Italian Baroque Architecture: Characteristics & Examples

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  • 0:04 Italian Baroque Architecture
  • 2:09 Architecture Characteristics
  • 3:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Light and shadow. Color and curves. Can you express mystery and drama in architecture? In this lesson, explore Italian Baroque architecture, learn characteristics and see examples of it.

Italian Baroque Architecture

Some architecture is calm, rational and geometric, but in Rome, Italy, beginning in the late 16th century, a style developed that was none of those things. It distorted building elements to heighten light and shadow and had curving, wavy walls. Developed with strong connections to the Catholic Church, the style became known as Baroque architecture.

Baroque architecture developed in the late 16th century in Rome and rose during a period of transition for the Roman Catholic Church. This was following a crisis called the Protestant Reformation, which was when the Protestants broke away from the Catholics and created their own versions of Christianity. The Catholic Church responded with the Counter-Reformation, which was a series of reforms, but also a display of power and wealth. During this period, a new Catholic religious order, the Jesuits, was founded. Their churches were some of the first connected to Italian Baroque architecture. As they spread around the world, so did the Baroque style. Eventually, Baroque architecture could be found throughout Europe and as far away as South America. Interestingly, as Baroque spread, it changed. In every country, the style was bit different.

Baroque architecture wasn't found on the homes of average people. It was a style that conveyed grandeur and drama. It was used most often on churches and palaces, places where someone - either a church official or a wealthy landowner - wanted to make a statement. Important Italian Baroque architects included Carlo Maderno (1556 - 1629), who oversaw early Baroque additions to St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 - 1680) was responsible for designing the massive structure over St. Peter's tomb in St. Peter's Basilica. Called a baldachin, or canopy over a tomb, it had twisting columns and was almost four stories high.

Baroque architecture rejected the clear, rational geometric forms of the early Renaissance period. It was a definite, purposeful shift in style. Actually, the term ''Baroque'' began as a negative one, coined by critics who thought the style was overdone, extravagant, and full of drama and excess.

Architecture Characteristics

Italian Baroque architecture has several important characteristics. It usually includes curving forms including oval shapes and a combination of concave and convex forms that make walls seems to undulate, or appear wavy with a strong sense of motion.

On building surfaces, you'll often see a massing of elements, which means grouping things together like columns and decorative flourishes. Architectural elements are repeated across a surface. Another key characteristic is distortion, with figures that are elongated, broken, or manipulated in some manner to make them stand out. The twisting columns on Bernini's baldachin in Saint Peter's are a good example of distortion.

Buildings will have columns, sometimes topped with capitals and large volutes (scroll or spiral forms). Sculptural and wall elements will often project from the surface. These surfaces full of forms are done on purpose to increase the interplay of light and shadow across them.

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