In arts, the Baroque (or baroque) is both a period
and the style that dominated it. Baroque style used exaggerated
motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension,
exuberance, and grandeur from sculpture, painting, literature, and
music. The style started around 1600 in Rome, Italy and spread to
most of Europe. In music, the Baroque applies to the final period
of dominance of imitative counterpoint.
(The name adapted a French adjective that is derived
from the Portuguese noun "barroco"; both described a pearl
of irregular shape. Some confusion can occur in using for the period
and style the lower-cased version "baroque", which can
instead mean merely "elaborate" (or especially "overly
elaborate") without implying connection to the period.)
The popularity and success of the "Baroque"
was encouraged by the Catholic Church when it decided that the drama
of the Baroque artists' style could communicate religious themes
in direct and emotional involvement. The secular aristocracy also
saw the dramatic style of Baroque architecture and art as a means
of impressing visitors and would-be competitors. Baroque palaces
are built round an entrance sequence of courts, anterooms, grand
staircases, and reception rooms of sequentially increasing magnificence.
Many forms of art, music, architecture, and literature inspired
each other in the "Baroque" cultural movement.
Evolution of the Baroque
The Baroque originated around 1600. The canon
promulgated at the Council of Trent (1545–63), by which the
Roman Catholic Church addressed the representational arts by demanding
that paintings and sculptures in church contexts should speak to
the illiterate rather than to the well-informed, is customarily
offered as an inspiration of the Baroque, which appeared, however,
a generation later. This turn toward a populist conception of the
function of ecclesiastical art is seen by many art historians as
driving the innovations of Caravaggio and the Carracci brothers,
all of whom were working (and competing for commissions) in Rome
The appeal of Baroque style turned consciously
from the witty, intellectual qualities of 16th century Mannerist
art to a visceral appeal aimed at the senses. It employed an iconography
that was direct, simple, obvious, and dramatic (see the Prometheus
sculpture below). Baroque art drew on certain broad and heroic tendencies
in Annibale Caracci and his circle, and found inspiration in other
artists like Correggio and Caravaggio and Federico Barocci, nowadays
sometimes termed 'proto-Baroque'.
Prometheus, by Nicolas-Sébastien Adam, 1737 (Louvre): a hectic
tour-de-force of violent contrasts of stress, multiple angles and
viewpoints, and extreme emotionGerminal ideas of the Baroque can
also be found in the work of Michelangelo.
Some general parallels in music make the expression
"Baroque music" useful: there are contrasting phrase lengths,
harmony and counterpoint have ousted polyphony, and orchestral color
makes a stronger appearance. See the entry Baroque music. Similar
fascination with simple, strong, dramatic expression in poetry,
where clear, broad syncopated rhythms replaced the enknotted elaborated
metaphysical similes employed by Mannerists such as John Donne and
imagery that was strongly influenced by visual developments in painting,
can be sensed in John Milton's Paradise Lost, a Baroque epic.
Though Baroque was superseded in many centers by
the Rococo style, beginning in France in the late 1720s, especially
for interiors, paintings and the decorative arts, Baroque architecture
remained a viable style until the advent of Neoclassicism in the
later 18th century. See the Neapolitan palace of Caserta, a Baroque
palace (though in a chaste exterior) that was not even begun until
1752. Critics have given up talking about a "Baroque period".
In paintings, Baroque gestures are broader than
Mannerist gestures: less ambiguous, less arcane and mysterious,
more like the stage gestures of opera, a major Baroque artform.
Baroque poses depend on contrapposto ("counterpoise"),
the tension within the figures that moves the planes of shoulders
and hips in counterdirections. See Benini's David (below, left).
Gian Lorenzo Bernini's David (1623–24): Baroque freeze-frame
stopped action, contrapposto and theatrical emotionThe dryer, chastened,
less dramatic and coloristic, later stages of 18th century Baroque
architectural style are often seen as a separate Late Baroque manifestation.
See the entry Claude Perrault. Academic characteristics in the neo-Palladian
architectural style, epitomized by William Kent, are a parallel
development in Britain and the British colonies: within doors, Kent's
furniture designs are vividly influenced by the Baroque furniture
of Rome and Genoa, hieratic tectonic sculptural elements meant never
to be moved from their positions completing the wall elevation.
Baroque is a style of unity imposed upon rich and massy detail.
The Baroque was defined by Heinrich Wölfflin
as the age where the oval replaced the circle as the center of composition,
that centralization replaced balance, and that coloristic and "painterly"
effects began to become more prominent. Art historians, often Protestant
ones, have traditionally emphasized that the Baroque style evolved
during a time in which the Roman Catholic Church had to react against
the many revolutionary cultural movements that produced a new science
and new forms of religion— Reformation. It has been said that
the monumental Baroque is a style that could give the Papacy, like
secular absolute monarchies, a formal, imposing way of expression
that could restore its prestige, at the point of becoming somehow
symbolic of the Catholic Reformation. Whether this is the case or
not, it was successfully developed in Rome, where Baroque architecture
widely renewed the central areas with perhaps the most important
Baroque visual art
Aeneas flees burning Troy, Federico Barocci, 1598: a moment caught
in a dramatic action from a classical source, bursting from the
picture plane in a sweeping diagonal perspective.Main article: Baroque
A defining statement of what Baroque signifies
in painting is provided by the series of paintings executed by Peter
Paul Rubens for Marie de Medici at the Luxembourg Palace in Paris
(now at the Louvre), in which a Catholic painter satisfied a Catholic
patron: Baroque-era conceptions of monarchy, iconography, handling
of paint, and compositions as well as the depiction of space and
movement. Another frequently cited work of Baroque art is Bernini's
"Saint Theresa in ecstasy" for the Cornaro chapel in S.
Maria della Vittoria, which brings together multiple arts, including
The later baroque style gives way gradually to Rococo. A comparison
with Rococo, will help define Baroque by contrast.
In Baroque sculpture, groups of figures assumed new importance,
and there was a dynamic movement and energy of human forms—
they spiralled around an empty central vortex, or reached outwards
into the surrounding space. For the first time, Baroque sculpture
often had multiple ideal viewing angles. The characteristic Baroque
sculpture added extra-sculptural elements, for example, concealed
lighting, or water fountains.
The architecture, sculpture and fountains of Bernini
(1598–1680) give highly-charged characteristics of Baroque
style. Bernini was undoubtedly the most important sculptor of the
Baroque period. He approached Michelangelo in his omnicompetence:
Bernini sculpted, worked as an architect, painted, wrote plays,
and staged spectacles. In the late 20th century Bernini was most
valued for his sculpture, both for his virtuosity in carving marble
and his ability to create figures that combine the physical and
the spiritual. He was also a fine sculptor of bust portraits in
high demand among the powerful.
Bernini's Cornaro chapel: the complete work of art
Bernini's St. Theresa in EcstacyA good example of Bernini's work
that helps us understand the Baroque is his St. Theresa in Ecstasy
(1645–52), created for the Cornaro Chapel of the church of
Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome. Bernini designed the entire chapel,
a subsidiary space along the side of the church, for the Cornaro
He had, in essence, a brick box shaped something
like a proscenium stage space with which to work. He created a main
statue as the focal point of the chapel, surrounded the monochromatic
marble statue (a soft white) with a polychromatic marble architectural
framing concealing a window to light the statue from above, and
placed shallow relief sculpture figure-groups of the Cornaro family
in opera boxes along the two side walls of the chapel. The setting
places the viewer as a spectator in front of the statue with the
Cornaro family leaning out of their box seats and craning forward
to see the mystical ecstasy of the saint. The statue of St. Theresa
of Avila is highly idealized in detail and in an imaginary setting.
St. Theresa of Avila, one of the most popular saints of the Catholic
Reformation, wrote narratives of her mystical experiences aimed
at the nuns of her Carmelite Order; these writings had become popular
reading among lay people interested in pursuing spirituality. She
once described the love of God as piercing her heart like a burning
arrow. Bernini literalizes this image by placing St. Theresa on
a cloud in a reclining pose; what can only be described as a Cupid
figure holds a golden arrow (the arrow is made of metal) and smiles
down at her. The angelic figure is not preparing to plunge the arrow
into her heart— rather, he has withdrawn it. St. Theresa's
face reflects not the anticipation of ecstasy, but her current fulfillment,
which can only be described as orgasmic.
The blending of religious and erotic was intensely
offensive to both neoclassical restraint and, later on, to Victorian
prudishness; it is part of the genius of the Baroque. Bernini, who
shows every sign in his writings of being a convinced and conventionally
devout Catholic, is not attempting to satirize the experience of
a virgin who lived a life of chastity, but rather reflects a complex
truth about religious experience— that it is an experience
that takes place in the body. Theresa described her bodily reaction
to spiritual enlightenment in a language of ecstasy used by many
mystics, and Bernini did her the favor of taking her seriously.
The Cornaro family promotes itself discreetly in
this chapel; they are represented visually, but are placed on the
sides of the chapel, witnessing the event from balconies. As in
an opera house, the Cornaro have a privileged position in respect
to the viewer, in their private reserve, closer to the saint; the
viewer, however, has a better view from the front. They attach their
name to the chapel, but St. Theresa is the focus. It is a private
chapel in the sense that no one could say mass on the altar beneath
the statue (in the 17th century and probably through the 19th) without
permission from the family, but the only thing that divides the
viewer from the image is the altar rail. The spectacle functions
both as a demonstration of mysticism and as a piece of family pride.
Ludwigsburg Palace near Stuttgart, Germany's largest Baroque Palace
Melk, WachauMain article: Baroque architecture
In Baroque architecture, new emphasis was placed
on bold massing, colonnades, domes, light-and-shade (chiaroscuro),
'painterly' color effects, and the bold play of volume and void.
In interiors, Baroque movement around and through a void informed
monumental staircases that had no parallel in previous architecture.
The other Baroque innovation in worldly interiors was the state
apartment, a processional sequence of increasingly rich interiors
that culminated in a presence chamber or throne room or a state
bedroom. The sequence of monumental stair followed by state apartment
was copied in smaller scale everywhere in aristocratic dwellings
of any pretensions.
Baroque architecture was taken up with enthusiasm
in central Germany (see e.g. Ludwigsburg Palace and Zwinger Dresden)
and Austria. In England the culmination of Baroque architecture
was embodied in work by Sir Christopher Wren, Sir John Vanbrugh
and Nicholas Hawksmoor, from ca. 1660 to ca. 1725. Many examples
of Baroque architecture and town planning are found in other European
towns, and in the Spanish Americas. Town planning of this period
featured radiating avenues intersecting in squares, which took cues
from Baroque garden plans.
For examples see: List of examples of typical Baroque
Paris Opera, Charles Garnier
Semper Oper (Dresden)
Baroque theater and dance
In theater, the elaborate conceits, multiplicity of plot turns,
and variety of situations characteristic of Mannerism (Shakespeare's
tragedies, for instance) are superseded by opera, which drew together
all the arts in a unified whole.
Dance was popular in the Baroque era.
Baroque literature and philosophy
Baroque actually expressed new values, which often are summarised
in the use of metaphor and allegory, widely found in Baroque literature,
and in the research for the "maraviglia" (wonder, astonishment
— as in Marinism), the use of artifices. If Mannerism was
a first breach with Renaissance, Baroque was an opposed language.
It represented the evidence of the crisis of Renaissance neoclassical
schemes— the psychological pain of Man, disbanded after the
Copernican and the Lutheran revolutions, in search of solid anchors,
in search of a proof of an ultimate human power, was to be found
in both the art and architecture of the Baroque period. A relevant
part of works was made on religious themes, since the Roman Church
was the main "customer."
Virtuosity was researched by artists (and the Virtuoso
became a common figure in any art,) together with realism and care
for details (some talk of a typical "intricacy.")
Not without a certain correctness, it is said that
the privilege given to external forms had to compensate and balance
the lack of contents that has been observed in many Baroque works:
Marino's "Maraviglia", for example, is practically made
of the pure, mere form. Fantasy and imagination should be evoked
in the spectator, in the reader, in the listener. All was focused
around the individual Man, as a straight relationship between the
artist, or directly the art and its user, its client. Art is then
less distant from user, more directly approaching him, solving the
cultural gap that used to keep art and user reciprocally far, by
Maraviglia. But the increased attention to the individual, also
created in these schemes some important genres like the Romanzo
(novel) and let popular or local forms of art, especially dialectal
literature, to be put into evidence. In Italy this movement toward
the single individual (that some define a "cultural descent",
while others indicate it was a possible cause for the classical
opposition to Baroque) caused Latin to be definitely replaced by
In English literature, the metaphysical poets represent
a closely related movement; their poetry likewise sought unusual
metaphors, which they then examined in often extensive detail. Their
verse also manifests a taste for paradox, and deliberately inventive
and unusual turns of phrase.
The term Baroque also is used to designate the
style of music composed during a period that overlaps with that
of Baroque art, but usually covers a slightly later period. J.S.
Bach and G.F. Handel are its leading lights; see Baroque music for
discussion. It is an interesting question to what extent Baroque
music shares aesthetic principles with the visual and literary arts
of the Baroque period. A fairly clear, shared element is a love
of ornamentation, and it is perhaps significant that the role of
ornament was greatly diminished in both music and architecture as
the Baroque gave way to the Classical period. It should be noted
that the application of the term to music is a relatively recent
development: the first use of the word to apply to music was only
in 1919, by Curt Sachs, and it was not until 1940 that it was first
used in English (in a published article by Manfred Bukofzer); even
as late as 1960 there was still considerable dispute in academic
circles over whether music as diverse as that by Peri, Couperin
and J.S. Bach could be meaningfully bundled together with a single
Examples of typical Baroque music
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), The Art of Fugue
Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741), L'Estro Armonico
Domenico Scarlatti (1685–1757), Sonatas for Cembalo or Harpsichord
Georg Friedrich Handel (1685–1759), Water Music Suite for
Georg Philipp Telemann (1681 - 1767), Der Tag des Gerichts The Day
of Judgement (1762)
The term "Baroque"
The word "Baroque", like most period or stylistic designations,
was invented by later critics rather than practitioners of the arts
in the 17th and early 18th centuries. It is a French translation
of the Portuguese word "Barroco" (meaning an irregular
pearl, or false jewel—notably, an ancient similar word, "Barlocco"
or "Brillocco", is used in Roman dialect for the same
meaning—and natural pearls that deviate from the usual, regular
forms so they do not have an axis of rotation are known as "baroque
pearls"). Alternatively, it may derive from the now obsolete
Italian "Baroco" (meaning, in logical Scholastica, a syllogism
with weak content). A common definition, before the term Barocco
was used, called this genre simply the style of The Flying Forms.
The term "Baroque" was initially used
with a derogatory meaning, to underline the excesses of its emphasis,
of its eccentric redundancy, its noisy abundance of details, as
opposed to the clearer and sober rationality of the Renaissance.
It was first rehabilitated by the Swiss-born art historian, Heinrich
Wölfflin (1864–1945) in his Renaissance und Barock (1888);
Wölfflin identified the Baroque as "movement imported
into mass," an art antithetic to Renaissance art. He did not
make the distinctions between Mannerism and Baroque that modern
writers do, and he ignored the later phase, the academic Baroque
that lasted into the 18th century. Writers in French and English
did not begin to treat Baroque as a respectable study until Wölfflin's
influence had made German scholarship pre-eminent.
In modern usage, the term "Baroque" may
still be used, usually pejoratively, to describe works of art, craft,
or design that are thought to have excessive ornamentation or complexity
of line, or, as a synonym for "Byzantine", to describe
literature, computer programs, contracts, or laws that are thought
to be excessively complex, indirect, or obscure in language, to
the extent of concealing or confusing their meaning. A "Baroque
fear" is deeply felt, but utterly beyond daily reality