily as a feature of church facades, where they were used so regularly as to be now perhaps the readiest way of identifying a Baroque exterior. In spite of their bizarre shape their function was not purely decorative, but principally a strengthening, functional one.

Vaults, Arches, Buttresses

The churches of the period were always built with vaulted ceilings. A vault - first seen in Roman architecture and afterwards in Romanesque architecture - is in effect, however, a collection of arches; and since arches tend to exert an outward pressure on their supporting walls, in any vaulted building a counterthrust to this pressure is needed. The element supplying this counterthrust is the buttress, an especially typical feature in the architecture of the Middle Ages, when the difficulty was first confronted. To introduce the buttress into a Baroque construction it had to have a form compatible with that of the other members, and to avoid reference to the barbaric, 'gothic' architecture of the past. This was a problem of some importance in an age enamoured of formal consistency - and it was solved by the use of scrolls. The greatest English architect of the age, Sir Christopher Wren, unable for other reasons to use the convenient scrolls for St Paul's Cathedral, yet having somehow to provide buttresses, made the bold decision to raise the walls of the outer aisles to the height of those of the nave so that they might act as screens, with the sole purpose of concealing the incompatible buttresses. False ceilings were sometimes painted onto the actual ceiling in a trompe l'oeil manner, using the technique of Quadratura (see below).

The Baroque Concept of Building Design: Architectural Sculpture

Another, and decisive, consequence of the conception of a building as a single mass to be articulated was that a construction was no longer seen as the sum of individual parts - facade, ground-plan, internal walls, dome, apse, and so on - each one of which might be considered separately. As a result the traditional rules which determined the planning of these parts became less important or was completely disregarded. For example, for the architects of the Renaissance the facade of a church or a palace had been a rectangle, or a series of rectangles each of which had corresponded to a storey of the building. For Baroque architects the facade was merely that part of the building that faced outwards, one element of a single entity. The division into storeys was generally retained, but almost always the central part of the facade was organised with reference more to what was above and below it than to what stood on either side: in other words, it was given a vertical emphasis and thrust which was in strong contrast to the practice of horizontal division by storeys. Furthermore, in the facade the elements - columns, pilasters, cornices, or pediments - projecting from the wall surface, related in various ways to the centre, which thus came to dominate the sides. Although at first sight such a facade might seem to be divided horizontally, more careful consideration reveals that it is organized vertically, in slices, as it were. In the centre is the more massive, more important section, and the sides, as the eye recedes froth it, appear less weighty. The final effect is that of a building which has been shaped according to sculptural concepts, rather than put together according to the traditional view of architecture.

A Baroque building is complex, surprising, dynamic: for its characteristic features to be fully comprehended, however, or for them to stand out prominently, it needs to catch the light in a particular way. It was this requirement that led Baroque sculptors to achieve a number of innovations. See, for instance, Bernini's unique use of light in The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1647-52) in the Cornaro Chapel in Rome.


Architectural Manipulation of Light

It is not the light that falls on a particular point in a given building that varies, but the effect the light produces in striking one surface by contrast with another. It is obvious that the texture of a brick wall is not the same as that of a similar wall of smooth marble or of rough-hewn stone. This fact was exploited by Baroque architects for both the exteriors and the interiors of their buildings. Renaissance constructions, like many modern ones, were based on simple, elementary proportions and relationships; and their significance rested in the observer's appreciation of the harmony that united the various parts of the whole. These proportions were perceptible by looking at the fabric alone: all that was required of the light was to make them clearly visible. The ideal effect, sought in almost all the buildings of that period, was that produced by a monochrome, uniform lighting. In place of the appreciation of logic that such an effect implied, Baroque substituted the pursuit of the unexpected, of 'effect', as it would be called in the theatre. And as in the theatre, this is achieved more easily by deployment of light if the light itself is concentrated in one area while others remain in darkness or in shadow - a lesson mastered above all by Caravaggio in Baroque painting.

How can this effect be achieved in architecture? There are various possibilities: by the juxtaposition of strong projections and overhangs with abrupt, deep recesses; or by breaking up the surface, making it unsmooth in some way - to return, for example, to the example used earlier, by altering a marble-clad or plaster-covered wall to one of large, rough stones. Such requirements of lighting dictated a use in particular for architectonic decoration, the small-scale elements, often carved, which give a effect of movement to the surfaces of a building. It was in the Baroque period above all that such decoration ran riot. In buildings of the Renaissance it had been confined to specific areas, carefully detached from the structural forms. Now, parading the exuberance and fantasy which were its distinguishing characteristic, it invaded every angle, swarmed over every feature, especially corners and points where two surfaces met, where it had the function of concealing the join so that the surfaces of the building appeared to continue uninterrupted.

Undulating Order of Architecture

To the five traditional orders of architecture - Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, and Composite, each of which had particular forms and proportions for its supporting members, the columns and pilasters, and for the vertical linking members, or entablature - was added the 'Undulating' order. Another new and popular variant was the 'Colossal order', with columns running up through two or three storeys. The details, too, of the traditional orders became enriched, complicated, modified: entablatures had stronger overhangs and more pronounced re-entrants, and details throughout sometimes attained an almost capricious appearance. Borromini, for instance, in using the Corinthian order, took its most characteristic feature, the curls, or volutes, which sprout from among the acanthus leaves at the tort of the capital, and inverted them.

The arches connecting one column or one pilaster to the next became no longer restricted, as in the Renaissance, to a semi-circle but were often elliptical or oval. Above all they took the form, unique to the Baroque, of a double curve - describing a curve, that is, not only when seen from in front but also when seen from above. Sometimes arches were interrupted in form, with sections of straight lines inserted into the curve. This characteristic feature was also used in pediments the decorative element above a door, a window or a whole building. The canonical shape of a pediment, which is to say that fixed by classical norms, had been either triangular or semi-circular. In the Baroque period, however, they were sometimes open - as though they had been split or interrupted at the top - or combining curved and straight lines; or fantastic, as for example in Guarino Guarini's plan for Palazzo Carignano, where they appeared around doors and windows like draperies rolled back.

Windows too were often far removed from classical forms: to the rectangular or square shapes sometimes with rounded tops, which were typical of the Renaissance were added shapes including ovals or squares topped by a segment of a circle, or rectangles beneath little oval windows.

Other details, on entablatures, doors, and keystones of arches and at corners - everywhere - included volutes; stucco figures; huge, complex, and majestic scrolls; and any number of fantastic and grotesque shapes. One form of decoration not characteristic so much as striking was the use of the tower. Sometimes a single one, sometimes pairs of them; but always complex and highly decorated, were erected on the facade, and sometimes on the dome, of churches; and in some countries, in particular Austria, Germany, and Spain, this arrangement was used often enough to become in effect the norm.

In England, Blenheim Palace (1724), designed by Sir John Vanbrugh, is one of the most famous examples of solid mass - notably the flanking square towers - being arranged in a supremely confident way. A trumpet-blast of a building!

These, briefly then, were the most obvious and frequently used motifs of Baroque architecture. It must be remembered however that each individual work created its own balance between its various features; and also that each country developed these components in different ways; and an understanding of these regional and national differences is essential to a proper understanding of the Baroque as a whole.

Italian Baroque Architecture

Italy, the cradle of Baroque and a key destination of those on the Grand Tour, produced in addition to a proportionate number of good professional architects a quartet who rate as excellent: Bernini, Borromini, Pietro da Cortona, and Guarino Guarini. The work of each was unmistakably Baroque, but each of them had, as it were, a different accent. Bernini and to a lesser extent, Pietro da Cortona, represented the courtly Baroque, majestic, and exuberant but never outrageously so, which was successful principally in the Italian peninsula. This style possessed, at their most typical, all the features of Baroque described above, and conveyed an air of grandeur and dignity that rendered it a classic of its kind. See also Quadratura - the illusionistic architectural painting technique - and its greatest exponent Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709), whose best Baroque paintings went hand in hand with the architecture. For developments in Naples, notably trompe l'oeil architectural frescoes, see: Neapolitan Baroque (c.1650-1700).

Bernini and St Peter's Basilica

The history of St Peter's - the most important architectural example of Christian art - is in itself a history of the transition from Renaissance to Baroque, and is also a textbook example of Catholic Counter-Reformation Art, in both its structure and surroundings. Soon after the death of Michelangelo, designer of St Peter's dome, Carlo Maderna (1556-1629) built a nave which is not altogether a happy feature of the plan, considered as a whole, for every attempt to expand one arm of the central space, as planned by Michelangelo, into a nave, was bound to degrade the miraculous achievement to a mere intersection of nave and transepts. Behind the facade, over 320 feet in width and 150 feet in height, the dome was concealed up to half the height of the drum. It is true that the eight columns of the entrance, the giant order of pilasters, the massive entablature, and the attic, are as Michelangelo intended. High Renaissance forms are combined with the exuberance of the Baroque, in a premonition of the coming style. In 1667 Alexander VII set Bernini the great and difficult task of giving the Church of St Peter its urban setting. He added a tower to Maderna's facade, but it collapsed and lay about in fragments. No one dared again to subject the foundations to the weight of fresh building. The stumps of the towers were left, rising to the level of the cornice of the attics, unduly widening the facade and destroying the balance of the structure. But now, as before, the church was to be given a portico. Bernini, in the most ingenious manner, took the opportunity of transforming the disadvantageous widening of Maderna's facade into an improvement. To increase the actual height of the facade was technically impossible, but Bernini, in the true spirit of the Baroque, produced an impression of height by ingeniously misleading the eye. The open space before the church rose in a slight gradient, and this was crossed by pathways which approached it obliquely, not meeting the facade at right angles, but enclosing an acute angle. This obliquity escapes the casual glance, which unconsciously transfers the smaller distance between the ends of the pathways to their starting-point, so that the facade seems narrower and, owing to the upward slope, also higher than it is in reality. In front of this forecourt, by which the eye is doubly deceived, Bernini now levelled an open space which he enclosed with open colonnades, thereby enhancing the effect of Michelangelo's dome, which had been diminished by the addition of the nave. Bernini completed his Baroque illusion by enclosing, with his arcades, an oval courtyard, which appears larger than it is in reality. The eye, expecting to see a circle, transfers the obvious width of the oval to the depth, which is not so great. The colonnades, in their simplicity, play their part by directing the attention to the facade. - But even as this facade was begun under an unlucky star, so Bernini's plan has not been fully realized. He wanted to place a third portico, as a terminal structure between the two semicircles. Owing to its omission - probably on account of the death of Alexander VII - the gap which now exists between the colonnades forms part of a typical Italian rondo, still further enhancing the overwhelming majesty of the whole, and especially the effect of the dome.

Borromini's designs were quite different, arguably more restless and extravagant. They include extremely complex ground-plans and masonry, and the deliberate contradiction of traditional detail - in the inversion of the volutes, for instance, or in entablatures that denied their traditional function by no longer resting on capitals but on a continuation above them.


A characteristic example of Italian Baroque design by Borromini is the little church of S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. Significantly, the plan of this tiny church is built up of oval forms. The centrally planned church, either circular or Greek cross, was used by early and High Renaissance architects to express their ideal of perfect lucidity and order. The oval, producing a precisely opposite effect, that of confusion and uncertainty, and above all, of movement, was in the same way a favourite motive with Baroque architects. The effect of the interior is one of complete plastic unity; the building might have been carved out of one block of stone, for there is no sense of its having been constructed out of separate elements. The same applies to the facade, built up of an elaborate and subtle combination of convex and concave forms, which again have no constructive purpose.

Many of Borromini's ideas were adopted by Guarini, with the addition of a mathematical and technical factor which was of great importance in itself - but even more because of its influence on Baroque architects outside Italy, especially in Germany.

French Baroque Architecture

Personal variations apart, Italian Baroque could be said to correspond almost completely to the norms described. The same cannot be said of France, which nevertheless produced during the Baroque period a succession of excellent architects, even more numerous than in Italy: Salomon de Brosse, Francois Mansart (1598-1666), Louis Le Vau (1612-70), Jacques Lemercier, and, greatest of them all, Jules Hardouin Mansart (1646-1708). But in France personality was less significant in its effects then the 'school' to which architects could be said to belong. The attempt of the French court to introduce Italian Baroque into France, by summoning Bernini in 1665 to Paris and commissioning him to design the reconstruction of the royal palace - the Louvre - was doomed from the outset. As a critic rightly observed, there was in question a radical difference of temperament. To the French, Italian exuberance verged on the indecorous, if not wilfulness and bad taste. Rather than as artists, French architects considered themselves professional men, dedicated to the service and the glorification of their king. At the court of the Roi Soleil a Baroque style was developed which was more restrained than the Italian: ground-plans were less complex, and facades more severe, with greater respect for the details and proportions of the traditional architectural orders, and violent effects and flagrant caprices were eschewed. The textbook example and greatest achievement of French Baroque was the Palace of Versailles, the royal palace built for Louis XIV outside Paris: a huge U-shaped mass with two long wings, disturbed hardly at all by the small, low arcades on the main facade facing the gardens.

For interior design during the Baroque era, see: French Decorative Art. For furnishings, see: French Furniture (1640-1792). For artists and craftsmen, see: French Designers.

It was not in architecture, however, that the great glory of French Baroque was to be found, but in the art of landscape gardening. Until the era of the Baroque, gardens had been of the 'Italian' type, small parks with plants and flower-beds laid out in geometrical schemes. Andre Le Notre, the brilliant landscape architect who created the new, perspective, form of garden, supplanted these by the 'French' garden, of which the park at Versailles was to become both prototype and masterpiece. In the centre stood the palace; on one side was the approach drive, the gates, the wide gravelled area for carriages; and on the other were lawns and parterres, or flower-beds in geometrical shapes, fountains, canals and broad expanses of water, and, beyond all this, the dark line of woods pierced by long, wide, straight avenues which were linked by circular clearings.

The imposing and austere architecture created in France, with its balance between Baroque tendencies and classical traditions, was gradually to become the cultural model for progressive Europe. When Sir Christopher Wren, in the second half of the seventeenth century, decided he should bring his own ideas up to date, it was not to Italy that he went, as had been the custom until then, but to Paris. The Baroque architecture of Belgium and the Netherlands likewise bears the mark of French inspiration.

German Baroque Architecture

Closer to the Italian model was German Baroque art, in Austria and Germany. This was the case, however, only in a restricted sense. Baroque influence came relatively late to the German states, which in the first half of the seventeenth century had been devastated by the Thirty Years' War. Once acclimatized, however, it underwent a remarkable growth both in quantity and quality. The great architects of the period practised at a relatively late time, at the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries; they were, however, numerous, exceptionally accomplished, and blessed with enthusiastic patronage from the several royal, ducal, and episcopal courts of Germany. All visited Rome, and were trained in the Italian tradition: Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt and his more gifted pupil Johann Balthasar Neumann; to these must be added Matthaus Poppelmann, and Francis de Cuvillies - a Frenchman, but whose activity was almost entirely confined to Germany.

One must remember that the Baroque style in architecture - as in Baroque sculpture - was one of propaganda: in palaces, it impressed on the onlooker the importance of the absolute monarch; in churches, it was at the service of 'the Counter-Reformation, notably in Catholic and absolutist countries. It was therefore in the Catholic states of South Germany, such as Bavaria and Austria, where the most magnificent Baroque architecture is to be found - as magnificent as anything in Italy. The greatest of the South German Baroque architects was Balthasar Neumann (1687-1753) who produced a miracle of palace architecture in the Wurzburg Residenz; this went hand in hand with the building of monasteries and churches; for bishops and abbots, no less than princes, pretended to wordly importance. Neumann found himself confronted, in the case of the ingeniously-designed wing of the Banz monastery at Bruhl, by the necessity of inserting a well-staircase loin in a building erected by Schlaun in 1725-28. Here we see at its highest his unique ability for producing an effect of unlimited space by optical illusion, the inclusion of picturesque vistas, and by tricks of lighting. In the well-staircase and the banqueting halls of Schloss Bruchsal he produced what is, in consistency, design, magnificence, and lighting, one of the greatest masterpieces of German architecture. In church architecture his most impressive creation was the Vierzehnheiligen (the Fourteen Saints) near Bamberg. On entering the building one is overwhelmed by a flood of light. Everything is moving; the interior seems to be enclosed by circling, undulating forms: even in the ground plan it appears to be completely disintegrated. Even when no special circumstances are operative, as in the church of the Fourteen Saints, we see that the customary ground-plan of a Baroque church has almost completely abolished the straight line, and even the facades are curved. Unlike the facades of Italian Baroque churches, German churches have usually kept their towers. It was in the decoration of these churches that this whirling combination of forms reached its height. In the churches in which the brothers Asam co-operated, as, for example, the monastery church at Einsiedeln, and the Carmelite church at Regensburg, and, above all, the church of St John Nepomuk, in Munich, they reached the limits of the possible in the combination of reality and illusion. Effects of hidden lighting, the inclusion of fresco painting in stucco decorations, and every other possible illusionist trick, make these churches seem now like a pompous Baroque opera-house, now like a Rococo stage improvised for a festival, entirely without the quiet solemnity and the piety which are bound up with the conception of Romanesque or Gothic art.

The style of Baroque created by German architects spread to Poland, the Baltic states, and eventually to Russia. It had considerable affinity with Italian Baroque, with the addition of an even greater tendency to exuberant decoration, especially of the interior; it also differed from Italian forms by its avoidance of sharp contrasts of light and darkness in favour of a more diffused and serene luminosity. Two features also presaged the 'Rococo' style that was to succeed it, a style that found its widest application in these countries and was sometimes the work of the same architects, for example Poppelmann, Neumann, and Cuvillies. In the two main forms of construction, churches and palaces, the Baroque of the German-speaking countries adhered fairly consistently to a few basic designs. On churches the device of two lateral towers with which Borromini had experimented was universally adopted. Sometimes this was taken to the point of upsetting the general layout, as Fischer von Erlach did in Vienna on his Karlskirche. On this, a centrally planned building, in order to include the towers he added them as free-standing, empty structures on either side of the main body of the church. The whole edifice exemplifies a theatrical conception in the grand style, its form emphasized by two columns, reminiscent of Trajan's Column in Rome, which stand beside the towers. In palace design, meanwhile, the model was Versailles; but Germanic architects generally showed themselves able to surpass this example in the articulation of large masses of masonry, accentuating the central section of the building, and sometimes the lateral sections likewise.

Spanish & Portugese Baroque Architecture

At the same time that its influence spread north of the Alps, Italian Baroque also asserted itself in Spain and Portugal. In these countries there was no obstacle to its success, but here too an entirely individual style developed. Its salient, indeed its only particular, characteristic was a profusion of decoration. Whatever the form of a building it appeared merely to be a pretext for the ornamentation encrusting it. Many factors contributed to this result, chief among which were the Moorish tradition, still alive in the Iberian peninsula, and the influences of the pre-Columbian art of America, with its fantastic decorative vocabulary. This particular style, known as 'Churrigueresque' from the family name, Churriguera, of a dynasty of Spanish architects who were particularly closely associated with it, dominated Spain and Portugal for two centuries and passed into their South American colonies, where the decorative aspect was, if possible, intensified to a frenzy of ornamentation. Its value is perhaps debatable, but as a style it is certainly recognizable, in its subordination of everything to decoration.

Urban Planning

Going beyond the appearance of individual buildings, a number of more general themes were also typical of the Baroque style of architecture. The first was the way in which Baroque architects were the first to confront the task of town-planning practically rather than in theory. Principally they dealt with it in terms of the circus and the straight road. Into the fabric of the city they cut circuses, each dominated by some structure, a church, a palace, a fountain, and then linked these points with a network of long, straight avenues aimed, so to speak, at these structures. It was not a perfect solution, but it was ingenious for the time. Indeed, for the first time a system was devised for planning, or replanning, a city, making it more beautiful, more theatrical, and above all more comprehensible because subordinate to a rule. Through the use of such schemes for town-planning, which parallel those of the French type of garden, conceived on the same principle, there evolved the great monumental fountains, in which architecture, sculpture, and water combined to form an ideal centrepiece and to express the Baroque feeling for scenography and movement. It was no chance that Rome, the city which more than any other was planned according to the new norms of the seventeenth century, is par excellence a city of fountains.

Domestic Interior Designs

Two other characteristic themes treated by Baroque architects concerned domestic interior structures: the complex great staircases that began to appear in all aristocratic buildings from the seventeenth century onwards, sometimes becoming the dominating feature; and the gallery, in origin a wide, decorated corridor, and another showpiece, of which the Galerie des Glaces at Versailles is an outstanding example. Often the gallery, like many other rooms in the Baroque period, would be painted with illusionist scenes, conveying a realistic extension in every direction of the gallery itself which would often actually intrude upon the architecture, reducing it to a secondary role.

The Baroque is essentially an art of illusion, in which all the tricks of scene painting, false perspective and trompe-l'oeil, are employed without scruple to achieve a total effect. It was also the first step back towards a conception which the Middle Ages knew, but which the High Renaissance abandoned, that of the subordination of painting and sculpture to the plastic unity of the building they were to decorate, A Renaissance altarpiece or statue was conceived as an isolated thing by itself, without very much relation to its surroundings; Baroque painting or carving is an integral part of its setting, and if removed from it, loses nearly all its effect.

Nineteeth Century Beaux-Arts Neo-Baroque Revival
Part of the enduring legacy of Baroque art is the Beaux-Arts style of architecture. A combination of neo-Renaissance and neo-Baroque designs, Beaux-Arts architecture appeared during the 19th century, and was promoted by graduates of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, in Paris. In the United States, the Beaux-Arts style was introduced by Richard Morris Hunt (1827-95) and Cass Gilbert (1859-1934). For more about the influence of 17th century designs on modern buildings, see: Architecture 19th Century.

Further Resources

For details of the greatest architects of the Baroque style across Europe, see the following:

Italian Baroque Artists.
Spanish Baroque Art and Spanish Baroque Artists.
French Baroque Artists.
Flemish Baroque Art.
Dutch Baroque Art.
German Baroque Artists.
Russian Baroque architecture in Russia, which didn't really begin until the time of Petrine art in St Petersburg (1686-1725), relied almost exlusively on foreign architects, including: Bartolomeo Rastrelli (1700-71), Domenico Trezzini, Andreas Schluter, Gottfried Schadel, Leblond, Michetti, and Matarnovi. Among Russian architects, only Michael Zemtsov (1688-1743) played a leading role.

• For more about 17th century building designs, see: Homepage.

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