Baroque architecture: what it is, origin, history and characteristics

The Baroque style is the one that marks the period between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. Born in Italy, this style, deeply rooted and deeply marked by religious ideals, transcends clear and absolute architecture.

The baroque style was also extremely important for the development and concept of urbanism in late medieval Europe.

However, in order to understand this whole artistic and architectural movement one must go back in time and understand the dramatic period through which the Catholic Church passed.

Historical context of Baroque architecture

The Baroque is directly related to the search for power and sovereignty of the Catholic Church. At the end of the sixteenth century, the leaders of the church saw a very strong movement emerge led by Martin Luther, who became known as the "Protestant Reformation". Luther, John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli, the leading names at the head of this movement, began to question the dogmas of the church and, as if that were not enough, laid the foundations of a new chain within Christianity.

The church, fearing to lose its faithful, responded by creating the "Protestant Counter-Reformation" during the Council of Trent. And it is precisely here that the Baroque is born, finding a fertile base to launch its new visions on art and its relationship with the environment and man himself.

One of the main and most notable characteristics of the baroque style is the extravagance and the exaggeration in the ornaments and decorations. Not to mention that this new artistic movement takes man from the center to exalt the mysteries of God and the Church. That is, it breaks with the rational, symmetrical and proportional ideals of Greco-Roman classicism to enter into a movement deeply connected to emotions and sensations. All this to promote and reaffirm the status, power and dominion of the Holy See, while at the same time fighting the advance of the Protestant Reformation.

For this reason, the baroque style is present largely only in churches, basilicas and monuments of Christian influence. There were few Roman houses and public spaces influenced by the Baroque, although they existed. The baroque leaves the domain of the Church only in France and other countries of the North of Europe, where it is possible to see it in public buildings and private residences.

Baroque architecture features

Moat of Dressen

Without fear of daring, the Baroque completely broke with the artistic schools of the past by proposing a style full of irregular or unusual ornament and proportions. Check below the characteristics that marked the baroque architecture:

  • Extravagance and ornamental and decorative exaggerations made of plaster or plaster;
  • Works of unusual and irregular shape;
  • Idea of ​​movement applied with the use of curves;
  • To provide the observer of the work with a vision of infinity and greatness;
  • Dramaticity and theatrical effects;
  • Large-scale used ceiling frescoes;
  • Great use of gold and copper ornaments;
  • Manipulation of light and shadow as a way to increase the sense of mystery;
  • Single nave in churches;
  • God and the Church become the center of the work and no longer the man;

The main differences between baroque architecture and classical architecture, its precedent, are the use of emotion and sensations at the expense of rationality, complexity instead of simplicity and ambiguity rather than clarity.

Baroque urbanism

Basilica of Saint Peter Vatican City

In 1600, Pope Sixtus V promoted the urbanistic reform of Rome with the intention of facilitating access and connecting the various points of the city to the Basilica of St. Peter, thus giving an important step to the concept of modern urbanism. The papal strategy was in line with the Counter-Reformation movement in order to bring the faithful closer to the Church.

Baroque urbanism saw the public space as something that needed to be integrated, being particularly characterized by the expansion and creation of large arteries, insertion of obelisks, water fountains, gardens and sculptures throughout the city and the construction of squares that would highlight the Church in the communities.

The Basilica of Saint Peter gained in this period two branches that open like arms in oval format, symbolizing the reception of the church to its faithful ones.

During Baroque urbanism European cities grew in strength, vitality, grandeur and extension.

Baroque architecture in Italy, France and England

Three European countries stand out in the baroque movement: Italy, France and England, with the first two being inspirations for the rest of the world. Italy was the cradle of the Baroque movement and its main works in this period were the Churches.

The first church to follow the baroque ideals was the Gesù Church in Rome, built between 1568 and 1584. Conceived by the architect Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, the church has only one nave in order to focus attention on the main altar.

With the transformation of Rome into a Catholic city, several works that began in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were completed or remodeled in the Baroque style. The greatest work that represents this change in aesthetic and cultural terms is the Basilica of St. Peter. The current Vatican headquarters took 120 years to complete. In its primordium it was a work strongly projected under the classicist ideals, passing then to the standards of the mannerist school, to finally be concluded in light of the precepts of the baroque movement.

Among the private works under the influence of the Italian baroque we can highlight the Palazzo Barberini in Rome and the Palace of Caserta in southern Italy, which was even considered one of the largest royal residences in the world.

In France, unlike what happened in Rome, baroque architecture was a way for monarchs to claim power and status. There were several works commissioned in this sense, from monuments dedicated to aristocracy to luxurious residences. The most emblematic and iconic of them is the Palace of Versailles.

In England, Baroque architecture began after the Great Fire which struck London between 2 and 5 September 1666. The four-day fire destroyed more than 13,000 houses, 87 churches and the Cathedral of St. Paul. In the face of this disaster, the British needed to rebuild the city and for this they had the help of the best architects, cartographers and landscapers. They redesigned London following the great examples from Italy and France.

However, for bureaucratic reasons, much of the city was once more medieval. The new baroque architecture was especially marked in the churches and cathedrals, with special emphasis on the Cathedral of St. Paul rebuilt by the architect Christopher Wren, strongly influenced by the French baroque.

Baroque Architecture in Brazil

The baroque architecture also had its high point in Brazil and until today it is appreciated by artists and architects of the whole world. The Brazilian Baroque is related to the Portuguese Baroque, brought by the Jesuits, who in turn was influenced by the Italian, all, however, has in the religious view its main inspiration.

The state of Minas Gerais, more specifically the city of Mariana and Ouro Preto, concentrates the works of the baroque period in Brazil, which prevailed between the 17th and 18th centuries.

Baroque masterpieces

Palace of Versailles

Get to know the main works of Baroque architecture now:

  • Basilica of Saint Peter, Rome - Italy
  • Palace of Versailles, Paris - France
  • San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Rome - Italy
  • Palais Du Louvre, Paris - France
  • St. Paul's Cathedral, London - England
  • Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, Paris - France
  • Church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo, Minas Gerais - Brazil
  • Church of São Francisco de Assis, Minas Gerais - Brazil

Top Baroque Architects

Baroque sculptural group in marble by Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini

The three great names of Baroque architecture in the world are Maderno, Bernini and Borromini. They were responsible for establishing the style and presenting the world with great architectural works. But it was not just them. Check out a little more about the great names of baroque architecture in the world:

1. Carlo Maderno

One of the main names in Baroque architecture is Carlo Maderno. The Italian architect was also the pioneer in the baroque style. His main work is the facade of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. But the Church of Santa Susanna was the first to be built by him.

2. Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Bernini is another important name in Baroque architecture. It is from him the design of the trapezoidal square of the Basilica of St. Peter. However, Bernini's preferred design is the oval church of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale, which with its altar and raised dome perfectly exemplify the concept of this, until then, new architecture.

3. Borromini

The architect Borromini breaks with the classic style in an even more dramatic way. Some argue that Borromini was a revolutionary in architecture for basing his designs on complex geometric figures. Its main and most emblematic work is the small Church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontene, characterized by an oval plane and complicated convex-concave rhythms.

4. Carlo Fontana

With the death of Bernini, Carlo Fontana became the most active architect in Rome. Despite the academic style and distant from the inventiveness of his predecessors, Fontana exerted a great influence on baroque architecture through his writings and the various architects trained by him who, in turn, helped spread the baroque style throughout the world.

5. François Mansart

The most representative architect in France was François Mansart. His perfectionist style gave rise to one of the most important works of the Baroque period: the Château de Maison. The project brings together the academic approach of the baroque style with the peculiarities of the French Gothic tradition.

6. Aleijadinho

In Brazil, the great name of Baroque architecture is Aleijadinho. Its main works, Nossa Senhora do Carmo Church and São Francisco de Assis Church, can be seen in Minas Gerais, in the cities of Mariana and Ouro Preto, respectively. In the works of Aleijadinho already it is possible to notice a certain influence of the rococo style, an antecedent of the baroque.

From the Baroque to the Rococo

In the eighteenth century, the Baroque style began to leave the scene to give place to his successor: the Rococo. This artistic and architectural style brings much of the baroque, but with more softness and neutrality. Its main characteristics are light or delicate ornaments and the use of pastel tones.

Although the rococo style was born in France, it was in Germany and Austria that it reached its peak, putting an end to the heavy and dramatic style of the baroque.

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