Baroque (17th-18th Century)

The Baroque style, born in Italy and spread throughout Europe, is divided into three periods: Early Baroque, High Baroque, and Late Baroque.

Baroque style art detail in gold with flourishes and an angel head in the center.
Baroque angel detail

Image source:  by Leandro’s World Tour

The Origin of the Term

The term Baroque is derived from Italian barocco, which philosophers used in the Middle Ages to describe errors in logic schemes. Later, the word came to denote any contorted idea or complicated thought. Another possible origin of this word comes from the Portuguese barroco (Spanish barrueco), used to talk about an imperfectly shaped pearl. This way of using this word still survives in the jeweler’s term “baroque pearl.”

A table with gold, ornate legs and a glass top in the Baroque style.
Baroque Console

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Baroque architects created buildings as a single mass to be shaped according to particular requirements. On the facade elements like columns and pilasters are linked in various ways to the center. The facade looks divided horizontally, yet it is organized vertically. St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City is an important example of this style. It was finished in 1615 under Paul V, and has a three aisle Latin cross with a dome above the altar, which covers the shrine of St. Peter the Apostle. The edifice is a key pilgrimage site for Christians.

An overhead shot of Saint Peter's Square in Vatican City.
Saint Peter’s Square in Vatican

Image source: by Argenberg

The interior of St. Peter’s Basilica features masterpieces from the Renaissance period and in the Baroque style. The most famous are works are Michelangelo’s Pietà and the Baldachin, made by Berninil, over the main altar. The tomb of Urban VIII and the cathedral of St. Peter are relevant too.

A large dark wood canopy-like structure sits in the center of a dome-shaped room with various religious photos on the wall. Moreover, in the dome in the center there are gold details all over the ceiling.
St. Peter Baldachin in St. Peter’s Basilica, 1623 – 1634

Image source: by Jean-Pol GRANDMONT

Baroque Design Characteristics

Like all other styles Baroque has its features:

  • Gilded frames used in paintings and mirrors and usually featured several cartouches, carved flowers, and sculpted figures.
  • Italian furniture of this period often had raised lids, and were decorated with carved leaves and figures.
A Walnut, partially carved chest with traces of gilding and polychrome; shown with iron hardware.
Italian cassone- Walnut, partially carved, traces of gilding and polychrome; iron hardware., Italian

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  • Decorations were sumptuous. Carved wood was often detailed with gold or bronze, and legs, for example, in tables were caryatids or muscular figures, made to look like they were sustaining the marble slab put on top.
Bookcase (one of a pair), Design attributed to the architect Niccolo Michetti (Italian, died 1759), Walnut and poplar; iron hinges and locks, metal wire; antique silk and linen brocatelle door curtains (not original) in Rome, Italy.
Bookcase (one of a pair), Design attributed to the architect Niccolo Michetti (Italian, died 1759), Walnut and poplar; iron hinges and locks, metal wire; antique silk and linen brocatelle door curtains (not original), Rome

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  • Segments and strap work included new key characteristics such as pilasters, panels forming arches, and pietra dura designs. Many religious or mythological themes were painted inside the panels to improve the decorations of the object.
Baroque cabinet with glass goblets. Moreover, the chest has dark, spiral legs and a deep red-painted chest with gold hardware.
Baroque cabinet with gobelets

Image source: by quinet

  • Commodes, for example, were made of walnut or oak, pearl, jewels, and ivory, to form up allegorical stories. They were decorated, most of the time with angels, animals, and leaves. They were also called lion commodes due to their feet resembling the animal.
An Oak commode with Japanese black-and-gold lacquer and ebony veneer, gilt bronze, located in Paris, France.
Commode- Bernard III van Risamburgh – Oak; Japanese black-and-gold lacquer and ebony veneer, gilt bronze; brèche d’Alep marble top, Paris

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  • Tables varied greatly during the period but were usually made of gilded wood, oak, or walnut. Large tables were elongated, rich, and grandiloquent, while smaller ones were ornate and featured carved geometrical forms.
A walnut table carved, turned, inlaid, and stained.
High Baroque Table- Walnut, maple, carved, turned, inlaid, and stained., Italian and American

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Baroque Sculpture

The Cornaro Chapel is a famous Baroque Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. It houses one of Bernini’s most ambitious masterpieces: The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.  An illuminating light comes from a hidden window at the rear of the altar. Divine light descends upon the agitated Teresa at the apex of her spiritual ecstasy. Sculpted in white marble, she is surrounded by gilt bronze representing the divine light.

The statue, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, a white state surrounded by gilded bronze in Santa Maria della Vittoria Church in Rome.
Ecstasy of Saint Teresa

Image source: by Carlo Raso

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