Baroque Architecture


Table Summary

Summary of Baroque Architecture
Early Baroque
ca. 1600-25
High Baroque
ca. 1625-75
Late Baroque
ca. 1675-1725
ca. 1725-1800
(facade of St Peter's)
Bernini and Borromini
(sacred architecture)
(notably Versailles)
Austria/southern Germany
(notably churches)

General Features

The fundamental characteristic of Baroque art is dynamism (a sense of motion). Strong curves, rich decoration, and general complexity are all typical features of Baroque art (see Western Aesthetics). While the full-blown Baroque aesthetic (full Baroque) was embraced in southern Western Europe, northern Western Europe struck a classical-Baroque compromise (restrained Baroque).

The full Baroque aesthetic emerged during the Early Baroque (ca. 1600-25), then culminated during the High Baroque (ca. 1625-75); both periods were led by Italy. The restrained Baroque aesthetic culminated during the Late Baroque (ca. 1675-1725). The Baroque age concluded with the French-born Rococo style (ca. 1725-1800), in which the violence and drama of Baroque was quieted to a gentle, playful dynamism. The Late Baroque and Rococo periods were led by France (see Diffusion of Baroque).

phase of the Baroque age leading region
Early Baroque (ca. 1600-25) Italy
High Baroque (ca. 1625-75)
Late Baroque (ca. 1675-1725) France
Rococo (ca. 1725-1800)

Baroque architecture is distinguished primarily by richly sculpted surfaces. Whereas Renaissance architects preferred planar classicism (flat surfaces veneered in classical elements), Baroque architects freely moulded surfaces to achieve three-dimensional sculpted classicism (see example). And while the surface of a Renaissance building is typically neatly divided into sections (in accordance with classical clarity and order), a Baroque surface is treated as a continuous whole.6

Indeed, a Renaissance facade often consists of many similar sections, such that one's eye is not drawn to any particular part of the building. A Baroque facade, on the other hand, often features an attention-grabbing concentration of rich elements (e.g. curved walls, columns, blind arches, statues, relief sculpture) around a central entrance.F303

Churches are the most splendid form of Baroque architecture in Italy, while chateaux (country mansions) are the outstanding Baroque works of France.

England should also be noted in a discussion of Baroque architecture, for two reasons. Firstly, this period featured Christopher Wren, often considered the greatest of all English architects. Wren designed many of London's buildings after the Great Fire, including his masterpiece, St Paul's Cathedral. Secondly, the Baroque age witnessed the rise of Palladian style architecture in England, which became massively popular during the subsequent Neoclassical period.

Main Article

Early Baroque

ca. 1600-1625

The foremost pioneer of Baroque architecture was Carlo Maderno, whose masterpiece is the facade of Saint Peter's Basilica, Vatican City.6 (Constructed under various architects throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Saint Peter's features a mixture of Renaissance and Baroque components, the facade being one of the latter.)

Saint Peter's Basilica
Saint Peter's Basilica
Example of Broken Pediment and Layered Pilaster (Saint Peter's Basilica)

Prior to Maderno, Saint Peter's had featured a central plan design, upon which various architects had worked (especially Michelangelo). Maderno converted the building into a Latin cross basilica by extending the nave, thus pushing the main entrance of the church forward. Saint Peter's can therefore be roughly divided into two parts: the core (designed largely by Michelangelo) and the front extension (designed by Maderno). The great dome of Saint Peter's is also chiefly Michelangelo's work, though Maderno did adjust its proportions (by stretching it vertically).G326

The facade of Saint Peter's contains a number of typical Baroque elements, including double columns (close-set pairs of columns), layered columns, colossal columns (columns that span multiple stories), and broken pediments (in which the bottom and/or top of a pediment features a gap, often with ornamentation that "bursts through" the pediment). All of these elements were pioneered during the Late Renaissance, in mannerist architecture.H758

St Peter's also makes extensive use of coffered ceilings, a common feature of monumental Western architecture. (A "coffer" is a sunken ceiling panel, typically square, rectangular, or octagonal in shape.)

High Baroque

ca. 1625-75

The two foremost names in Baroque architecture are Bernini and Borromini, both of whom worked primarily in Rome.

Two masterpieces of Gian Lorenzo Bernini are found at St Peter's. One is the four-story baldachin that stands over the high altar.14 (A baldachin is an indoor canopy over a respected object, such as an altar or throne.) The other is the curving colonnades that frame St Peter's Square.

Bernini's most famous building is likely the small church of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale ("Saint Andrew's on Quirinal Hill"). Quirinal hill is one of the "seven hills of Rome".

Baldachin at Saint Peter's, Bernini
Saint Peter's Square, Bernini
Sant'Andrea al Quirinale, Bernini
Sant'Andrea al Quirinale, Bernini

Francesco Borromini was the master of curved-wall architecture. Though he designed many large buildings, Borromini's most famous and influential work may be the small church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane ("Saint Charles at the Four Fountains"). This building is also found on Quirinal Hill.

Church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Borromini
Church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Borromini
Church by Borromini
Church by Borromini

Late Baroque

ca. 1675-1725

The Late Baroque marks the ascent of France as the heart of Western culture. Baroque art of France (and northern Europe generally) tends to be restrained, such that it can be described as a classical-Baroque compromise. The most distinctive element of French Baroque architecture is the double-sloped mansard roof (a French innovation).

Baroque French Chateau
Baroque French Chateau
Baroque French Church
Baroque French Building

The most famous Baroque structures of France are magnificent chateaux (grand country residences), greatest of which is the Palace of Versailles. One of the largest residences on earth, Versailles was built mainly under Louis XIV, whose patronage of the arts helped propel France to the crest of Western culture.1,7

The palace facade admirably illustrates the classical-Baroque compromise of northern Europe. The walls are characterized largely by simple planar classicism, although they do contain such Baroque elements as sculpted busts, a triple stringcourse, double pilasters, and colossal pilasters. Additionally, the mansard roof features a sinuous metal railing and rich moulding around the dormer windows. Versailles became Europe's model of palace architecture, inspiring similarly grand residences throughout the continent.6

Facade of Versailles
Hall of Mirrors (Versailles)
Plan of Versailles
German Palace inspired by Versailles
Russian Palace inspired by Versailles
English Palace inspired by Versailles

Versailles' most famous room is the Hall of Mirrors, whose mirrors have the same dimensions as the windows they stand opposite.G360-61,H872


ca. 1725-1800

Rococo artists embraced the curves and elaborate ornament of Baroque, but reigned in its weighty drama. The result was a gentle, playful style typified by pastel colours and delicate, asymmetrical decoration. Though most Rococo art was centred in France (the birthplace of the style), Rococo architecture culminated in Austria and southern Germany, especially in the form of churches.10

Rococo Church
Rococo Church
Rococo Church Interior
Rococo Church
Rococo Building
Rococo Building (interior)
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