The Baroque period in architecture and art in the 1600s and 1700s was an era in European history when decoration was highly ornamented and classical forms of the Renaissance were distorted and exaggerated. Fueled by the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Counter-Reformation, and the philosophy of the divine right of kings, the 17th and 18th centuries were turbulent and dominated by those who felt the need to exhibit their force—a timeline of 1600s and 1700s military history clearly shows us this. It was “power to the people” and the Age of Enlightenment to some; it was a time of reclaiming dominance and centralizing power for the aristocracy and Catholic Church.

The word baroque means imperfect pearl, from the Portuguese word barroco. The baroque pearl became a favorite centerpiece for the ornate necklaces and ostentatious brooches popular in the 1600s. The trend toward flowery elaboration transcended jewelry into other art forms, including painting, music, and architecture. Centuries later, when critics put a name to this extravagant time, the word Baroque was used mockingly. Today it is descriptive.

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Characteristics of Baroque Architecture

Baroque interior of Saint-Bruno Des Chartreux Church In Lyon, France

The Roman Catholic Church shown here, Saint-Bruno Des Chartreux in Lyon, France, was built in the 1600s and 1700s and displays many of the typical Baroque-era features:

  • Complicated shapes, breaking out of the box
  • Extreme ornamentation, often gilded with gold
  • Large elliptical forms, with curved lines replacing Classically straight
  • Twisted columns
  • Grand stairways
  • High domes
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Italian Baroque

The Baroque Baldachin by Bernini, a four-poster ornate metal canopy

In ecclesiastic architecture, Baroque additions to Renaissance interiors often included an ornate baldachin (baldacchino), originally called a ciborium, over the high altar in a church. The baldacchino designed by Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) for the Renaissance-era St. Peter’s Basilica is an icon of Baroque building. Rising eight stories high on Solomonic columns, the c. 1630 bronze piece is both sculpture and architecture at the same time. This is Baroque. The same exuberance was expressed in non-religious buildings like the popular Trevi Fountain in Rome.

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