Roman Baroque (1623- 1667)

The Roman Baroque Style was developed in Rome during the 17th Century. Characterized by curved lines, strong colors, chiaroscuro and taggressive play of volumes and voids.

Ecstasy of St.Teresa, Bernini, Rome, Italy
Ecstasy of St.Teresa, Bernini, Rome, Italy. Image source:

When and why the Roman Baroque was created?

Baroque architecture, architectural style originating in late 16th-century Italy, it had its origins in the Counter-Reformation, when the Catholic Church launched an overtly emotional and sensory appeal to the faithful through art and architecture.

In the seventeenth century infact, the city of Rome became the consummate statement of Catholic majesty and triumph expressed in all the arts. Baroque architects, artists, and urban planners so magnified and invigorated the classical and ecclesiastical traditions of the city that it became for centuries after the acknowledged capital of the European art world, not only a focus for tourists and artists but also a watershed of inspiration throughout the Western world.

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Who are the most important baroque artists ?

The architecture of the Roman Baroque can be assigned to the papal reigns of Urban VIII, Innocent X and Alexander VII, spanning from 1623 to 1667. The three principal architects of this period were the sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini, Francesco Borromini and the painter Pietro da Cortona and each evolved his own distinctively individual architectural expression.

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Gian Lorenzo Bernini, self-portrait, 1623
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, self-portrait, 1623. Image source:,_self-portrait,_c1623.jpg
Francesco Borromini (anonymous youth portrait), 1630
Francesco Borromini (anonymous youth portrait), 1630. Image source:
Pietro da Cortona, self-portrait
Pietro da Cortona, self-portrait. Image source:


  • long, narrow naves are replaced by broader, occasionally circular forms
  • dramatic use of light, either strong light-and-shade contrasts, chiaroscuro effects
  • opulent use of bright colours and ornaments (putti or figures made of wood (often gilded), plaster or stucco, marble or faux finishing)
  • large-scale ceiling frescoes
  • the external facade is often characterized by a dramatic central projection
  • the interior is often no more than a shell for painting and sculpture (especially in the late baroque)
  • illusory effects like trompe l’oeil and the blending of painting and architecture
  • twisting elements, and gilded statuary

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Gianlorenzo Bernini:

Under Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644), Bernini entered a period of enormous productivity and artistic development, since he urged his protégé to paint and to practice architecture.

Bernini was commissioned to build a symbolic structure over the tomb of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The result is the famous immense gilt-bronze baldachin executed between 1624 and 1633, which rapresent the first truly Roman Baroque monument.

Its twisted columns derive from the early Christian columns that had been used in the altar screen of Old St. Peter’s. Bernini’s most original contribution to the final work is the upper framework of crowning volutes flanked by four angels that supports the orb and cross. The baldachin is perfectly proportioned to its setting, and one hardly realizes that it is as tall as a four-story building.

Its lively outline moving upward to the triumphant crown, its dark colour heightened with burning gold, give it the character of a living organism.

An unprecedented fusion of sculpture and architecture.

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Baldachin, St. Peter’s, Vatican City, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1624–33
Baldachin, St. Peter’s, Vatican City, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1624–33. Image source:
Francesco Borromini:

Borromini worked alongside Bernini in the realization of the Barberini palace and the Baldachin of Saint Peter, but it was only in 1634 that he obtained for the first time an independent commission, when the Spanish Discalced Trinitarian entrusted him with the design of the church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane and the convent.

The church is considered by many to be an exemplary masterpiece of Roman Baroque architecture.

The facade, Borromini uses two orders: one upper and one lower:

  • The lower part is characterized by a succession of concave surfaces – convex – concave;
  • while the top has three concave parts of which the center is home to a newsstand convex.

He plays with the concavity and the convexity of the walls creating a dynamic facade full of movement, but also with the fanciful decorations as the niche located above the entrance portal. The spandrels of the area marks the transition from order lower wall to the oval opening of the dome. The facade culminates with an oval medallion concave surface supported by flying angels, a host timeless image of San Carlo.

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Facade of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Rome, Italy
Facade of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Rome, Italy. Image source:

From 1640-1650, Borromini worked on the design of the church of S. Ivo alla Sapienza. Inside, the ship has an unusual centralized plan.

  • It is circled by alternating concave and convex-ending cornices, and leads to a dome decorated with linear arrays of stars and cherubs.
  • The plant is a six-pointed star.

The varying architectural features of the Sant ‘Ivo alla Sapienza fused together feverish and dynamic baroque excesses with rationalistic geometric styles.

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Courtyard and façade of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, Rome, Italy
Courtyard and façade of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, Rome, Italy
The plant a six-pointed star of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, Rome, Italy
The plant a six-pointed star of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, Rome, Italy

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Following the death of Pope Urban VIII, the new Pope Innocent X commissioned several works including the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, another example of Roman Baroque architecture.

Sant’Agnese in Agone, Pzz.Navona, Rome, Italy
Sant’Agnese in Agone, Pzz.Navona, Rome, Italy. Image source:

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