Baroque was a magnificent period of art and architecture during the sixteenth century following the Renaissance era that originated in Italy but soon expanded its wings all over Europe and Colonial America. Structures belonging to this style of design are characterised by extreme splendour, dynamic spatial layout, elemental richness and mystical dramatisation to create an emotional and sensory appeal. Additionally, there are a few lesser-known features of this opulent period in history encompassing design typology, construction techniques, allegory and trivia.    

1. Symbolism :

Baroque Architecture is known for its grandeur and affluent depiction. Being a style of architecture driven by religious propaganda, the intent was to symbolise the church as a space that fostered the deepest personal relationship with God. Further, the overwhelming use of gold in Catholic altars and ceilings especially in French Baroque structures was to establish absolute supremacy of the monarchs. Colonial countries largely funded Baroque architecture seeking to substantiate their wealth and power to the world. The High altar at St. John’s Co-Cathedral, Chapel at Versailles etc depict such symbolism. 

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© : St. John’s Co-Cathedral Interior
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© : High altar at St. John’s Co-Cathedral
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© : The Royal Chapel, Château de Versailles, France

2. The First Prodigy :

The first truly Baroque facade is considered to be of II Gesu  Church in Rome. Erected around 1584, the church was also the first Jesuit church which was later used as a reference for upcoming Baroque Jesuit churches around the world. The most striking feature of the interiors is the ceiling fresco painted by Baroque artist Baciccia that creates an optical illusion of a dome.  

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© : Exterior of II Gesu Church in Rome
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© : Interior of II Gesu Church with dome
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© : Dome

3. Unification of Three Mediums :

Baroque structures enticed the world with a harmony of triple art medium: architecture, painting and sculpture. This unison created a theatrical display with intense dramatisation of spaces absolutely immersing the onlookers in the desired propaganda. Dramatic subjects with hyperextended movements were depicted in paintings, frescos on ceilings and altars as seen in the Church of St. Ignatius in Rome. 

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© : Church of St. Ignatius in Rome
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© : Church of St. Ignatius in Rome 
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© : St. Theresa sculpture at Santa Maria della Vittoria

4. Static v/s motion :

Baroque architecture brought dynamism and motion through circular forms, concave and convex walls, twisted columns, dramatic exterior projections etc.  Francesco Borromini, known as a master of curved-wall architecture stunningly depicted this motion in his design of San Carlo Alle Quattro Fontane. This philosophy of depicting elements in action was also highlighted in sculptures like Bernini’s David which stands in total contrast to the poised stance of David by Michelangelo.

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© : San Carlo Alle Quattro Fonatne exterior
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© : San Carlo Alle Quattro Fonatne
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© : David by Michelangelo v/s Bernini’s David 

5. Massing :

During Baroque Architecture, construction was no longer viewed as an assembly of individual entities but rather architectural elements such as columns, decorative flourishes, apses, domes were conceptualised together as a single sculpture. For instance, while Renaissance viewed facades as a series of rectangles corresponding to levels of a building, Baroque visualised facade simply as part of the building facing outwards, treating it as an extension of the same mass. 

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© : Saint Andrew’s on Quirinal Hill
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© : Pilgrimage Church of Saint John of Nepomuk
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© : Santa Susanna Church

6. Distortion

Another insufficiently discussed characteristic of Baroque structures is the use of conscious, geometrical distortion to heighten drama in structures. A statement against the earlier preached notion of perfection and classicism required in structures. Architecturally, this was achieved by hyper-extending or manipulating geometrical forms, adding twisted columns, non-spherical domes, wavy walls etc. A spectacular example of the same is Bernini’s four-storey Baldachin in St. Peter’s standing on mystically twisting columns. 

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© : St. Peter’s twisting columns
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© : St. Charles Church, Vienna
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7. Influence of Baroque Architecture on other art forms

Baroque Architecture left its imprint on various art forms. Baroque music became popular where artists such as Handel and Bach inculcated the same grandeur and creative exaggeration in their notes and symphonies. Paintings and Sculptures also showcased a style of art that expressed over the top emotion. For instance, The Death of Socrates by Jacques Phillips in the late Baroque period portrayed an overly dramatic version of the famous scene with fallen objects, actions in motion and melodramatic faces. 

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© : Death of Socrates
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8. Urban Planning : 

Baroque is believed to be the first period to practically apply architectural values beyond a building scale to a larger town-planning extent. City designs were based on circuses and straight roads. The axial, linear avenues of the urban fabric would cut through circuses, each dominated by imposing Baroque structures such as church, palace or fountain. This form of city layout assured a more comprehensible urban movement, a feature envisioned by the ones in power.

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© Bascillica circus
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© City of Vatican
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© : Tervi fountain

9. Chiaroscuro Technique : 

The period of Baroque beautifully explored the concept of light in spatial design and artwork. The Chiaroscuro Technique employed an interplay of light and shadows to achieve heightened drama and contrast desired in Baroque structures and paintings. Such was the knowledge of illumination during this period of construction that structural finishes were chosen to reflect light in a way to create a blend of intense lightness and thematic darkness in selective areas.  

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© : St. Peter’s Basilica
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© : The Calling of Saint Matthew
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10. Baroque – The imperfect Pearl :

The etymology of the word Baroque dates back to 1531,  when Portuguese  used the word “barocco” to refer to lavish pearls of irregular shapes. Conversely, in the eighteenth century, the term Baroque was used to describe the dramatic modulations and dissonances in musical symphonies. It was only around 1878 that Baroque was officially adopted in academics to describe post Renaissance architecture. “Imperfect Pearl” deemed fit to relate to the magnificence and embellishment of the Baroque period.

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© Kiev Pechersk Lavra
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© : Dresden Frauenkirche 
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Jagriti Jhunjhunwala

Jagriti Jhunjhunwala, is an Architect and an Urban Designer, suffering from an obsessive need to bring forth stories of people and places through the lens of humanity. Keeping quiet is not one of her many skills, so do ping her on Instagram (@thatshillonggirl) for a stranger's perspective on absolutely anything. Although, you should know, she is rumoured to be a feminist.

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