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The Baroque
Ecstasy of St. Teresa HDR.jpg
Wieskirche 1.2.jpg
Top: The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Bernini (1651); Bottom: The Wieskirche in Bavaria (1754)
Years active 17th–18th centuries

Baroque is a style in art. It was between the styles (or epochs) of Renaissance and Neoclassicism. This means it lasted from about 1575 to about 1770. At that time, there were absolutist monarchs in Europe. Baroque art is usually very playful and has many ornaments.

The movement started in Italy. It then spread to the Catholic countries in Europe. Finally, it also spread to the Protestant ones.

The word Baroque comes from Portuguese. There, barocco means something like strange. In Portuguese, it was first used for irregularly-shaped pearls. It was first used in France to mean works of art that did not follow the current trend. The baroque period was from 1600s to the 1750s. Famous composers in the baroque era were Alessandro Scarlatti and Handel.


The Baroque era is sometimes divided into three approximate phases for convenience:

  • Early Baroque, c. 1590 – c. 1625
  • High Baroque, c. 1625 – c. 1660
  • Late Baroque, c. 1660 – c. 1725

The term "Late Baroque" is also sometimes used synonymously with the succeeding Rococo movement.

Baroque Art


The Baroque style featured "exaggerated lighting, intense emotions, release from restraint, and even a kind of artistic sensationalism". Baroque art did not really depict the life style of the people at that time; however, "it was melodramatic and glorified both church and monarchy".

There were highly diverse strands of Italian baroque painting, from Caravaggio and Peter Paul Rubens to Cortona. The most prominent Spanish painter of the Baroque was Diego Velázquez.

Still-life, by Josefa de Óbidos, c. 1679, Santarém, Portugal, Municipal Library

Another frequently cited work of Baroque art is Bernini's Saint Theresa in Ecstasy for the Cornaro chapel in Saint Maria della Vittoria, which brings together architecture, sculpture.

The later Baroque style gradually gave way to a more decorative Rococo.


In Baroque sculpture, groups of figures assumed new importance and there was a dynamic movement and energy of human forms - they spiraled 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. Aleijadinho in Brazil was also one of the great names of baroque sculpture, and his master work is the set of statues of the Santuário de Bom Jesus de Matosinhos in Congonhas. The soapstone sculptures of old testament prophets around the terrace are considered amongst his finest work.

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.

Bernini's Cornaro chapel

Estasi di Santa Teresa
Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa

A good example of Bernini's Baroque work is his Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1645–52), created for the Cornaro Chapel of the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome. Bernini designed the entire chapel for the Cornaro family.

Saint Teresa, the focal point of the chapel, is a soft white marble statue surrounded by a polychromatic marble architectural framing. This structure conceals a window which lights the statue from above. Figure-groups of the Cornaro family sculpted in shallow relief inhabit opera boxes on 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.


Hauptaltar der St. John’s Co-Cathedral
The main altar of St. John's Co-Cathedral, Malta

In Baroque architecture, new emphasis was placed on bold massing, colonnades, domes, light-and-shade (chiaroscuro) and 'painterly' colour effects.

In interiors included monumental staircases that had no parallel in previous architecture. The other Baroque innovation in worldly interiors was the state apartment, a sequence of increasingly rich interiors that culminated in a presence chamber or throne room or a state bedroom. The sequence of monumental stairs followed by a state apartment was copied in smaller scale everywhere in aristocratic dwellings of any pretensions.

Baroque architecture was taken up with enthusiasm in central Germany (Ludwigsburg Palace and Zwinger, Dresden), Austria and Russia (Peterhof).

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 Latin America. Town planning of this period featured radiating avenues intersecting in squares, which took cues from Baroque garden plans.

In Sicily, Baroque developed new shapes and themes as in Noto, Ragusa and Acireale "Basilica di San Sebastiano".

Another example of Baroque architecture is the Cathedral of Morelia, in Michoacán, Mexico. Built in the 17th century by Vincenzo Barrochio, it is one of the many Baroque cathedrals in Mexico. Baroque churches built during the Spanish period are also seen in other former colonies of Spain.


Pietro Domenico Oliviero - The Royal Theater in Turin
18th-century painting of the Royal Theatre of Turin

Theatre evolved in the Baroque era and became a multimedia experience. In fact, much of the technology used in current Broadway or commercial plays was invented and developed during this era. The stage could change from a romantic garden to the interior of a palace in a matter of seconds. The entire space became a framed selected area that only allows the users to see a specific action, hiding all the machinery and technology – mostly ropes and pulleys.

Gods were finally able to come down – literally – from the heavens and rescue the hero in the most extreme and dangerous, even absurd situations.

The term Theatrum Mundi – the world is a stage – was also created.


The influence of the Renaissance was also very late in England. There was an 18-year break when the London theatres were closed during the English Civil War and English Commonwealth until the Restoration of Charles II in 1660.


German theatre in the 17th century lacked major contributions. The best known playwright was Andreas Gryphius, who used the Jesuit model of the Dutch Joost van den Vondel and Pierre Corneille. There was also Johannes Velten who combined the traditions of the English comedians and the commedia del'arte with the classic theatre of Corneille and Molière. His touring company was perhaps the most significant and important of the 17th century.


The Baroque had a Catholic and conservative character in Spain, following an Italian literary models during the Renaissance.


The most important English authors of the 17th century were playwright William Shakespeare and epic poet John Milton.

In France it was a brilliant period known as Grand Siècle. Molière, Pierre Corneille and Jean Racine wrote famous plays while Jean de La Fontaine and Charles Perrault – fables.

Baroque was the greatest era in the history of Spanish literature which is called Siglo de Oro with playwrights Pedro Calderon de la Barca and Lope de Vega, poet Juana Inés de la Cruz as well as Miguel de Cervantes who is regarded as the first novelist.


René Descartes, John Locke, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Baruch Spinoza, Thomas Hobbes, Francis Bacon, Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton are the most appreciated thinkers of the 17th century. This period was characterised by mixing new ideas with religious tradition. Neostoicism of Justus Lipsius, scholasticism of Francisco Suárez and casuistry of Jesuits were predominant.


The term Baroque is also used to designate the style of music composed during a period that overlaps with that of Baroque art, but usually encompasses a slightly later period.

Many musical forms were born in that era, like the concerto and sinfonia. Forms such as the sonata, cantata and oratorio flourished. Also, opera was born out of the experimentation of the Florentine Camerata, the creators of monody, who attempted to recreate the theatrical arts of the Ancient Greeks. An important technique used in baroque music was the use of ground bass, a repeated bass line. Dido's Lament by Henry Purcell is a famous example of this technique.

Composers and examples

Baroque fashion

Portrait of Suzanna Doublet-Huygens by Caspar Netscher
Susanna Huygens wore a long, tight white satin bodice with paned sleeves lined in pink and a matching petticoat. Her hair is worn in a mass of tight curls, and she wears pearl eardrops and a pearl necklace. 1667–69.

Baroque fasion started around 1650 and it was characterised by decorative clothings which was big and flashy with fancy lace necklines, virago sleeves and large volumous hair and wigs.

It was to show wealth and status, so lower classes usually didn't follow this fashion.

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