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Baroque Art and Architecture

Baroque Art and Architecture Collage

Started: 1584

Ended: 1723

"Those who never dare to break the rules never surpass them."

Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini

Summary of Baroque Art and Architecture

In 1527 Europe, religious dominance had the power to direct and inform the content and climate of society's artistic output. At the time, a backlash against the conservative Protestant Reformation was compelled by the Catholic Church to re-establish its importance and grandeur within society. Artists followed suit by reviving Renaissance ideals of beauty, infusing into the era's artwork, music, and architecture a revived nod to classicism further enhanced by a new exuberant extravagance and penchant for the ornate. This highly embellished style was coined Baroque and became marked by its innovative techniques and details, delivering a lush new visual language into what had been a relatively toned down period for art.

Baroque disseminated throughout Europe, primarily led by the Pope in Rome and Catholic rulers in Italy, France, Spain, and Flanders. It was further disseminated by powerful religious orders through their extensive network of monasteries and convents. The style spread rapidly to France, northern Italy, Spain and Portugal, then to Austria and southern Germany.

Key Ideas

Baroque brought images for religious worship back into the public eye after being banned for their glorification of the ethereal and ideal. The movement's leaders professed that art should be easily understood and strongly felt by common people with the effect of encouraging piety and an awe for the church.
Baroque churches became a pivotal example of the invigorated emphasis on the glory of Catholicism with their designs that incorporated a large central space with a dome or cupola high overhead, allowing light to illuminate the space below. The dome was one of the central symbolic features of baroque architecture illustrating the union between the heavens and the earth. Extremely intricate interiors, rife with ornamentation, allowed for a feeling of being fully immersed within an elevated and sacred space.
The defining characteristics of the Baroque style were: real or implied movement, an attempt to represent infinity, an emphasis on light and its effects, and a focus on the theatrical. A number of techniques were introduced, or further developed, by Baroque artists to accomplish these effects including quadro riportato (frescos that incorporated the illusion of being composed of a series of framed paintings), quadrature (ceiling painting), and trompe l'oeil techniques. This allowed for a blurring of the boundaries between painting, sculpture, and architecture that was signature to the movement.
Baroque ushered in a new era for European sculpture, led largely by the work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, which emphasized sensual richness, dramatic realism, intense emotion, and movement. In Baroque sculpture figures assumed new importance, often spiraling outward from a central vortex, reaching into the surrounding space, meant to be seen in the round from multiple perspectives.
The use of chiaroscuro, in which the treatment of light and dark in an artwork helped to create dramatic tension, was a key component in Baroque artwork. It was further evolved by Baroque master Caravaggio into tenebrism, which used the intensification of contrast within dark atmospheric scenes to spotlight particular elements.
Baroque Art and Architecture Image


The origin of the term Baroque is a bit ambiguous. Many scholars think it was derived from the Portuguese barrocco, meaning an imperfect or irregularly shaped pearl. And some, like the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau thought it was derived from the Italian barocco, a term used to describe an obstacle in formal logic in the medieval period. In growing usage the term originally contained negative connotations, the artwork within its cadre viewed as bizarre and sometimes ostentatious. But in 1888 Heinrich Wölfflin's Renaissance und Barock (1888), the term was officially used as a simple descriptive to denote the distinct artistic style.

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