What Is Baroque Architecture?

Mark Wollacott

Baroque architecture is a building style that developed out of the Baroque art and music movements in the late 1600s and early 1700s. Originating out of Italy, Baroque architecture sought to add Catholic theatricality to the more humanist developments of the Renaissance. Like with art and music, Baroque added ornamentation to basic designs. The most important driving element of Baroque architecture is the Catholic Church.

Vatican City, which is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, incorporates many Baroque structures.
Vatican City, which is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, incorporates many Baroque structures.

The architectural movement added new elements to architecture and was more than a reaction to the Renaissance. Baroque made better use of lighting, like with painting, than previous architectural designs. Such creations also sustained dramatic intensity far better than before. These were important because Baroque was used by the Catholic Church to highlight the Counter Reformation and to demonstrate its wealth and power.

Such architecture grew out of an artistic and musical movement. The artistic style began in the 16th century and also made good use of lighting and dramatic motifs. The drama and lighting was used to counter the serene calmness of Renaissance art. Baroque artists included Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. Baroque music added ornamental elements to normal themes and was exemplified by the likes of Johann Sebastian Bach, Claudio Monteverdi, Heinrich Schultz and Antonio Vivaldi.

As the Baroque architecture movement sprung up in Italy, it is naturally home to a large number of fine examples of Baroque. Filippo Juvarra created the Basilica di Superga in 1718 and the Palazzina di Stupinigi in 1729. Guarino Guarini created the Palazzo Carignano in 1679. Other examples of fine Baroque architecture include the Piazza San Pietro and the Palazzo Barberini. A number of fountains, more artistic sculpture than architecture, are also worth noting such as the Fontana Tritone and the Fontana della Baraccia.

Baroque architecture spread out of Italy and to other Catholic countries such as France and Spain. Examples include Spain’s cathedral at Santiago de Compostela. In France, there are Salomon de Brosse’s Palais du Luxembourg and Francois Mansart’s Chateau de Maisons.

The architectural style also spread to more mixed and protestant areas such as the Holy Roman Empire, Holland and England. The style also moved across to the New World with the foundation of Portuguese cities in Brazil and Spanish cities across Mesoamerica. Examples include Lorenzo Rodriguez’ Sagrario Metropolitano in Mexico City and the works of Aleijadinho in Brazil.

Baroque architecture began to decline outside of Italy as the power of the Papacy declined. In France, secular architecture and planning took over. Protestant countries began to find their own styles again, too. While it remained the preeminent style in Italy, other countries found the confidence and power to develop alternatives. It lingered longest in colonies such as Brazil.

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