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Baroque architecture

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Baroque architecture
Clockwise from top left: Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola in Italy, Church of Santa Prisca de Taxco in Mexico, Smolny Cathedral in Russia, St-Gervais-et-St-Protais in France
Years activeLate 16th–18th centuries

Baroque architecture is a highly decorative and theatrical style which appeared in Italy in the early 17th century and gradually spread across Europe. It was originally introduced by the Catholic Church, particularly by the Jesuits, as a means to combat the Reformation and the Protestant church with a new architecture that inspired surprise and awe.[1] It reached its peak in the High Baroque (1625–1675), when it was used in churches and palaces in Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Bavaria and Austria. In the Late Baroque period (1675–1750), it reached as far as Russia, the Ottoman Empire and the Spanish and Portuguese colonies in Latin America. In about 1730, an even more elaborately decorative variant called Rococo appeared and flourished in Central Europe.[2][3]

Baroque architects took the basic elements of Renaissance architecture, including domes and colonnades, and made them higher, grander, more decorated, and more dramatic. The interior effects were often achieved with the use of quadratura (i.e. trompe-l'œil painting combined with sculpture): the eye is drawn upward, giving the illusion that one is looking into the heavens. Clusters of sculpted angels and painted figures crowd the ceiling. Light was also used for dramatic effect; it streamed down from cupolas, and was reflected from an abundance of gilding. Twisted columns were also often used, to give an illusion of upwards motion, and cartouches and other decorative elements occupied every available space. In Baroque palaces, grand stairways became a central element.[4]

The Early Baroque (1584–1625) was largely dominated by the work of Roman architects, notably the Church of the Gesù by Giacomo della Porta (consecrated 1584) façade and colonnade of St. Peter's Basilica by Carlo Maderno (completed 1612) and the lavish Barberini Palace interiors by Pietro da Cortona (1633–1639), and Santa Susanna (1603), by Carlo Maderno. In France, the Luxembourg Palace (1615–45) built by Salomon de Brosse for Marie de' Medici was an early example of the style.[5]

The High Baroque (1625–1675) produced major works in Rome by Pietro da Cortona, including the (Church of Santi Luca e Martina) (1635–50); by Francesco Borromini (San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (1634–1646)); and by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (The colonnade of St. Peter's Square) (1656–57). In Venice, High Baroque works included Santa Maria della Salute by Baldassare Longhena. Examples in France included the Pavillon de l’Horloge of the Louvre Palace by Jacques Lemercier (1624–1645), the Chapel of the Sorbonne by Jacques Lemercier (1626–35) and the Château de Maisons by François Mansart (1630–1651).

The Late Baroque (1675–1750) saw the style spread to all parts of Europe, and to the colonies of Spain and Portugal in the New World. National styles became more varied and distinct. The Late Baroque in France, under Louis XIV, was more ordered and classical; examples included the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles and the dome of Les Invalides. An especially ornate variant, appeared in the early 18th century; it was first called Rocaille in France; then Rococo in Spain and Central Europe. The sculpted and painted decoration covered every space on the walls and ceiling. Its most celebrated architect was Balthasar Neumann, noted for the Basilica of the Fourteen Holy Helpers and the Würzburg Residence (1749–51).[6]


Early Baroque (1584–1625)[edit]

Baroque architecture first appeared in the late 16th and early 17th century in religious architecture in Rome as a means to counter the popular appeal of the Protestant Reformation. It was a reaction against the more severe and academic earlier style of earlier churches, it aimed to inspire the common people with the effects of surprise, emotion and awe. To achieve this, it used a combination of contrast, movement, trompe-l'œil and other dramatic and theatrical effects, such as quadratura—the use of painted ceilings that gave the illusion that one was looking up directly at the sky. The new style was particularly favored by the new religious orders, including the Theatines and the Jesuits, who built new churches designed to attract and inspire a wide popular audience.[7]


One of the first Baroque architects, Carlo Maderno, used Baroque effects of space and perspective in the new façade and colonnade of Saint Peter's Basilica, which was designed to contrast with and complement the gigantic dome built earlier by Michelangelo.[8] Other influential early examples in Rome included the Church of the Gesù by Giacomo della Porta (consecrated 1584), with the first Baroque façade and a highly ornate interior, and Santa Susanna (1603), by Carlo Maderno.[9]


The Jesuits soon imported the style to Paris. The Church of St-Gervais-et-St-Protais in Paris (1615–1621) had the first Baroque façade in France, featuring, like the Italian Baroque façades, the three superimposed classical orders.[10] The Italian style of palaces was also imported to Paris by Marie de' Medici for her new residence, the Luxembourg Palace (1615–1624) by architect Salomon de Brosse, and for a new wing of the Château of Blois by François Mansard (1635–38). Nicolas Fouquet, the superintendent of finances for the young King Louis XIV, chose the new style for his château at Vaux-le-Vicomte (1612–1670) by Louis Le Vau. He was later imprisoned by the King because of the extravagant cost of the palace.[11]

Southern Netherlands[edit]

In the Southern Netherlands, the Baroque architecture was introduced by the Catholic Church in the context of the Counter-Reformation and the Eighty Years' War. After the separation of the Netherlands Baroque churches were set up across the country. One of the first architects was Wenceslas Cobergher (1560-1634), who built the Basilica of Our Lady of Scherpenheuvel from 1609 until 1627 and the Church of Saint Augustine, Antwerp. Other churches are for example the St. Charles Borromeo Church, Antwerp (1615-1621) and the St. Walburga Church (Bruges) (1619-1641), both built by Pieter Huyssens. Later, secular buildings, such as the Guildhalls on the Grand-Place in Brussels and several Belfries, were constructed too.[citation needed]

Central Europe[edit]

The first example of early Baroque in Central Europe was the Corpus Christi Church, Nesvizh in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, built by the Jesuits on the Roman model between 1586 and 1593 in Nieśwież (after 1945 Niasvizh in Belarus).[12][13] The church also holds a distinction of being the first domed basilica with a Baroque façade in the Commonwealth and Eastern Europe.[13] Another early example in Poland is the Church of Saints Peter and Paul Church, Kraków, built between 1597 and 1619 by the Italian Jesuit architect Giovanni Maria Bernardoni.[14]

High Baroque (1625–1675)[edit]


Pope Urban VIII, who occupied the Papacy from 1623 to 1644, became the most influential patron of the Baroque style. After the death of Carlo Maderno in 1629, Urban named the architect and sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini as the chief Papal architect. Bernini created not only Baroque buildings, but also Baroque interiors, squares and fountains, transforming the center of Rome into an enormous theater. Bernini rebuilt the Church of Santa Bibiana and the Church of San Sebastiano al Palatino on the Palatine Hill into Baroque landmarks, planned the Fontana del Tritone in the Piazza Barberini, and created the soaring baldacchino as the centerpiece of St Peter's Basilica.[15]

The High Baroque spread gradually across Italy, beyond Rome. The period saw the construction of Santa Maria della Salute by Baldassare Longhena in Venice (1630–31). Churches were not the only buildings to use the Baroque style. One of the finest monuments of the early Baroque is the Barberini Palace (1626–1629), the residence of the family of Urban VIII, begun by Carlo Maderno, and completed and decorated by Bernini and Francesco Borromini. The outside of the Pope's family residence, was relatively restrained, but the interiors, and especially the immense fresco on the ceiling of the salon, the Allegory of Divine Providence and Barberini Power painted by Pietro da Cortona, are considered masterpieces of Baroque art and decoration.[16] Curving façades and the illusion of movement were a speciality of Francesco Borromini, most notably in San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (1634–1646), one of the landmarks of the high Baroque.[17] Another important monument of the period was the Church of Santi Luca e Martina in Rome by Pietro da Cortona (1635–50), in the form of a Greek cross with an elegant dome. After the death or Urban VIII and the brief reign of his successor, the Papacy of Pope Alexander VII from 1666 until 1667 saw more construction of Baroque churches, squares and fountains in Rome by Carlo Rainaldi, Bernini and Carlo Fontana.[18]


King Louis XIII had sent the architect Jacques Lemercier to Rome between 1607 and 1614 to study the new style. On his return to France, he designed the Pavillon de l’Horloge of the Louvre Palace (beginning 1626), and, more importantly, the Sorbonne Chapel, the first church dome in Paris. It was designed in 1626, and construction began in 1635.[19] The next important French Baroque project was a much larger dome for the church of Val-de-Grâce begun in 1645 by Lemercier and François Mansart, and finished in 1715. A third Baroque dome was soon added for the Collège des Quatre-Nations (now the Institut de France).[20]

In 1661, following the death of Cardinal Mazarin, the young Louis XIV took direct charge of the government. The arts were put under the direction of his Controller-General of Finances, Jean-Baptiste Colbert. Charles Le Brun, director of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, was named Superintendent of Buildings of the King, in charge of all royal architectural projects. The Académie royale d'architecture was founded in 1671, with the mission of making Paris, not Rome, the artistic and architectural model for the world.[21]

The first architectural project of Louis XIV was a proposed reconstruction of the façade of the east wing of the Louvre Palace. Bernini, then Europe's most famous architect, was summoned to Paris to submit a design. Beginning in 1664, Bernini proposed several Baroque variants, but in the end the King selected a design by a French architect, Charles Perrault, in a more classical variant of Baroque. This gradually became the Louis XIV style. Louis was soon engaged in an even larger project, the construction of the new Palace of Versailles. The architects chosen were Louis Le Vau and Jules Hardouin-Mansart, and the façades of the new palace were constructed around the earlier Marble Court between 1668 and 1678. The Baroque grandeur of Versailles, particularly the façade facing the garden and the Hall of Mirrors by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, became models for other palaces across Europe.[22]

Late Baroque (1675–1750)[edit]

During the period of the Late Baroque (1675–1750), the style appeared across Europe, from England and France to Central Europe and Russia, from Spain and Portugal to Scandinavia, and in the colonies of Spain and Portugal in the New World and the Philippines. It often took different names, and the regional variations became more distinct. A particularly ornate variant appeared in the early 18th century, called Rocaille in France and Rococo in Spain and Central Europe. The sculpted and painted decoration covering every space on the walls and ceiling. The most prominent architects of this style included Balthasar Neumann, noted for the Basilica of the Fourteen Holy Helpers and the Wurzburg Residence (1749–51). These works were among the final expressions of the Rococo or the Late Baroque.[6]


By the early 18th century, Baroque buildings could be found in all parts of Italy, often with regional variations. Notable examples included the Basilica of Superga, overlooking Turin, by Filippo Juvarra (1717–1731), which was later used as model for the Panthéon in Paris.[23] The Stupinigi Palace (1729–31) was a hunting lodge and one of the Residences of the Royal House of Savoy near Turin. It was also built Filippo Juvarra.[24]


The Late Baroque period in France saw the evolving decoration of the Palace of Versailles, including the Hall of Mirrors and the Chapel. Later in the period, during the reign of Louis XV, a new, more ornate variant, the Rocaille style, or French Rococo, appeared in Paris and flourished between about 1723 and 1759.[25] The most prominent example was the salon of the Princess in Hôtel de Soubise in Paris, designed by Germain Boffrand and Charles-Joseph Natoire (1735–40).[26][27]


Christopher Wren was the leading figure of the late Baroque in England, with his reconstruction of St. Paul's Cathedral (1675–1711) inspired by the model of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, his plan for Greenwich Hospital (begun 1695), and Hampton Court Palace (1690–96). Other British figures of the late Baroque included Inigo Jones for Wilton House (1632–1647 and two pupils of Wren, John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor, for Castle Howard (1699–1712) and Blenheim Palace (1705–1724).[28]


In the 17th century Late Baroque style buildings in Lithuania were built in an Italian Baroque style, however in the first half of the 18th century a distinctive Vilnian Baroque architectural style of the Late Baroque was formed in capital Vilnius (in which architecture was taught at Vilnius Jesuit Academy, Jesuits colleges, Dominican schools) and spread throughout Lithuania.[29][30][31][32] The most distinctive features of churches built in the Vilnian Baroque style are very tall and slender towers of the main façades with differently decorated compartments, undulation of cornices and walls, decorativeness in bright colors, and multi-colored marble and stucco altars in the interiors.[29][30][32] The Lithuanian nobility funded renovations and constructions of Late Baroque churches, monasteries (e.g. Pažaislis Monastery) and their personal palaces (e.g. Sapieha Palace, Slushko Palace, Minor Radvilos Palace).[33][34]

Notable architects who built buildings in a Late Baroque style in Lithuania are Johann Christoph Glaubitz, Thomas Zebrowski, Pietro Perti (cooperated with painters Michelangelo Palloni, Giovanni Maria Galli), Giambattista Frediani, Pietro Puttini, Carlo Puttini, Jan Zaor, G. Lenkiewicz, Abraham Würtzner, Jan Valentinus Tobias Dyderszteyn, P. I. Hofer, Paolo Fontana [it], etc.[30][32][34]

Central Europe[edit]

Many of the most extraordinary buildings of the Late Baroque were constructed in Austria, Germany, and Czechia. In Austria, the leading figure was Fischer von Erlach, who built the Karlskirche, the largest church of Vienna, to glorify the Habsburg emperors. These works sometimes borrowed elements from Versailles combined with elements of the Italian Baroque to create grandiose new effects, as in the Schwarzenberg Palace (1715). Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt used grand stairways and ellipses to achieve his effects at the upper and lower Belvedere Palace in Vienna (1714–1722). In The Abbey of Melk, Jakob Prandtauer used an abundance of polychrome marble and stucco, statuary and ceiling paintings to achieve harmonious and highly theatrical effects.[39]

Another important figure of German Baroque was Balthasar Neumann (1687–1753), whose works included the Würzburg Residence for the Prince-Bishops of Würzburg, with its famous staircase.[40]

In Bohemia, the leading Baroque architect was Christoph Dientzenhofer, whose building featured complex curves and counter-curves and elliptical forms, making Prague, like Vienna, a capital of the late Baroque.[41]


Political and economic crises in the 17th century largely delayed the arrival of the Baroque in Span until the late period, though the Jesuits strongly promoted it. Its early characteristics were a lavish exterior contrasting with a relatively simple interior and multiple spaces. They carefully planned lighting in the interior to give an impression of mystery. Early 18th century,[42] Notable Spanish examples included the new west façade of Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, (1738–50), with its spectacular towers, by Fernando de Casas Novoa. In Seville, Leonardo de Figueroa was the creator of the Palacio de San Telmo, with a façade inspired by the Italian Baroque. The most ornate works of the Spanish Baroque were made by Jose Benito de Churriguera in Madrid and Salamanca. In his work, the buildings are nearly overwhelmed by the ornament of gilded wood, gigantic twisting columns, and sculpted vegetation. His two brothers, Joaquin and Alberto, also made important, if less ornamented, contributions to what became known simply as the Churrigueresque style.[42]

Latin America and North America[edit]

The Baroque style was imported into Latin America in the 17th century by the Spanish and the Portuguese, particularly by the Jesuits for the construction of churches. The style was sometimes called Churrigueresque, after the family of Baroque architects in Salamanca. A particularly fine example is Zacatecas Cathedral in Zacatecas City, in north-central Mexico, with its lavishly sculpted façade and twin bell towers. Another important example is San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico.[43] A notable example in Brazil is the São Bento Monastery in Rio de Janeiro. begun in 1617, with additional decoration after 1668. The Metropolitan Tabernacle the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, to the right of the main cathedral, built by Lorenzo Rodríguez between 1749 and 1760, to house the archives and vestments of the archbishop, and to receive visitors.[44]

Portuguese colonial architecture was modeled after the architecture of Lisbon, different from the Spanish style. The most notable architect in Brazil was Aleijadinho, who was native of Brazil, half-Portuguese, and self-taught. His most famous work is the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi (Ouro Preto).[45]


Baroque architecture often used visual and theatrical effects, designed to surprise and awe the viewer:

  • domes were a common feature. Their interiors were often painted with a sky filled with angels and sculpted sunbeams, suggesting glory or a vision of heaven. Pear-shaped domes were sometimes used in the Bavarian, Czech, Polish and Ukrainian Baroque
  • quadratura. Paintings in trompe-l'œil of angels and saints in the dome and on the ceiling, combined with stucco frames or decoration, which give the illusion of three dimensions, and of looking through the ceiling to the heavens. Sometimes painted or sculpted figures of Atlantes appear to be holding up the ceiling. In some Baroque churches, illusionistic ceiling painting gave the illusion of three dimensions.
  • grand stairways. Stairways often occupied a central place and were used for dramatic effect. winding upwards in stages, giving changing views from different levels, serving as a setting for ceremonies.[47]
  • cartouche in elaborate forms and sculpted frames break up the surfaces and add three-dimensional effects to the walls.
  • mirrors to give the impression of depth and greater space, particularly when combined with windows, as in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles.
  • incomplete architectural elements, such as frontons with sections missing, causing sections to merge and disorienting the eye.
  • chiaroscuro. Use of strong contrasts of darkness and light for dramatic effect.
  • overhead sculpture. Putti or figures on or just below the ceiling, made of wood (often gilded), plaster or stucco, marble or faux finishing, giving the impression of floating in the air.
  • Solomonic columns, which gave an illusion of motion.[47]
  • elliptical or oval spaces, eliminating right angles. Sometimes an oval nave was surrounded by radiating circular chapels. This was a distinctive feature of the Basilica of the Fourteen Holy Helpers of Balthasar Neumann.[48]


Major Baroque architects and works, by country[edit]

Chapel of the Holy Shroud, Turin
The dome of Les Invalides, Paris




Greenwich Hospital by Sir Christopher Wren (1694)

The Netherlands[edit]

Royal Palace of Amsterdam by Jacob van Campen (1665)


The Zwinger in Dresden by Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann (1697–1716), reconstructed in the 1950s and 1960s, after the damage of World War II.
Upper Belvedere Palace in Vienna (1721–23)
Troja Palace, Prague (1679–1691)


Czech Republic[edit]


  • Pietro Spozzo – Jesuit Church of Trnava (1629–37)


St. George's Cathedral, Timișoara by Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach



Wilanów Palace, Warsaw (1677–1696)
Church of Santa Engrácia, Lisbon (now National Pantheon of Portugal; begun 1681)


Portuguese Colonial Baroque[edit]

Interior of the Basilica and Convent of Nossa Senhora do Carmo, Recife, Brazil, built between 1665 and 1767


Spanish American Baroque[edit]

The Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral built from 1573 to 1813.

Nordic Countries[edit]

Church of Our Saviour, Copenhagen (1682–1747)


Znamenskaya Church (Dubrovitsy) 1690-1698 Podolsk, Moscow


St Andrew's Church, Kyiv


See also[edit]


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  3. ^ Ducher (1988), Flammarion, pp. 102–104
  4. ^ Ducher (1988), Flammarion, p. 102
  5. ^ Toman (Rolf, L'Art Baroque – Architecture – Sculpture- Peinture (2015) pp. 12–70
  6. ^ a b Toman (2015), pp. 190–194
  7. ^ Ducher, Characteristique des Styles (1989), p. 102
  8. ^ Ducher, Characteristique des Styles (1989), p. 104
  9. ^ Wittkower R., Art & Architecture in Italy 1600–1750, 1985 edn, p. 111
  10. ^ Texier, Simon, Paris – Panorama de l'architecture (2012), p. 31
  11. ^ Toman, L'Art Baroque (2015) p. 125
  12. ^ Aliaksiej Sierka. "The Farny Roman-Catholic Church". www.belarusguide.com. Archived from the original on 8 July 2010. Retrieved 6 August 2010.
  13. ^ a b Adam Mickiewicz University (1991). "Volumes 5–6". Lituano-Slavica Posnaniensia (in Polish). UAM. p. 90. ISBN 83-232-0408-X.
  14. ^ Cohen, Gary B.; Szabo, Franz A. J. (1 July 2008). Embodiments of Power: Building Baroque Cities in Europe. Berghahn Books. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-85745-050-0.
  15. ^ Toman, L'Art Baroque (2015), pp. 15–45
  16. ^ Toman, L'Art baroque (2015), pp. 21–23
  17. ^ Ducher (1989) p. 104
  18. ^ Toman, L'Art baroque (2015), pp. 24–45
  19. ^ Toman (2015) p. 128
  20. ^ Ranum, Orest (1968). Paris in the Age of Absolutism: An Essay (revised ed.). Penn State Press. p. 185. ISBN 978-0-271-04645-7. Retrieved 29 May 2022.
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  35. ^ "Dominican Church of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius, Lithuania". CityofMercy.lt. Archived from the original on 18 February 2023. Retrieved 18 February 2023.
  36. ^ "Liškiavos bažnyčia". Liskiavosparapija.lt. Archived from the original on 18 February 2023. Retrieved 18 February 2023.
  37. ^ Šinkūnaitė, Laima. "Mergelės Marijos Gimimo bazilika". Siluva.lt (in Lithuanian). Archived from the original on 18 February 2023. Retrieved 18 February 2023.
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  56. ^ *Aleijadinho Archived 27 March 2019 at the Wayback Machine at Encyclopædia Britannica
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  63. ^ Bonello, Giovanni (2003). "Bontadino de Bontadini – The Murder of the First Baroque Architect in Malta". Histories of Malta – Convictions and Conjectures. Malta: Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti. pp. 44–61. ISBN 9789993210276.
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  • Bailey, Gauvin Alexander. Baroque & Rococo. London: Phaidon Press, 2012.
  • Bourke, John. Baroque Churches of Central Europe. London: Faber, 1962 (2nd revised ed.)
  • Cabanne, Perre (1988), L'Art Classique et le Baroque, Paris: Larousse, ISBN 978-2-03-583324-2
  • De Morant, Henry (1970). Histoire des arts décoratifs (in French). Librarie Hachette.
  • Ducher, Robert, Caractéristique des Styles, (1988), Flammarion, Paris (In French); ISBN 2-08-011539-1
  • Hopkins, Owen (2014). Les styles en architecture. Dunod. ISBN 978-2-10-070689-1.
  • Texier, Simon (2012). Paris- Panorama de l'architecture. Parigramme. ISBN 978-2-84096-667-8.
  • Oudin, Bernard (1992), Dictionnaire des Architects (in French), Paris: Seghers, ISBN 2-232-10398-6
  • Toman, Rolf (2015). L'art baroque architecture, sculpture, peinture (in French). Cologne-Paris: H.F. Ullmann. ISBN 978-3-8480-0856-8.
  • Robbins Landon, H. C. and David Wyn Jones (1988) Haydn: His Life and Music. Thames and Hudson.

External links[edit]