At a glance, Baroque architecture resembles building techniques from the Renaissance. However, Baroque architects were distinctly more theatrical. They intentionally altered classical elements so that buildings were more ostentatious and evocative.
What Is Baroque Architecture?
Baroque architecture is a highly opulent style of building, design, and art that originated in Italy during the 17th century and spread to the rest of Europe, and eventually, the U.S. It's characterized by extremely detailed forms, marble, large-scale decoration, and bright colors. Baroque style was meant to represent the glory of the Roman Catholic Church.
Paintings and sculptures in the Baroque style became integral aspects of buildings in Italy and throughout Western Europe. In effect, architects viewed structures like churches as large sculptures as opposed to a box with squared-off walls and traditional building forms.
Baroque architecture started in Italy.
In general, Baroque architecture evolved in response to a tumultuous period that began in the 16th century. Those in power wanted to use architecture and art as a way to exhibit strength, wealth, and prominence. Nowhere is this more prominent than in the Catholic Church’s response to the Protestant Reformation.
During this time, religious leaders could sway the culture and the art forms that became famous. For the Catholic Church, the most significant way to retain this influence was to produce grandiose churches and cathedrals.
Commissioned artists and architects began to revive Renaissance notions of beauty and realism, only this time in an even more ornate and extravagant fashion. During the Baroque period, artists established several new techniques that were intended to evoke emotion and loyalty.
The style then spread throughout Europe and South America.
After the Pope and other Catholic rulers began building, the style quickly spread throughout Europe and into South America due to colonization. Baroque architecture is lacking in North America because the continent was just being colonized at the time.
Baroque architecture has subtle differences depending on the country. As the Baroque style became popular, locations altered the basic characteristics to suit their agenda and lifestyle. In most cases, buildings are heavily decorated and incorporate elements that seem unusual and even unfinished.
Two famous examples of Baroque architecture are the Santa Susanna church and the Caserta Palace in Italy.
It can be challenging to differentiate between styles of architecture, especially when builders incorporate forms from various styles. Look for these key elements in Baroque architecture.
- Large domes or cupolas. These domes were generally positioned at the center of a building.
- Elaborate motifs and decorations. Details are incredibly intricate, which added to the extravagance and sacredness of the space.
- Gilded sculpture on the interior and exterior. Statues were made from plaster or marble and included high contrasting colors and textures.
- Attention-grabbing features. These might include curved walls, painted ceilings, vaulted ceilings, columns, sculptures, arches, niches, fountains, scrolling, broken pediments, etc. Many of these elements give off a sense of motion known as dynamism.
- Double-sloped mansard roof. This roofing element is a key feature of French Baroque architecture and was incorporated in many châteaux or country mansions.
Baroque architecture has some overlap with Renaissance architecture.
The Renaissance took place during the 15th and 16th Centuries, and the Baroque period followed closely after. As such, Baroque architects adapted classical forms both from the Renaissance and from the Romans. For instance, Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is an example of a church that has elements inspired by both the Baroque and Renaissance movements.
Baroque artists and architects were masters of light.
The Baroque period is one of the first times that artists paid close attention to light. Finishes were chosen based on how the light would reflect. Also, they incorporated areas of intense light and darkness to show contrast and create drama. You can see this effect in areas of buildings that are intentionally left dark as well as in paintings. This effect is known in the art world as Chiaroscuro.
Baroque architecture and colonialism are closely linked.
European colonialism may have helped fund some of the opulence seen in Baroque buildings. Particularly in Spain and France as colonial money helped rulers construct elaborate palaces and mansions to showcase their power.
There are different styles and periods of Baroque architecture.
The Baroque aesthetic can be broken into two styles: full Baroque and restrained Baroque. The former was more prevalent in southwestern Europe during most of the 17th Century from 1600-1675. Restrained Baroque was seen in northwestern Europe during the Late Baroque period from 1675-1725.
The word baroque means imperfect pearl.
The Baroque period was named centuries later with the intent to capture the extreme opulence and drama of the era. The term baroque alluded to some lavish pearl brooches of the time.
In summary, Baroque architecture is a theatrical style of building that originated in Italy in the 17th century. Structures in the Baroque style were predominately churches, mansions, and palaces and were meant to showcase wealth, power, and an eye for beauty. Period Baroque architecture does not exist in North America, but specific themes like dynamism and Chiaroscuro have been implemented into other art forms and building styles.