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The Baroque Style

The Baroque style in Rome: discover churches, palaces and squares in the Baroque style. Guides and curiosities for all art lovers

Baroque is the term used by historians to describe a particular style found Italy and in Europe around the seventeenth century. Baroque refers to all forms of art such performance, literature, philosophy and music. There are different interpretations as to the origins of the word: In French the word baroque is registered in the dictionary of the Académie (1694) and is a type of pearl of irregular shape, not perfectly spherical. Almost a century later, in the Dictionnaire de Trevoux (1771) the term appears with the added meaning of "irregular ", "bizarre" or "uneven". In painting, for example, the Baroque style did not follow the rules of style and proportion.


Baroque in Rome appeared around the beginning of the seventeenth century and very quickly became the preferred style of the Catholic Church and the Monarchies, who wanted to build Baroque churches, monasteries and elaborate palaces.


Baroque developed at the end of Mannerism, from which it inherits some of the techniques which then led to Neoclassicism. The baroque style is simple but at the same time full of effects. The key features of Baroque architecture are curved lines, the sinuous, ellipses, spirals and curves to build multi-centered patterns, sometimes with patterns that intertwine with each other, so as to be almost indecipherable. One of the distinctive aspects of baroque style are the decorations, who along with painting, sculptures and the use of the stucco, gave life to great monuments.


Baroque art began to emerge from certain artists like Annibale Carracci and his circle, inspiring other artists like Correggio, Caravaggio and Federico Barocci, who were prime examples baroque style. Examples of Baroque art can also be found in work by Michelangelo Buonarroti. Pope Urban VIII and then Pope Alexander VII called upon the greatest artists of the time to renew Rome's city center so that the architecture would reflect its political prestige as a major European capital. In 1585, Pope Sixtus V began work on the urban transformation of Rome and commissioned Domenico Fontana to connect the main religious buildings of the city by main roads leading around the city. According to the baroque style, the main piazzas and buildings around the city were connected and decorated with apses, domes and egyptian obelisks.


In Rome, it was the squares around the city that first experienced the baroque influence and transformation.  The squares were the means of political ideology and religious exaltation, for example at the French Place Royale and St Peter's Square in Rome.

Among the baroque churches in Rome, we must mention the church of the Holy Name of Jesus, built by the architect Vignola. From this model, there derived a set of centrally planned churches; with longitudinal or elongated central plans, both types usually characterized by a longitudinal axis and the presence of a apex.
In residential housing, there were two kinds of nobility: the city palace and the country house.

With regard to civil architecture, Italian palaces remained faithful to the Renaissance style. A turning point in Roman architecture was Palazzo Barberini, which has an H floor plan, with a deep atrium that narrows as you reach the entrance to the courtyard.

At the end of the sixteenth century, Rome became the center of development of architecture linked to the Counter and exerted its influence throughout the Catholic world. The real signal of baroque style in Rome was by Giacomo Della Porta (1533-1602), who designed the facade of the church of Jesus in the last decades of the sixteenth century. The further restoration of the facade was carried out by the architect Maderno, who was also commissioned to extend a wing of St Peter's Basilica, in order to allow the church to accommodate a greater number of people. A new approach, based on the transformation of basic plans and layouts rather than the application of decorative elements, occurred with the emergence of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Francesco Borromini and Pietro da Cortona.


The famous “Baldacchino” by Bernini, also known as the canopy above the altar in St. Peter's Basilica, is a clear example of baroque art with its spiraling golden columns.  In 1658, Bernini also built the small church Saint Andrea at the Quirinale, which is characterized by a small dom and several chapels located along the perimeter. Borromini also did many restorations in the baroque style such as in the church of Saint Carlo at the Four Fountains, the church of Saint Ivo at Spaienza, and at the Basilica of Saint John in Lateran, where he incorporated large columns.    Among the churches with a longitudinal design in Rome, there is the church of Saint Andrea in the Valley which was originally designed by Della Porta in 1591 but later completed by Maderno.  This church has chapels on both sides and the nave is divided by 2 smaller domes called "pilastri" , which along with the central dome create a vertical prospective.

Carlo Rainaldi was another architect who redesigned the churches at the People's Square. The first was Santa Maria in Montesanto, which began in 1662 and was completed by Carlo Fontana (1638-1714).  The other church was Santa Maria dei Miracoli, and was completed by Bernini, who collaborated with Fontana. These two churches seem perfectly symmetrical and identical, though the differences are visible on the inside.  They do bring great symmetry to the square as they are located in the spaces between the "trident" streets of Via del Corso, Via di Ripetta and Via del Babuino.  In 1643, Gian Lorenzo Bernini built the The Triton Fountain, in Piazza Barberini.  Gian Lorenzo Bernini also designed the Montecitorio Palace, which began construction in 1650 and was completed by Carlo Fontana. Fontana stayed true to the original designed except for a few minor changed.


A clear example of Baroque influence in Rome is without a doubt, Piazza Navona, which was built on the ruins of the ancient stadium built by Domiziano. The beautiful Four Rivers Fountain is found at the centre of the square to represent : the Nile, the Danube, the Gange, and Rio de la Plata.

Saint Peter's Square is another baroque square in Rome, built under the direction of Gian Lorenzo Bernini between 1657 and 1667. The space was divided into a type of oval shape with 2 "wings"on either side with obelisks and took on a trapezoidal shape.  The piazza is encircled by large columns  in several rows.  The original plans also included a 3rd " arm", but was never built.



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