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1600-1830: Baroque

Architecture of Exuberance


Early in the 1600s, an elaborate new style called Baroque lavished buildings with complex shapes, extravagant ornaments, opulent paintings, and bold contrasts.
The Palace of Versailles in France

The Baroque Palace of Versailles in France began as a simple stone and brick home designed by Philibert Le Roy in 1624. In 1669, architect Louis Le Vau began a detailed renovation and expansion.

Photo © Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

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 artforms, including painting, music, and architecture. Centuries later, when critics put a name to this extravagant time, the word Baroque was used mockingly.

Baroque Characteristics:

Buildings in the Baroque style have many of these features:

  • Complicated shapes
  • Large curved forms
  • Twisted columns
  • Grand stairways
  • High domes
  • Trompe l'oeil paintings
Elements of the elaborate Baroque style are found throughout Europe and also traveled to Latin America and European settlements around the world. While Baroque architecture was always highly decorated, it found expression in many ways.

Italian Baroque: Catholic Popes in Italy wanted architecture to express holy splendor. They commissioned churches with enormous domes, swirling forms, huge spiraled columns, multicolored marble, and lavish murals. The same exuberance was expressed in non-religious buildings. Example: The Trevi Fountain in Rome

French Baroque: The Baroque style became more restrained in France. While lavish details were used, French buildings were usually symmetrical and orderly. The Palace of Versailles shown above is a landmark example. The Palace's grand Hall of Mirrors is more unrestrained in its extravagant design.

English Baroque: Baroque architecture emerged in England after the Great Fire of London in 1666. Architect Christopher Wren used restrained Baroque styling when he helped rebuild the city. Example: St. Paul's Cathedral

Spain and Latin America: Builders in Spain, Mexico, and South America combined Baroque ideas with exuberant sculptures, Moorish details, and extreme contrasts between light and dark. Called Churrigueresque after a Spanish family of sculptors and architects, Spanish Baroque architecture was used through the mid-1700s, and continued to be imitated much later. Example: Casa del Prado in California is a lavish re-invention of Spanish Baroque, or Churrigueresque, architecture.

Rococo: In Germany, Austria, Eastern Europe, and Russia, Baroque ideas were often applied with a lighter touch. Pale colors and curving shell shapes gave buildings the delicate appearance of a frosted cake. The term Rococo was used to describe these softer versions of the Baroque style. Learn about Rococo Architecture

The Baroque Period in History

  • Music. Famous names include Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi.
  • Art. Famous names include Caravaggio, Bernini, Rubens, Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Velázquez.
  • Science and Inventions. Famous names include Blaise Pascal and Isaac Newton.

Architecture Timeline >

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