The Baroque is one of the few movements which undoubtedly transcends across various media of self-expression – art, architecture, and even music. And today, we’ll be looking at the sublime world of baroque architecture. Having been born as an aesthetic progeny of the Catholic Church’s (particularly the Jesuit sect’s) power in 17th Century Italy, baroque quickly gained footing as a cadence to the post-Renaissance Mannerist style. Unlike mannerism, which aimed at enhancing renaissance-Esque elements such as scale, proportion, and symmetry with subtlety, baroque sought to exaggerate them. A hauntingly dramatic style, it aimed at making the renaissance architectonics, such as arches, vaults, and domes grander, larger than life while adding highly ornate stucco figurative motifs in the process. The sculptural quality of baroque buildings – lent by the play of light and volumes – was a distinct feature. Broadly divided chronologically, baroque is categorized as Italian, French, and Spanish. Here are fifteen edifices which map out the evolution of this style –

1. Church of Gesu, Rome

The Church of Gesu was designed and constructed by four eminent Italian architects, belonging to the Jesuit community. Built-in 1580, the church is the first example of early baroque and sets the tone for what was to come later in Italy. The church was planned according to the central axis from the High Renaissance, with the grand dome emphasizing the intersection of the aisle and transepts, with polychromatic tiles and figurative stucco moldings.

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2. Santa Susanna Church 

The façade is 17th century Rome, by Carlo Maderno: After the Church of Gesu, Santa Susanna stands out as an example of a more confident form of Italian baroque. The church was first constructed in 330 and was continuously renovated till the 17th century. The façade was carefully designed in travertine to portray the rhythmic sense through the pillars getting clustered in the middle. The triangular pediment added to the classicist touch.

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3. Santa Maria Della Pace

Santa Maria Della Pace by Pietro da Cortona 1656: This 17th-century edifice is notable for its inviting façade. Architect Pietro da Cortona designed the restored façade and added two wings projecting outward to denote a theatrical dimension. The façade has columns of two orders, with the convex pronaos having those of the Tuscan order. The façade was also urban-conscious – the concave piazza formed was beneficial for Roman carriages to turn comfortably. 

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4. St. Peter’s Square, Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Yes, the iconic renaissance monument has baroque elements hidden in it – though a lot subtler than what meets the eye. The piazza created by the Basilica has become famous for its baroque columns and the celebration of public space. Considered a masterstroke, the ‘square’ is framed by two freestanding colonnades, centered around an Egyptian obelisk which faces the basilica. 

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5. San Marcello al Corso by Carlo Fontana

As with many Italian churches, this edifice was also planned and built many centuries before the Baroque period. However, the façade was only designed at the end of the 17th century, by Carlo Fontana. The façade, made of travertine features ornate bas relief figurines made of stucco and marks the maturity of Italian baroque. 

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6. Palace of Versailles

The French were soon exploring baroque. Although Versailles was built during the Italian baroque’s nascence, its influence on the rest of the French Baroque landscape is noteworthy. Designed by architect Louis Le Vau, it is an iconic synonym to pomp, grandeur, and royalty. Initially a brick and wood chateau, the palace can be assumed as an architectural palimpsest of French baroque from the 17th to the 18th century, evolving with time. Le Vau took inspiration from Italian baroque villas, but executed with the use of ashlar cut white stones, and rusticated stone masonry. 

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7. Chapel of Les Invalides, by Liberal Bruant and Jules Hardouin-Mansart

This late 17th-century building deviates from the common theme of religious and royal baroque projects. Started as a hospital for elderly people and military personnel, it soon expanded to have a church and 15 courtyards inside. The imposing dome of the chapel is a characteristic feature added later on in 1793.

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8. St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul Cathedral by Sir Christopher Wren: St. Paul’s cathedral, prolific architect Christopher Wren’s magnum opus takes inspiration from St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The roof of the cathedral dome has numerous statues depicting biblical events. What we see now is a result of several distinct design iterations.

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9. Karlskirche, Vienna

Located in Vienna, Austria, this church is the largest in the city. Austrian architect Johann Bernard Fischer von Erlach turned it towards a melange of Greek, Roman, and Roman baroque. The dome is adorned with vibrant frescoes by Austrian artists and subtle use of gold leaf is noted throughout the church.

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10. Royal Palace of Godollo 

This Hungarian Masterpiece is one of the last built forms of the High Baroque period. In contrast to other high baroque works, this one is sober and muted – perhaps the Hungarian interpretation of baroque. With delicate vegetal motifs and an evident hybridization of baroque and zopf styles, it stands out as an example of Hungarian restrained grandeur.

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11. Façade of the University of Valladolid

Deviating from the religious and royal typology, the era of late baroque in Spain is crystallized by this façade. Diego Tome and Fray Pedro de la Visitación designed the façade in 1719 and added dynamic, expressive ornamentation to it, massive solid columns, and a commanding comb on the top, while maintaining the post Herrerian character through the simple emphasis of floorplates.

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12. Royal Palace of Madrid 

The Royal Palace has very subliminal elements of Spanish baroque, hidden amidst its sobering neoclassical motifs. This transition can probably be attributed to the then reigning king, Philip V, annexing Spain while ruling France, where the stylistic sensibilities leaned more towards neo-classicism. A massive fire destroyed most of the façade in 1738, which was redone in Baroque style by Italian architect Filippo Juvarra.

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13. Church of San Francisco Acatepec 

1760 Since Spain had colonies in Latin America, the local practices informed much of how Spanish baroque was interpreted in colonies. In Mexico, the church in Acatepec is especially known for its Talavera mosaic and red brick façade. The distinct Spanish estipite columns are also present and are adorned with azulejos work. The façade of the church stands out due to its bright, primary color palette and its detailed iconography.

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14. Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral Tabernacle 

One of the most well-known structures in Mexican Baroque, it took almost 250 years to build it. The result of this period is an amalgamation of various styles – gothic, Churrigueresque, Neoclassical, and finally baroque. The tabernacle was built to house important documents of the archbishop, in the Mexican Baroque style, designed by Lorenzo Rodrigues from 1749 to 1750. The tabernacle is richly decorated with vegetal motifs and animistic icons like cherubs, with the southern façade being more detailed. The structure was built in the indigenous tezontle and chiluca stone.

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15. The Church of Saint Francis of Assisi 

Its construction was initiated in 1766, making the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Ouro Preto one of the last built edifices of baroque architecture. Located in Brazil, it features organic, sculpted forms with a richly carved soapstone frontispiece and a frescoed dome interior and golden woodwork. The church marks the official transition from Baroque to Rococo.

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Amrutha Viswanath
Author

Amrutha is currently studying architecture in Chennai and feels that good buildings and good writing, can change lives. Her writing journey began in school and soon she found it as a tool to articulate the built environment. She finds the symbiosis between people and places fascinating and aims to unravel the little nuances of the city life.

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