Rococo vs. Baroque Architecture

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  • 0:04 Architecture as Statements
  • 0:34 History of Baroque…
  • 2:21 History of Rococo Architecture
  • 4:07 Baroque & Rococo Comparison
  • 4:50 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.

Architecture can express power and drama, or it can be light and airy. In 16th- and 18th-century Europe, two styles developed that demonstrate these differences. In this lesson, explore the differences between Baroque and Rococo architecture.

Architecture as a Statement

Have you ever stood in front of a church and been awed by its monumental architecture? Or have you stood in a brightly decorated room and felt light and festive? Such reactions aren't by accident.

Many cultures use architecture to display power, emphasize status, or express wealth and prestige. Baroque and Rococo architecture were styles that developed in Europe between the 16th and 18th centuries. They both spoke to cultural influences but in different ways. Let's explore the similarities and differences between them.

History of Baroque Architecture

In 16th-century Italy, an architectural style developed to create a dramatic, impressive appearance. This style, which had connections to the Catholic religion, was known as Baroque architecture.

Baroque architecture was an Italian architectural movement that rose during a time of turmoil for the Catholic Church. It was part of a reaction to the Protestant Reformation, which was when reformers led a series of challenges that resulted in Protestants leaving the Catholic Church. The latter responded with the Counter-Reformation, which was a series of reforms, but also a display of power and wealth meant to reaffirm the church's status in society and faith. You could consider early Baroque architecture, which focused on churches, as a visual form of propaganda promoting the church. It was not a style found on modest structures like homes, although it was used on palaces and other large buildings. Baroque architecture spread through Europe, including England and Spain, and as far away as South America.

Baroque architecture was meant to make a statement. Structures often had grand curving walls and elongated, distorted architectural elements. Niches (recessed areas in walls for sculptures), porticoes (covered entrance porches), and columned arcades (rows of columns covered by a roof) increased the interplay of light and shadow, making structures seem dramatic. Baroque architecture also included massing or grouping of elements like columns and pilasters (square pillars that aren't completely freestanding) to make structures seem impressive and substantial. It often repeated architectural elements across surfaces. Interiors were full of bold colors and decoration. They had rich surface treatments, including plenty of gilt, or very thin layers of gold.

Baroque architecture was deeply emotional. All those shadows and curves created a sense of movement and a powerful impression. It was an attempt, through architecture, to pull people back to the Catholic Church.

History of Rococo Architecture

Rococo, sometimes called Late Baroque, was a style found in decorative arts, architecture, and fine arts. It emerged in France in the early 1700s, associated not with the church but with a monarch, namely King Louis XV. It represented a turn away from the heavy emotion and drama of Baroque architecture to a more lighthearted but still very decorative style. It grew out of the Baroque, but rejected the heavy, overly emotional elements of that style. If Baroque represented the power of the church, Rococo represented secular high fashion. However, while the focus was palaces and manor homes, Rococo was also used on some churches.

Rococo developed first in decorative arts and interiors and spread to architecture. It was used for special rooms like salons. Salons were spaces for entertaining visitors and guests and holding gatherings with the intelligentsia. Rococo was favored by French aristocrats, and it spread to places where growing aristocratic classes wanted to demonstrate how fashionable they were. It became popular across Europe in the 18th century, especially in places like Germany, Poland, and Russia. It declined in popularity in France by the late 1780s, but hung on longer in other places; in fact, some of the most fanciful examples of Rococo were built in Germany.

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