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Facts About Baroque Architecture and Sculpture

Updated on April 24, 2013
Ecstasy of Saint Teresa
Ecstasy of Saint Teresa | Source

Rome, with Il Gesù, was the birthplace of baroque architecture. The beginning of the style can be seen also in some of the late work of Michelangelo. Il Gesù, a curious combination of medieval and Renaissance features, combines the longitudinal Gothic tradition with an emphasis on the central portion of the building that is characteristic of the Renaissance. The free-floating effect of the cupola, expressive of a longing for the infinite, has been described as a "movement of physical nature toward spiritual goals." Il Gesù heralded the baroque feeling for the fluidity of space, a feeling that ultimately found expression in such baroque features as richly ornamented facades, magnificently sweeping staircases, and ornamental gardens that, unlike the center-related Renaissance gardens, served as the setting and a foreground for a distant view from the great castles built during the period.

Baroque architecture and sculpture go hand in hand. Many artists, such as Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini, were masters of both. The dynamic effects of baroque architecture were aided by the fullest possible use of decorative sculptural detail. At the same time, the architecture, whether of a church or a castle, became ever more crucial to the plastic creations of sculpture. As baroque art spread and unfolded, its full flowering after 1600 studded Europe with castles, churches, bridges, fountains, theaters, villas, statues, and a vast variety of furniture and bric-a-brac that embellished the homes of the aristocracy and of wealthy merchants and businessmen. Rome, Vienna, Munich, Madrid, Warsaw, and Prague are among the great showplaces of the baroque style. The finest work belongs largely to the "high baroque," from 1600 to 1660.

Among the most eminent and fascinating figures of the baroque period was Bernini, the greatest Italian architect and sculptor after Michelangelo. He was born in 1598 and died in 1680, having produced magnificent buildings and art works in unbelievable profusion. He was the daring genius who fully grasped and molded the spirit of his age. Next to him, Francesco Borromini (1599–1667) and Guarino Guarini (1624–1683) were preeminent among Italians.

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Among the French, François Mansart (1598–1666) maintained strongly classicist reservations in the face of the baroque movement. Claude Perrault (1613–1688) was outstanding as the builder of the Louvre; his design won over Bernini's more forcefully baroque proposal.

Spain produced no architect equal in distinction to these, although the Escorial (1563–1584), designed by Juan de Toledo and Juan de Herrera, is a powerful monument of the early baroque. More important than the architects of Spain proper were those of the Low Countries, especially Jacques Franquart (1577–1651) in the Spanish Netherlands and Jacob van Campen (1595–1657) and Pieter Post (1600–1669) in the independent Netherlands. From these centers and from Italy a number of minor architects went to the many courts of Germany, Austria, and the eastern monarchies, especially Poland and Russia. In these countries during the early 18th century, a second period of baroque architecture, tending toward rococo forms, produced some of the finest baroque churches and castles. The greatest names are Fischer von Erlach (1656–1723), the brothers Asam (Cosmas Damian, 1686–1739, and Egid Quirin, 1692–1750), and Balthasar Neumann (1687–1753). The episcopal palace at Würzburg, the Hofburg and other castles in Vienna, and the churches of Salzburg are among the best-known works of the period. Prague, Krakow, and Warsaw also are studded with magnificent late baroque works.

In England, always somewhat apart from the rest of Europe in its architectural development, the dominant architect of the high baroque was Inigo Jones (1572–1651). Inspired by the great Renaissance artist Andrea Palladio, Jones created a number of masterpieces in the "classicist" tradition, especially the castles at Greenwich and Wilton. Christopher Wren (1632–1723), active in rebuilding London after the fire of 1666, was more directly baroque in style.

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