The Age of Exuberance: Baroque Era Design

The Age of Exuberance

Exuberant, joyful, grand and dynamic; these are all words often used to describe the Baroque Era. It was all of those things and more. It was also heavy, gilded, sculptural and theatrical. Baroque took the designs of the Renaissance and added to them made them larger than life. Some argue that Baroque was Renaissance gone wild while others insist it was an important bridge from the previous era to our own. Still, others claim that it was a rebellion against the asymmetry, distortions and the bizarre juxtapositions of the Mannerist Style.

As with the Renaissance, the Baroque Era was born in Italy. During the seventeenth century trade between Europe and the Far East had expanded greatly which brought an influx of exotic materials and styles that quickly became de rigueur. Trade served to increase the wealth of the merchant class who were keen to keep up with the latest court fashions of dress, art and architecture. In addition, Rome was being redeveloped and a succession of Popes commissioned the construction of new churches, palazzos, fountains and statues. The combination of secular and religious wealth along with a heightened humanistic attitude spurred patrons to constantly try to outdo their last achievement.

Baroque Architecture and Interior Design

Schloss Nymphenburg (above) (1675) in Munich
Schloss Nymphenburg (above) (1675) in Munich | Source
Castle Howard (1669) in North Yorkshire show the diversity and the similarities of Baroque era architecture from country to country.
Castle Howard (1669) in North Yorkshire show the diversity and the similarities of Baroque era architecture from country to country. | Source

Furthermore, during the mid-seventeenth century a series of incidents took place around Europe that would be pivotal in establishing Baroque style in other lands. For example, with the end of the Thirty Years War Holland gained its independence from Spain (1648).

In 1649 Charles I was beheaded and England was declared a commonwealth, a few years later Charles II returned from exile to England and brought about a revolution in style only to have almost all of London destroyed by The Great Fire of 1663 which caused an extensive rebuilding effort.

And, in 1661 King Louis XIV (i.3) assumed power in France. One year later he began construction on Versailles which would prove to be hugely influential on other monarchs. No one symbolized the power of an absolute monarchy better than Louis XIV. He made it his mission to glorify France through art and design and spared no expense to reach his goal. No palace anywhere in Europe could rival the splendor of Versailles although that certainly didn't stop other sovereigns from trying. In short, all these new nations were struggling to define their sovereign identity through expressions in art and architecture which manifested themselves in a variety of ways.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Sculpture of Apollo and Daphne

Dynamic Exuberance in Art and Architecture

Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s (1598 -1680) sculpture of Apollo and Daphne beautifully demonstrates the grandeur of the Baroque Era.  Space was treated almost pictorially instead of flat.  An intricate play of chiaroscuro adds more depth and emotion.  The sculpture is meant to be viewed from all sides inviting the observer’s open participation. Designs of the Baroque were intended to fill space with a feeling of movement that was charged with energy and emotions. This dynamism also was imbued into architecture and furniture.

Caryatids

Caryatids are sculpted figures that are incorporated in an architectural support.
Caryatids are sculpted figures that are incorporated in an architectural support.

Grotesques in France

Ornamentation

Favorite motifs varied from country to country.  In Italy the prevailing characteristic was fluid movement and theatricality.  Favorite ornamental details included banderoles, volutes, S and C scrolls grotesques, shells, cornucopias, caryatids and elements derived from architecture.  French Baroque was dictated by the consummate monarch Louis XIV whose favorite motifs included the sun, crowns, foliage, coats of arms and chimeras.  Decorative details based on animal motifs such as lions heads and paws, dolphins, and rams as well as floral embellishments including the famous fleur de lis were very popular.  In England high relief such as that achieved by turning, carving and stucco were very popular.  Favorite decorations included festoons, swags, pendants and frame configurations which would often surround hunting motifs such as wild game or foliage.

A Louis XIV Cammode

A Louis XIV cammode inlaid with Boullework which was a form of marquetry named after the French cabinet maker Andre-Charles Boulle (1642-1732) who liked to combine materials such as tortoise shell, ivory, and ebony with brass.
A Louis XIV cammode inlaid with Boullework which was a form of marquetry named after the French cabinet maker Andre-Charles Boulle (1642-1732) who liked to combine materials such as tortoise shell, ivory, and ebony with brass.

The Sun King Had Great Influence on Art, Architecture and Interior Design

Louis XIV (1638-1715) also known as The Sun King, was born almost twenty-three years into his parent's childless marriage and was from the start considered a divine gift from God. He was heartily spoiled and learned quite early that he would not be denied. Although he was crowned king of France when he was just barely five years old, he didn't actually come into power until 1661. Just one year later, Louis XIV listened to a sermon about the Divine Right of Kings whose basic tenant was "...a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving his right to rule directly from the will of God." This, he took to heart.

Furniture: World Styles from Classical to Contemporary
Furniture: World Styles from Classical to Contemporary

This invaluable book is an absolute must for the serious design enthusiast. If you're interested in learning more not just about Baroque Design but all sorts of furniture styles from classical to contemporary then Judith Miller's book on FURNITURE is the difinitive resource. It's a treasure trove of information and inspiration.

 

Louis XIV of France

Source
The Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles is characterized by seventeen mirrors that mimic the size and shape of the windows directly opposite to them.  This had the effect of flooding the hall with light so that everything sparkled.
The Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles is characterized by seventeen mirrors that mimic the size and shape of the windows directly opposite to them. This had the effect of flooding the hall with light so that everything sparkled.

Architectural Features of Baroque Interiors

During the Baroque Era structures were generally very symmetrical and still employed Classic forms. Although, windows became larger allowing comparatively vast amounts of light to shine into the interior which could than be manipulated. The main staircase gained an increasingly important role and was often placed so that it denoted a formal reception room. Its proportions were wide and designed to impress. In very wealthy homes a two-story oval salone flanked by symmetrical wings that embraced a central courtyard or cour d'honneur was an architectural element first employed by Bernini in Palazzo Barberini and often emulated, i.e. at Versailles.

In the interior, art and architecture were exemplified by a sense of movement and energy. Dramatic effect was enhanced by the use of chiaroscuro. Things were built on a grand scale. Architecture and furniture alike took their cues from Classic forms but these were then exaggerated and embellished with lavish decorations such as exotic mother of pearl and tortoise shell marquetry. Sculptural carving or plasterwork was also a favorite enhancement on walls and ceilings as well as furniture. There was also the attempt to create painted illusions of limitless space devised to induce a sense of awe and piety. The fireplace still figured prominently in the Baroque household as a room’s feature and was treated to much of the same embellishments as walls and ceilings.

Article by Anne Alexander Sieder all rights reserved.  For hardcore interior design fans, check out my blog www.prettyhaus.com.

Francesco Borrormini (1599-1667) designed this staircase for Palazzo Bernini.  An oval oculus allows light to spill down over the sweeping stair creating the dramatic chiaroscuro so loved by artisans of the Baroque.
Francesco Borrormini (1599-1667) designed this staircase for Palazzo Bernini. An oval oculus allows light to spill down over the sweeping stair creating the dramatic chiaroscuro so loved by artisans of the Baroque.

Instead of the straight lines of the previous era, wood was turned so that it seemed to spiral and undulate.  Ormolu mounts were used on the corners of veneered furniture for protection even though they were artful in their own right. Where afforded, furniture was constructed out of outrageously extravagant material such as pure silver. Intricate tapestries were lavishly employed to demonstrate the household's wealth and taste.

Advances in technology allowed for the production of large mirrors.  Their frames were often carved and then covered in gold or silver gilt.  Mirrors were extremely expensive to manufacture and therefore status symbols to be used extensively as in The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.   In fact this mirror lined room typifies the Baroque attitude of opulence that was meant to reflect the ruling monarch’s power and grandeur.

The Baroque Era was a time of extreme vanity on the part of its sovereigns who followed the model set forth by King Louis XIV and ruled with an absolute power.  This left them free to indulge themselves anyway they saw fit; and like the chiaroscuro so beloved during the Baroque Era it had its light and dark side.  It certainly left us a trail of beautiful art as testimony to the history that passed; however, palaces like Versailles are a symbol of the excesses that brought about a revolution and stand as reminders that governments should serve the people and not the other way around.

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Comments 7 comments

epigramman profile image

epigramman 6 years ago

.....what a gorgeous hub subject you have picked - my intrepid world traveler - you are part tour guide, part professer, part traveling buddy - and a real pro at putting a delightful and educational hub together which is not only a feast for the eyes but such an inspiration for the mind. Consider me front row and centre when you hold your next travel seminar .......


edelhaus profile image

edelhaus 6 years ago from Munich, Germany Author

I'm blushing and smiling - thank you!


pink flavour profile image

pink flavour 6 years ago

The baroque and rococo design are my favourite from the history . I'm an architecture student and I've learned more about architecture in those periods and just a little about other arts . I really enjoyed your hub .


edelhaus profile image

edelhaus 6 years ago from Munich, Germany Author

mine, too! They were just so full out passionate - thanks pink flavour.


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SomewayOuttaHere 6 years ago from TheGreatGigInTheSky

nice!


edelhaus profile image

edelhaus 6 years ago from Munich, Germany Author

thank you!


eden 3 days ago

nice site and very inforational site for interior design

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