The Age of Exuberance: Baroque Era Design
The Age of Exuberance
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.
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
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.
Grotesques in France
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
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.
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Louis XIV of France
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.
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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
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.