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Definition: What is Baroque Art?

In fine art, the term Baroque (derived from the Portuguese 'barocco' meaning, 'irregular pearl or
stone') describes a fairly complex idiom, originating in Rome, which flowered during the period
c.1590-1720, and which embraced painting, and sculpture as well as architecture. After the
idealism of the Renaissance (c.1400-1530), and the slightly 'forced' nature of Mannerism
(c.1530-1600),Baroque art above all reflected the religious tensions of the age - notably the
desire of the Catholic Church in Rome (as annunciated at the Council of Trent, 1545-63) to
reassert itself in the wake of the Protestant Reformation. Many Catholic Emperors and monarchs
across Europe had an important stake in the Catholic Church's success, hence a large number of
architectural designs, paintings and sculptures were commissioned by the Royal Courts of Spain,
France, and elsewhere, in order to glorify their own divine grandeur, and in the process
strengthen their political position. By comparison, Baroque art in Protestant areas like Holland
had far less religious content, and instead was designed essentially to appeal to the growing
aspirations and financial strength of the merchant and middle classes

Styles/Types of Baroque Art

In order to fulfill its propagandist role, Catholic-inspired Baroque art tended to be large-scale
works of public art, such as monumental wall-paintings and huge frescoes for the ceilings and
vaults of palaces and churches. Baroque painting illustrated key elements of Catholic dogma,
either directly in Biblical works or indirectly in mythological or allegorical compositions. Along
with this monumental, high-minded approach, painters typically portrayed a strong sense of
movement, using swirling spirals and upward diagonals, and strong sumptuous colour schemes,
in order to dazzle and surprise. New techniques of tenebrism and chiaroscuro (1) were
developed to enhance atmosphere. Brushwork is creamy and broad, often resulting in

thick impasto. Baroque sculpture, typically larger-than-life size, is marked by a similar sense of
dynamic movement, along with an active use of space.

Baroque architecture was designed to create spectacle and illusion. Thus the straight lines of the
Renaissance were replaced with flowing curves, while domes/roofs were enlarged, and interiors
carefully constructed to produce spectacular effects of light and shade. It was an emotional style,
which, wherever possible, exploited the theatrical potential of the urban landscape - as illustrated
by St Peter's Square (1656-67) in Rome, leading up to St Peter's Basilica. Its architect, Bernini,
ringed the square with colonnades, to convey the impression to visitors that they are being
embraced by the arms of the Catholic Church.

As is evident, although most of the architecture, painting and sculpture produced during the 17th
century is known as Baroque, it is by no means a monolithic style. There are at least three
different strands of Baroque, as follows:

(1) Religious Grandeur

A triumphant, extravagant, almost theatrical (and at times) melodramatic style of religious art,
commissioned by the Catholic Counter Reformation and the courts of the absolute monarchies of
Europe. This type of Baroque art is exemplified by the bold visionary sculpture and architecture
of Bernini (1598-1680), and by the large-scale grandiose set-piece paintings of the Flemish
master Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640).

(2) Greater Realism

A new more life-like or naturalist style of figurative composition. This new approach was
championed by Michelangelo Merisi da Carravaggio (1571-1610), Diego Rodriguez de Silva
y Velazquez (1599-1660) and Annibale Carracci (1560-1609). The boldness and physical
presence of Caravaggio's figures, the life-like approach to religious painting adopted by
Velazquez, and a new form of movement and exuberance pioneered by Annibale Carracci - all
these elements were part of the new and dynamic style known as Baroque.

(3) Easel Art

Unlike the large-scale, public, religious works of Baroque artists in Catholic countries, Baroque
art in Protestant Holland (often referred to as the Dutch Golden Age) was exemplified by a new
type of easel-art - a glossy form of genre-painting (2)- aimed at the prosperous bourgeois
householder. This new Dutch Realist School of genre painting also led to enhanced realism in
portrait art and landscape painting, flower pictures, animal compositions and, in particular, to
new forms of still life painting(2), including vanitas religious works. Different towns and areas
had their own 'schools' or styles, such as Utrecht, Delft, Leiden, Amsterdam, Haarlem and

In addition, to complicate matters further, Rome - the very centre of the movement - was also
home to a "classical" style, as exemplified in the paintings of the history painter Nicolas
Poussin (1594-1665) and the Arcadian landscape artist Claude Lorrain (1600-82).

History of Baroque Art

Following the pronouncements made by the Council of Trent on how art might serve religion,
together with the upsurge in confidence in the Roman Catholic Church, it became clear that a
new style of art was necessary in order to support the Catholic Counter Reformation and fully
convey the miracles and sufferings of the Saints to the congregation of Europe. This style had to
be more forceful, more emotional and imbued with a greater realism. Strongly influenced by the
views of the Jesuits (the Baroque is sometimes referred to as 'the Jesuit Style'), architecture,
painting and sculpture were to work together to create a unified effect. The initial impetus came
from the arrival in Rome during the 1590s of Annibale Carracci and Carravaggio (1571-1610).
Their presence sparked a new interest in realism as well as antique forms, both of which were
taken up and developed (in sculpture) by Alessandro Algardi (in sculpture) and Bernini (in
sculpture and architecture). Peter Paul Rubens, who remained in Rome until 1608, was the only
great Catholic painter in the Baroque idiom, although Rembrandt and other Dutch artists were
influenced by both Caravaggism and Bernini. France had its own (more secular) relationship
with the Baroque, which was closest in architecture, notably the Palace of Versailles. Spain and
Portugal embraced it more enthusiastically, as did the Catholic areas of Germany, Austria,
Hungary and the Spanish Netherlands. The culmination of the movement was the High
Baroque (c.1625-75), while the apogee of the movement's grandiosity was marked by the

phenomenal quadratura known as Allegory of the Missionary Work of the Jesuits (1688-94, S.
Ignazio, Rome), by the illusionist ceiling painter Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709).

The developments of Baroque art outside Italy are Flemish Baroque (c.1600-80), Dutch
Baroque (c.1600-80) and Spanish Baroque (1600-1700).

Flemish Baroque Painting

The story of Baroque art in Flanders during the 17th century reflects the gradual decline of the
country itself. Occupying the southern part of the Low Countries or Netherlands, it was ruled -
along with the northern part of the Low Countries, known as Holland - by the unpopular Spanish
Hapsburgs, who had taken over from the French Dukes of Burgundy. Its once powerful
commercial and cultural centres, such as Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp, were weakened by
religious and political disputes between the Catholic Hapsburg authorities and Protestant Dutch
merchants. Thus as Dutch Baroque art flourished as never before, Flemish Baroque depended on
a handful of artists, mostly active in Antwerp During the 15th century - the early days of the
Italian Renaissance - Flemish painters had exported the technique of oil painting to artists in
Florence, Rome and Venice. Now, at the beginning of the 17th century, with the spread of Italian
Caravaggism, Flemish painters combined their own tradition with the tenebrist tradition arriving
from Italy. This development was exemplified by the Antwerp artist Rubens (1577-1640). Since
the High Renaissance, Flemish painting had been in transition between Northern and Italian
influences; it was Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) who made the first real attempt to digest,
absorb and fuse the two schools, creating a new style, which was to have a powerful impact on
all painting north of the Alps.

Peter Paul Rubens

His style of Baroque painting was vigorous, confident, sensual, decorative, theatrical,
energetically magnificent. It is not without significance that when the young Rubens - the
promising painter from Antwerp - arrived to study in Italy (where he remained for eight years) he
devoted most attention to the Venetians, the most colourful and decorative Italian school. When
he returned to his native city he opened a workshop where he was soon employing two hundred
assistants, many of whom were outstanding painters, each with his own speciality: the painting
of animals, of fabrics, of still life, and so on. He himself specialized in the human body - notably
female nudes - which he depicted with an abundance of rosy flesh, with broad, strong gestures a
continuous play of curves each one drawing the eye to another, the sum of which determined the
general scheme of the painting - as a lozenge, a circle, an S, and so on. These robust figures, who
move as expansively as though they were on a stage, are the immediately recognizable feature of
his art, an art which is joyous, robust, and almost unbelievably prolific.

After 1611, Rubens set foot on the first steps of the 'High Baroque', to become its chief
representative in northern Europe. His religious art and other forms of history painting had
already placed him at the head of the Catholic Baroque; he now achieved a consistency and
comprehensiveness which have made his pictures known to all the world. A period of
incomparable fertility followed: with his delight in portraiture, he immortalized his relatives, his
brother, his children, and four years after the death of his first wife, in 1626, he was painting the
young and lovely Helene Fourmont, whom he married when he was 53. Her grace and youth
endowed him with a new springtide, and he was never weary of recording her beauty. The time
came when he could not, unaided, carry out all the commissions he received. They were a
challenge to his powers of organization, for with all his overflowing vitality, he knew how to
husband his energies and to exploit them to the full, and he had soon established a large
workshop in which selected pupils and assistants carried out his ideas. At least two thousand
pictures were produced in this way. All Flemish painting was influenced by this prodigious
artistic patriarch. None of its practitioners, however, came near rivalling the master: some
devoted themselves to one aspect of his work, others to another.

Anthony Van Dyck

Of all Rubens' pupils, none became so famous or so independent as Anthony van Dyck (1599-
1641). In Antwerp, after Rubens had begun his diplomatic career, Van Dyck was the undisputed
master, but the many religious paintings of this early period are not among his best; they are
obviously influenced by Rubens, and also by Titian and the Bolognese school, boldly painted
compositions in which the unbridled energy of Rubens is tempered by a fastidious elegance,
which never deserted Van Dyck, and is best of all displayed in his portrait art, even though these
works were produced with mechanical regularity.
Many of them are fluently painted, with a skilful and easy technique, in which white, black and
grey are predominant, as though the master were fastidiously avoiding the garishness of colour.
His sense of harmony led him toward a solution in which grey united all colours in itself. With
Flemish thoroughness he painted lace collars, ruffs, chains and jewels, without the pedantic
uniformity shown by so many of his contemporaries. The majority of his subjects were
aristocrats, who, in their sumptuous garments and their dignified, and indeed often arrogant
bearing, could only gain by the grace and refinement of Van Dyck's treatment. With fastidious
refinement he shrinks from all that is not ornamental, or elegant, or beautiful, and in his Biblical
scenes his shepherds and malefactors are dressed like gentlefolk and bear themselves

In 1630 Van Dyck was appointed court painter to the Princess of Orange, and also to the King of
England, by whom in 1632 he was knighted; he had now reached the zenith of fame and
prosperity. Everyone wanted to be painted by Van Dyck, who was one of the first fashionable
portrait-painters, able to give an appearance of refined elegance to subjects who lacked those
qualities: for example, the courtly and handsome figure of Charles I, as he exists today in our
imaginations, owes a great deal to Van Dyck. When portrayed by other painters, with more
honesty and less skill, Charles becomes a very different, and less appealing, figure.

Flemish Genre Painting and Still Lifes

Antwerp was the main centre of Baroque art in Catholic Flanders. Here, in addition to Rubens,
practised Adriaen Brouwer (1605-38), known for his genre-painting - especially his tavern
scenes. Other Flemish Old Masters included David Teniers the Younger (1610-90), best known
for his guardroom scenes; and Frans Snyders (1579-1657), the animalier and still life painter.

Dutch Golden Age of Painting

During the era of Baroque art, the United Provinces, of which Holland was one, occupied the
northern part of the Low Countries. Less developed than Flanders, perhaps they had once been
the poor relations of the Flemings, but in the seventeenth century the nation was rich, proud, and
expanding in influence. In fact it became one of the wealthiest nations in 17th century Europe. It
was also addicted to painting: during the period 1600-80, more than 4 million paintings were
produced in Holland - far more than the number produced by artists of the Flemish Baroque -
and every sort of person indulged their own appreciation of fine art painting; artisans, merchants,
burghers, sailors, shop-keepers - all knew, or prided themselves on knowing, something about it.

The sort of Baroque painting they admired and which they commissioned from their artists were
however different from Italian paintings, different even from those of Rubens. The Dutch, being
Protestants, had banished religious painting, which was almost the only kind known in Catholic
countries. Once they had gained their independence, they expressed their contentment in the
enjoyment of the good things of life: fine, solid houses, convivial company, clothes of high
quality. They were, in short, bourgeois, and they wanted pictures that reflected the contentment
of bourgeois prosperity: portraits, interiors, genre-paintings (scenes of everyday life) and
affluent looking still lifes, painted on canvases of moderate size, to hang in ordinary houses.

This was the beginning of the Dutch Golden Age (c.1610-80), during which the Dutch School of
Realism established itself as one of the greatest ever movements of oil painting in the history of
art. Works by its leading members - such as Rembrandt and Vermeer - represent the summit of
human creative achievement and command multi-million dollar prices at auction. The school
also set standards in the categories of still life and genre painting, which have hardly been
equalled, far less exceeded.

Dutch Baroque Portraiture

Frans Hals (1580-1666) was the first great exponent of portrait art of the Dutch Baroque school:
the first to shake off the dominant Italian classical approach to portraiture, in favour of a more
realistic style. A style in which his sharp eye for observation and lively power of expression
could conjure up a suitably unique composition. Hals painted what his customers wanted, and in
prosperous, bourgeois Holland, the new middle class patron wanted above all to see himself in
oils. Portraiture was after all the photography of the day, except better, because a painter can
flatter the sitter better than any camera. It was this genre that Hals mastered. In his brimming
vitality, for all his poverty and debt, he could always console himself by painting the portrait of a

jolly fool - capturing the sitter not in the brilliance of a finished portrait, such as Rubens had
taught people to expect, but by a new picturesque improvisation, owing its charm to its easy,
loose, brushwork - a style appreciated above all by the 19th century Impressionists.


Where Hals specialised in capturing the unique exterior of a subject, Rembrandt (1606-69)
looked for the inner reality. To put it another way, while the Flemish Baroque painter Rubens
personified the exuberant, theatrical, courtly side of Baroque art, Rembrandt represented its
tormented, dramatic, introverted aspect. He was the heir to Caravaggio; and he made this
inheritance the nucleus of an incomparable achievement. It was Rembrandt who gave a new
spirituality to the realistic art of Holland. He kept the methods of realism, but gave them a
hitherto unknown, translucent luminosity. Above all, he went below the surface of his human
subjects and exposed some of their inner character and soul beneath.

One of his first great portrait masterpieces was actually a group portrait, a type which was
especially characteristic of the country and the time. During the wars with Spain, many
companies of volunteer soldiers had been formed - we should perhaps call them militia
companies. After the Dutch victory their members had not gone their separate ways but
continued to meet; and each of these companies wanted a group portrait to show their members
gathered together. Usually these canvases were of greater width than height, and showed the
officers of the company grouped around a table or some other object that would serve as a
pretext for a gathering of so many men. The lighting was depicted as natural, without any
dramatic contrast, giving the same emphasis to each of the subjects.

Rembrandt's portrait - highly controversial at the time - is actually entitled The Company of
Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch but is more commonly known as The Night
Watch (1642), because of the dark background from which its figures emerge, partially or wholly
illuminated by patches of light. But it is not a night scene: the darkness is a technique of
caravaggism known as tenebrism, involving the contrast of dark shadow with areas of strong
light - a technique which had not been seen before in group portraiture. Contrary to convention,
the militia officers do not all have the same importance but are presented in strictly hierarchical

order. The captain of the company and his lieutenant are seen in strong light in the centre with
the others around them, only their heads emerging from the shadow. Such an approach signified
the beginning of an interest in the use of light to observe a single figure, or sometimes only a
face. To see how conventional Dutch painters approached this type of group portraiture, see
Company of Captain Reinier Reael (Meagre Company) (1637) by Frans Hals.

Caravaggesque methods are also evident in Rembrandt's single portraits, in which the shadows
can be even darker and invade almost the entire canvas. The light falls from one side of the
subject, illuminates the face, dramatizes every wrinkle. Sometimes it also strikes a secondary
subject - a book, a table, or other object. The rest is an area of darkness whose purpose is to
throw into relief those parts that are minutely scrutinized. One of the best examples is Bathsheba
(1654), along with many of Rembrandt's self portraits.

Dutch Baroque Genre Painting

To cater for the rising demand among the bourgeoisie for easel art, notably genre painting, a
number of artistic movements sprang up in towns like Haarlem, Delft, Leiden, Utrecht,
Dordrecht and Amsterdam. The Haarlem school was represented by Adriaen van Ostade
(1610-85) (lowlife peasant scenes), and the Catholic Jan Steen (1626-79) (moralising tavern
scenes); while Leonard Bramer (1596-1667), Pieter de Hooch (1629-83) and the incomparable
Jan Vermeer (1632-75), represented the Delft school. Utrecht had Hendrik Terbrugghen (1588-
1629), and Gerrit van Honthorst (1590-1656), both strongly influenced by Caravaggio, while the
Leiden school's most famous member was Rembrandt's first pupil Gerrit Dou (1613-75), known
for his small, colourful, polished works. The Dordrecht school was represented by the "interiors"
painter Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-78) and Nicolaes Maes (1634-93), noted for his kitch
genre-paintings and chiaroscuro effect; while the Amsterdam school consisted of Rembrandt, his
pupils Govaert Flinck (1615-60), Ferdinand Bol (1616-80), and the talented Carel Fabritius
(1622-54) who perished in a gunpowder explosion, as well as Gerard Terborch (1617-81), and
Gabriel Metsu (1629-67), noted for his intimate small-scale genre works.

Special mention should be made of Jan Vermeer of Delft, who in his only self-portrait, if it is
really anything of the kind, symbolically turns his back on the observer, as if to remain

completely concealed within his world. Only from his portraits of elegant women do we realize
how little is known of him - the poverty-stricken father of eleven children - who hardly ever left
his native city, where he ate his heart out in longing for the aristocratic life; who languished in
obscurity for centuries before being acclaimed as one of the all time greats.

Dutch Baroque Still Life Painting

It was in the Baroque period too that a type of picture was developed that was to remain
successful up to our own time - the 'still life painting', a picture offering an arrangement of
flowers, of more or less inanimate objects of one kind or another, generally painted in the studio,
that is to say indoors. Of course paintings of this kind had certainly been made earlier, but now
they constituted a true genre, with practitioners in every country and in every school of painting.
Again the innovator who had founded this kind of painting was Caravaggio, who indeed began
his artistic career in this type of work. Not unnaturally, however, the genre reached its highest
development in the Netherlands, where there was already a precursor, if not a tradition, of
realistic, domestic, straightforward painting carefully attentive to the detail of everyday life,
which had been produced there from as early as the fifteenth century.

The tradition of still life art was developed by a number of exceptional painters who included:
Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606-84) a member of Utrecht school; Willem Kalf (1619-93) the
Amsterdam painter of pronkstilleven/vanitas paintings; and Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750) the
Amsterdam flower painter, arguably the greatest still life artist of the Late Baroque.

Dutch Baroque Landscape Painting

Coinciding with the classical Arcadian landscapes of Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin,
working in Rome, the Dutch school began to produce great examples of Baroque landscape
painting, of which the finest works were created by Jacob van Ruisdael (c.1628-82) and his pupil
Meindert Hobbema (1638-1703); other top artists included Philips de Koninck (1619-88) who

specialized in large-size panoramic views; and Aelbert Cuyp (1620-91) noted for his soft light
and impastoed highlights. Other Baroque landscape painters included: Hendrik Avercamp (1585-
1634) who excelled at winter scenes; Cornelis van Poelenberg (1586-1667) who painted
Italianate scenes; the naturalist pioneer Esaias van de Velde (1591-1630) and his pupil Jan van
Goyen (1596-1656) who produced repetitive views of the Nijmegen River, Dordrecht, sand
dunes, and ships; and Salomon van Ruysdael (1600-70) famous for his typical Dutch views and

Dutch Baroque realist painters who specialised in other genres included the Haarlem-based
architectural painter Pieter Jansz Saenredam (1597-1665), the peerless animal painter Paulus
Potter (1625-54), and marine artist Willem van de Velde (1633-1707) from Leiden.

The Golden Age of Spanish Painting

As in the Netherlands, the 17th century era of Baroque art was the Golden Age of Spanish
painting. Freed of most Italian elements, and sponsored by an uncompromising Catholic Church
- strongly supported by devout Hapsburg Emperors - Spanish Baroque artists adopted a severe
and noble style which combined line and colour as well as the graphic and the pictorial, and
involved such an acute sense of observation that no other age or style has been able to equal it in
truthfulness. It was the Spanish school, in concert with masters of the Dutch Baroque in Holland,
that effectively guided European painting along the path of naturalistic realism.

Like Flemish and Dutch artists Spanish Baroque painters - especially Ribera - were also strongly
influenced by Caravaggio's use of light, and employed copious tenebrism and chiaroscuro,
though not for the sake of a theatrical aestheticism, but rather to create a more urgent sense of
drama. Among their ranks they included several masters of genre painting, of portraiture, of
religious scenes, for example Murillo, and they included such outstanding interpreters of the
asceticism and spirituality of Spanish culture as Zurbaran. And of course there was the
incomparable Velazquez.

In terms of subject, religious art continued to predominate, but Catholic Hapsburg patronage also
financed numerous royal portraits, as well as paintings of historical events and genre scenes. The

main schools of Baroque painting in Spain were those of Madrid and Seville, the former
enjoying the patronage of the court. Other schools operated in Valencia and Toledo.

Early Spanish Baroque

An early representative of the new Spanish realism was the Catalan Francisco Ribalta (1555-
1628), who trained in Toledo, and worked in Madrid and Valencia. Noted for his bold, loose
brushwork, he emphasized the sculptural modeling of his forms by contrasting light and shade.
Zurbaran was among the artists who was influenced by him.


Based in far-flung Naples, Jusepe Ribera (1591-1652) was the first major Spanish painter to
adopt the new naturalist style. He became noted for highly realistic modeling, notably the flesh
tints of his saints, as well as a strong preference for dramatic themes, as illustrated in his St
Andrew (1630-32, Prado, Madrid), and his Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew (1630, Prado).
Ribera's style progressed from an early emphasis on caravaggism, through a period of
experiment with a silvery light, to a mature stage marked by warm, golden tones. One of his
most beautiful paintings is The Holy Family with St Catherine (1648, Metropolitan Museum of
Art, New York).

El Greco

In Seville, painting evolved rapidly from Renaissance classicism to the naturalism of the
Baroque, as exemplified in works by Francisco Pacheco (1564-1644), Juan de las Roelas
(1560-1625), and Francisco de Herrera the Elder (1595-1656). In Toledo, at the turn of the
century, the dominant influence was El Greco (1541-1614). His closest follower was the
eminent painter Luis Tristan (1585-1624), who stressed the Tenebrist aspects of El Greco's
work. Other Toledan painters included Pedro Orrente (1570-1645), a follower of Ribalta, Fray
Juan Bautista Maino (1578-1649), who became the drawing master of Philip IV, and Fray
Juan Sanchez-Cotan (1560-1627).


The summit of Baroque painting in Spain was attained in the person of Diego Velazquez (1599-
1660). For Velazquez the manner of Caravaggio was only a starting-point. In his paintings light
is manipulated to reconstruct an 'optical realism' by means of the effects of different tonalities: in
other words, the reproduction of reality which is not faithful to the hairs of a beard or the texture
of a fabric in the manner sought by the painters of the Renaissance, but to what the eye actually
sees, the general impression we receive when looking at something. In Velazquez's paintings
light is used as painters of two centuries earlier had used perspective, to make space tangible.
Areas of light and shadow are alternated to create the illusion of a place in which the figures are
not painted but actually 'are'. These figures are painted with broad, supple strokes of the brush to
delineate them clearly without entering upon realistic detail. It was the same technique that was
to be used in the nineteenth century by the French Impressionists - a similarity that is not
fortuitous: Velazquez too seemed indifferent to the content of what he was painting, to the great
religious themes, for example, which had such importance for his contemporaries. Instead, his
whole attention was concentrated on painting, on his craft.

Noted for his drawing from life, even his earliest works are characterized by their dense impasto,
restrained colour, usually ochres and browns, and their simple natural composition. Old Woman
Frying Eggs (1618, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh), Christ in the House of Mary and
Martha (1620, National Gallery, London), and The Supper at Emmaus (1620, Metropolitan
Museum of Art, New York), all belong to his early period, as do a number of portraits, mostly
executed in a limited Tenebrist manner, without conceding exaggerated importance to contrasts
between dark and light.

In 1623, Velazquez became official portraitist to Philip IV and the higher nobility. Between 1623
and 1629 he completed a number of works with grey backgrounds, revealing his liberation from
the Tenebrist formula. The Triumph of Bacchus (Los Borrachos, The Topers) (1629, Prado) dates
from this period. In 1632, he produced Christ on the Cross (1632, Prado) a work of particular
serenity and simplicity.

As his art improved even further, he revealed greater precision of outline, along with an even
more subtle blending of tones and colour. One of his great masterpieces at this time is The
Surrender of Breda (Las Lanzas) (1634-35, Prado) for the Hall of the Kings in the palace of
Buen Retiro, Madrid. During the next few years Velazquez focused largely on portrait art - see
his Philip IV on Horseback (1634-35, Prado) and Prince Baltasar Carlos on Horseback (1635-
36, Prado) - and subject paintings such as The Dwarf Francisco Lezcano ("El Nino de Vallecas")
(1643-45, Prado). He also executed several religious works including the magnificent
Coronation of the Virgin (1645, Prado). On a trip to Italy, in 1649, he painted his masterpiece
Portrait of Innocent X (1650, Galleria Doria-Pamphilj, Rome), while during his final period
(1651-1660), he painted Venus at her Mirror (The Rokeby Venus) (1649-51, National Gallery,
London) and Las Meninas or The Family of Philip IV (1656-57, Prado).

If we briefly compare Velazquez' Rokeby Venus with similar paintings of the High Renaissance,
we see how much the artistic perception of reality had changed in the course of century. In the
"Rokeby Venus" Beauty nonchalantly turns her back upon the observer, while Cupid holds up a
mirror before her. The mirror was already a familiar trick, often used in Roman Baroque villas
and palaces to give an impression of spaciousness. Its ambiguous lighting and refraction increase
the picturesque effect of the device. Instead of the marble calm of (say) Giorgione's classic
Sleeping Venus (c.1510), or Titian's Venus of Urbino (1538), the Rokeby Venus presents us with
a charming, but entirely human and un-divine, study of the nude. To this extent Velasquez was
the child of his period, the Baroque

Not surprisingly, Velazquez proved a difficult act to follow. Aside from followers like Juan de
Pareja (1610-70), Francisco de Palacios (1617-76), and Juan Bautista Martinez del Mazo
(1615-67), the painters of the Madrid school opted for the easier Rubens-style Baroque.


Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664), an amalgam of Estremaduran asceticism and Andalusian

elegance, employed a naturalism and extreme chiaroscuro that made him the most restrained and
purest of the artists of the Spanish Baroque. During his 20s and 30s he painted a series of
compositions for several of the monastic orders such as the Mercedarians and the Jeronymites, as
exemplified by The House of Nazareth (1630, Museum of Art, Cleveland). In the process he
became a master-drawer of solitary figures, including saints with their eyes raised to heaven. No
doubt his art must have benefited enormously from his personal piety and religious devotion, as
perhaps illustrated by Saint Luke as a Painter before Christ on the Cross (1660, Prado) for which
perhaps he himself was the model.


Within the Seville school, Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1618-1682) represents the height of
elegance and delicacy, and, it must be said, the greatest surrender to popular sentiment. Heavily
influenced initially by Old Masters such as Ribera and Zurbaran, he later borrowed from Van
Dyck, Rubens and Raphael. He developed his own light and filmy style - the estilo vaporiso -
featuring soft contours, delicately toned colours, and a golden-to-silver veil of light: a style
which inspired a host of imitators and followers. As well as religious works he specialized in
genre-painting of street urchins and beggars, as exemplified by The Young Beggar (1645, Louvre
Museum, Paris), and Boys Eating Grapes and Melon (1645-46, Alte Pinakothek, Munich).
Another important early work is Angels' Kitchen (1646, Louvre, Paris). From 1660, when he co-
founded the Seville Academy of Fine Art, he was active as a teacher. An example of his late
work is The Immaculate Conception (1678, Prado).

Juan de Valdes Leal

After the death of Murillo, the foremost painter in Seville was Juan de Valdes Leal (1622-
1690). Although, like Murillo, he was largely a religious painter, Valdes Leal was more
dramatic, more theatrical, more macabre, and more excitable: his works show a vivid sense of
movement and brilliant colouring. In many ways he was a forerunner of Romanticism. His most
famous works are the two allegories of death in the Hospital de la Caridad, in Seville - In the
Twinkling of An Eye (1671), and The End of Worldly Glory (1672). Other major works include
Assumption of the Virgin (1659, National Gallery of Art, Washington) and Christ Bearing the
Cross (1660, Hispanic Society, New York). In his final years, Valdes Leal completed numerous
cycles of paintings for churches, monasteries, and philanthropic institutions - including a series
of scenes illustrating the life of St. Ignatius (1674-1676), for the Jesuits.

During the 17th century, the Spanish Baroque in Madrid was driven by Velazquez and by the
versatile sculptor, painter and architect Alonso Cano (1601-67) - nicknamed "the Spanish
Michelangelo". ( also the sculptor Juan Martines Montanes (1568-1649)) Other interesting
exponents of the Baroque idiom in Madrid include: the monumentalist Fray Juan Ricci (1600-
1681), son of a Bolognese painter who came to Spain to work on the decoration of the Escorial,
and Antonio Pereda (1608-1678), creator of several elegant religious paintings and allegorical
compositions. Of a higher quality is the work of the portraitist Juan Carreno de Miranda
(1614-1685), official painter to Charles II, who succeeded Philip IV. His pupil Mateo Cerezo
(1626-1666), was a particularly talented colourist, as was Jose Antolinez (1635-1675).

llusionist Architectural Murals and Ceiling Paintings

It is appropriate to begin an account of Baroque painting with its favourite genre and
characteristic function: the illusionist decoration of the walls of an interior. Obviously the idea of
using a wall to display a painted scene was as old as art; what was new, or almost new, was the
use made of this technique by Baroque artists. On the walls, and more especially on the ceilings,
of churches and palaces they painted vast, busy scenes, which tend to produce upon the spectator
the impression that the walls or ceiling no longer exist, or at least that they open out in an
exciting way. This, too was not essentially new: such experiments had been made during the
Renaissance, by Mantegna. In the Baroque period, however, it became almost an absolute rule,
combining as it did all the aesthetic features of the time: grandeur, theatricality, movement, the
representation of infinity, and in addition a technical skill that appears almost superhuman. It
showed that tendency to combine various forms of art for a unified effect which was the most
distinctive characteristic of the age

Such illusionist paintings varied greatly in the stories they told - lives of saints, histories of
dynasties, myths, or tales of heroes - but they were consistent in the components they deployed:
architectural glories standing out against the sky; soaring angels and saints; figures in swift
motion, their garments billowing out in the wind; all depicted with bold foreshortening - the
perspective effect of looking upwards from below or conversely downwards from above, which
makes the figures appear shorter. Such was the vitality of the genre that it continued not only
throughout the seventeenth century but well into the eighteenth, invading the limits of time
generally considered to demarcate the succeeding Rococo movement.

Baroque painters who specialized in such murals and ceiling paintings included: the forerunner
Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), the Bolognese Baroque artist noted for his frescoes in the
Farnese Gallery in Rome, and his followers Guido Reni (1575-1642), Guercino (1591-1666),
and in particular Domenichino (1581-1641) whose elaborate classical compositions were to
influence Nicolas Poussin. Thereafter, we have Parma-born Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647),
influenced by the frescoes of Correggio; Bernini (1598-1680), more famous as architect and
sculptor; Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669) who decorated the Palazzo Barberini in Rome and the
Medici Pitti Palace in Florence, as well as numerous other churches and palces; Andrea Sacchi
(1599-1661), who exemplified High Baroque Classicism, and his pupil Carlo Maratta (1625-
1713). Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709) was another of the great exponents of the Baroque style of
illusionist ceiling decoration, noted for his huge ceiling fresco in S. Ignazio, Rome. The last of
the line was the Venetian Late Baroque painter Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770), whose
fresco decoration of the state dining room (Kaiseraal) and the ceiling of the Grand Staircase
(Trepenhaus) in the Wurzburg Residenz of the Prince Bishop Karl Philipp von Greiffenklau, was
the greatest and most imaginative masterpiece of his career. The focal point was the soaring
fresco of Apollo Bringing the Bride (1750-1) in the centre of the Trepenhaus, a work which
brings to a majestic conclusion the Italian tradition of fresco painting initiated by Giotto (1270-
1337) four hundred years earlier.

Light: The Key Feature of Baroque Painting

Naturally, painting was not confined to the walls of buildings. There was also, and indeed
especially, a tradition of painting on canvas, and as with architecture the characteristics of the
various national schools differed widely. They had one concern in common, however: the study
of light and its effects. In spite of the great divergences between the work of various artists in the
Baroque period - divergences so great that many critics are not prepared to designate their work
by a single common adjective - the thematic use of light and shade in constructing any

significant work was, to a greater or lesser degree, common to them all, to the extent of being the
key feature and unifying pictorial motif of the age.

Caravaggio (1573-1610)

The impulse towards adoption of this idiom came from Italy, indeed from a single Italian artist,
Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio from the name of the small town where he was
born. Although his work has been more attacked by some critics than appreciated, there is no
doubt that he marked the beginning of a new epoch. At the time of Caravaggio, fine art painting
had fully attained the objectives that it had been set two centuries before - namely, the perfect
representation of nature in all its manifestations. A new line of investigation was required, one
congenial to the age; and this Caravaggio supplied. His paintings showed sturdy peasants,
innkeepers, and gamblers; and though they might sometimes be dressed as saints, apostles, and
fathers of the Church they represented reality in its most crude and harsh aspect. This was in
itself a break with Renaissance art, with its aristocratic figures and idealized surroundings. The
most important aspect of Baroque painting was not however what was represented but how it
was represented. The painting was not lit uniformly but in patches; details struck by bright,
intense light alternated with areas of dark shadow. If in the final analysis a Renaissance painting
was coloured drawing with overall lighting, a canvas by Caravaggio was a leopard's skin of
strong light and deep, intense shadow, in which the highlights are symbolic; that is, they
indicated the important elements of the composition. It was a dramatic, violent, tormented style
of painting, eminently suited to an age of strong aesthetic contrasts, as the Baroque period was.


Caravaggio's temperament seems to have had closer affinities with the Spanish rather than the
Italian character, and Naples, which had close connections with Spain at this period, was the
centre of Caravaggism influence; the early paintings of Velasquez (1599-1660) show it, as do
those of other seventeenth-century Spanish masters such as Ribera (1591-1652) and Zurbaran
(1598-1664). But his influence extended much farther than Spain, though it is there that the
master's manner was most closely followed. In Holland, Gerard van Honthorst (1592-1656)
seems to have transmitted something of Caravaggio's dramatic use of chiaroscuro to his great
countryman, Rembrandt; while in France the somewhat mysterious master, Georges de la Tour
(1593-1652), was a skilful, but apparently isolated, exponent of 'Tenebrism', as this use of deep
shadows cast from a single source of light, to give unity to a composition, is called. Adam
Elsheimer (1578-1610) was another influential representative of this tendency; while it is
perhaps just worth mentioning in this connection the name of the one English tenerbrist, Joseph
Wright of Derby (1734-97). Of Caravaggio's Italian followers, the most prominent were Mattia
Preti (1613-1669) and Domenico Fetti (1589-1624); while Salvator Rosa (1615-1673), also a
Neapolitan, has affinities with him in his taste for savagery and low-life scenes, of bandits
fighting and carousing among wild and rocky scenery. Salvator is particularly of interest for his
importance in the development of romantic landscape; the eighteenth-century Genoese,
Magnasco (1667-1749) has something in common with him.

Venetian Baroque Painting

Apart from Caravaggio, there were few if any 17th century painters in Italy to rank with the great
names of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Indeed, by the seventeenth century the golden age
of Italian painting was largely over, except for a brief mini-resurgence in Venice, where there
had been no painting of interest during the previous century. In the space of 25 years, Venice
produced Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770), his son, Giandomenico (1727-1804),
Antonio Canaletto (1697-1768), Pietro Longhi (1701-85), Francesco Guardi (1712-93) and
Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-78). All of these, except the last, spent their working lives in
Venice, although Canaletto visited England in 1746. The elder Tiepolo we have already seen;
Longhi, and to a lesser extent, the younger Tiepolo, portrayed the daily life of Venice, the former
in small canvases, the latter in drawings; while Canaletto and Guardi painted outdoor scenes on
the canals and piazza. Piranesi, though born in Venice, came to Rome in 1738. No paintings by
him are known, and his fame rests entirely on his etchings of architecture and ruins. Others,
notably Giovanni Pannini (1691-1765) and Sebastiano Ricci (1659-1734), both of the previous
generation, had painted ruined buildings, and there is no doubt that they influenced Piranesi; but
their ruin-pieces, painted quite without feeling, are little better than superior furniture pictures.
Piranesi's vision, of gigantic, decaying Roman ruins, and fantastic prison interiors, has a
powerful, almost sinister, and sometimes almost mad, intensity.

Before leaving Italy, we should note the existence of a separate trend in European painting,
usually called the "classical" tradition. A hangover, if you like, from the Renaissance, classicism
was the opposite of Romanticism, being a style of art in which adherence to accepted aesthetic
ideals takes precedence over individuality of expression. In simple terms, it was a restrained,
harmonious style that believed in primacy of design (disegno), rather than (say) colour or
expressionism. It was closely associated with "academic art", the style taught in most of the
European academies of fine arts. During the Baroque era of the 17th century, the classical
tradition was personified by the French artist Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), who spent most of
his career in Rome, where his patrons included Cardinal Francesco Barberini (1597-1669), and
the cardinal's secretary Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588-1657). Poussin is probably best known for his
mythological history painting, although he was also an important pioneer of classical arcadian
landscape painting - a genre dominated by another French painter based in Rome, Claude
Lorrain (1600-82), who instigated the "Claudean" style.

Netherlandish Baroque Painting

In Flanders and Holland, painting had developed flourishing local schools that so far from being
backwaters were well in the van of artistic exploration. Flemish painters had created - or at least
greatly enhanced - two types of picture concerned with the faithful representation of domestic
life and everyday reality: genre painting and still life. Neither had any equivalent in Italy - where
there was indeed no demand for such pictures. It was the Flemish painters who had exported the
technique of oil painting, formerly unknown to the artists of the early Italian Renaissance. Now
they were quick to fuse their own tradition with that arriving from Italy - a marriage which was
to produce works among the greatest achievements in the history of art. This development had
different results in Flanders and the Netherlands, and in each case was associated with the two
profoundly different people: namely Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and Rembrandt (1606-

Spanish Baroque Painting

By the late 1570s, Rome was no longer the centre of the world. The Italians were wearing
Spanish costumes, and the heart of the Counter-Reformation was in Spain. The Escorial was
being built as the new citadel of the Faith, and the palaces of Toledo were being turned into
monasteries and convents. Beauty was giving way to holiness. In the spring of 1577, the resident
Mannerist El Greco (1541-1614) found in the Spanish city of Toledo the familiar shapes of his
Cretan home, the buildings of the Mohammedan East, all in the urgent and emphatic Spanish
form. He spent two years in painting his first great work, the altarpiece for San Domingo el
Antiguo. The passionate and often extravagant spirit of the Baroque had now possessed him. His
wooden panels and modest canvases were forgotten; he now painted pictures of enormous

Among El Greco's important paintings of the following period was the representation of the
miracle which was said to have occurred during the burial of Count Orgaz, when St Augustine
and St Stephen appeared and discharged the duties of the clergy, In grey and yellow, black and
white, the colours of the stormy sky, El Greco has painted the miracle in an unearthly light, not
as a supernatural, but rather as a supremely natural event, to which the whole Spanish people, its
priests, its nobles, and its faithful, bear witness by their presence on the solid floor of the church.
Some have called El Greco's pictures ascetic, ecstatic, cruel, nerveless and colourless.
Nevertheless, a portrait - like that of the Grand Inquisitor is painted with the strongest colouring;
it is only in El Greco's saints that we find deliberate distortion and an unearthly radiance. When
he paints ordinary human beings, like his daughter, it is as though they were reflected in a mirror.
The final development of El Greco's art places him, in spite of his peculiarities, in the heart of the
Baroque period, as he abandons Renaissance laws of composition and colour and moves toward
the international art of the Baroque period.

Other important members of the Spanish Baroque school included: Jusepe (Jose) de Ribera
(1591-1652), the Naples-based Spanish caravaggesque artist, noted for his realist paintings on
religious and mythological subjects; the devout Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664), noted for
his intense religious pictures, still-lifes, and mastery of tenebrism; Diego Velazquez (1599-
1660), official painter to the Spanish court in Madrid who combined realism with the Baroque
emphasis on light and illusionism; and the sentimental Seville painter Bartolome Esteban

Murillo (1618-1682) whose religious works and genre paintings were influenced by both
Zurbaran and Caravaggio.

Baroque Architecture

It was characteristic of Baroque architecture that, though examples are to be found almost
throughout Europe and Latin America, they differ notably from one country to another. How
is it, then, that they are all designated by a single term? Partly for convenience, in order to
summarize the art of a whole period with a single word, but mainly on account of their
common aesthetic origin.

In the second half of the nineteenth century the Swiss critic Heinrich Wolfflin and his followers
gave the word a more objective meaning. Still referring to the religious art of the seventeenth and
early eighteenth centuries, they defined as Baroque those works in which certain specific
characteristics were to be seen: the use of movement, whether actual (a curving wall, a fountain
with jets of water forever changing shape) or implied (a figure portrayed as making a vigorous
action or effort); the attempt to represent or suggest infinity (an avenue which stretched to the
horizon, a fresco giving the illusion of a boundless sky, a trick of mirrors which altered
perspectives and made them unrecognizable); the importance given to light and its effects in the
conception of a work of art and in the final impact it created; the taste for theatrical, grandiose,
scenographic effects; and the tendency to disregard the boundaries between the various forms of
art and to mix together architecture, painting, sculpture, and so on.

In architecture two types of building most occupied the attention of the age: the church and the
palace. In their different versions they respectively included cathedrals, parish churches, and
monastic buildings, and town and country mansions, and above all royal palaces, these last being
especially typical of the period. In addition to such individual buildings, Baroque architecture
was also characterized by what is now known as town planning: the arrangement of cities
according to predetermined schemes, and the creation of great parks and gardens around
residences of importance.

The Baroque Idea of a Building

A building can be conceived of in many different ways: as an assemblage of superimposed
storeys (the present attitude); as a box defined by walls of regular shape (as Renaissance
architects understood it); or as a skeletal structure, that is, one formed - according to the Gothic
conception - by the various structures needed to sustain it. Baroque architects understood it as a
single mass to be shaped according to a number of requirements. A verbal description of
Renaissance forms might be accompanied by the drawing of imaginary straight lines in the air
with an imaginary pencil; but a man describing the Baroque is more apt to mime the shaping out
of an imaginary mass of soft plastic or clay. In short, for Baroque architects a building was to
some extent a kind of large sculpture.


This conception had a vital effect on the ground-plan - the outlines of the building as seen from
above - that came to be adopted. It led to the rejection of the simple, elementary, analytical plans
which were deliberately preferred by Renaissance architects. Their place was taken by complex,
rich, dynamic designs, more appropriate to constructions which were no longer thought of as
'built', or created by the union of various parts each with its own autonomy, but rather as
hollowed out, shaped from a compact mass by a series of demarcations of contour. The ground-
plans common to the architecture of the Renaissance were the square, the circle, and the Greek
cross - a cross, that is, with equal arms. Those typical of Baroque architecture were the ellipse or
the oval, or far more complex schemes derived from complicated geometrical figures. Francesco
Castelli (1599-1667), better known by the name he adopted for himself, Borromini, designed a
church with a ground-plan in the shape of a bee, in honour of the patron who commissioned it,
whose family coat-of-arms featured bees; and another with walls that were throughout alternately
convex and concave. One French architect went so far as to put forward ground-plans for a series
of churches forming the letters which composed the name of his king, LOUIS LE GRAND, as
the Sun-King Louis XIV liked to be called.

Baroque Architecture's Undulating Motif

Besides their complex ground-plans, the resultant curving walls were, therefore, the other
outstanding characteristic of Baroque buildings. Not only did they accord with the conception of

a building as a single entity, but they also introduced another constant of the Baroque, the idea of
movement, into architecture, by its very nature the most static of all the arts. And indeed, once
discovered, the undulating motif was not confined to walls. The idea of giving movement to an
architectural element in the form of more or less regular curves and counter-curves became a
dominant motif of all Baroque art. Interiors were made to curve, from the Church of S. Andrea
al Quirinale by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, one of the main creators and exponents of Roman
Baroque, to that of S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane or S. Ivo alla Sapienza by Borromini, his
closest rival. So too were facades, as in almost all Borromini's work, in Bernini's plans for the
Palais du Louvre in Paris, and typically in the work of Italian, Austrian, and German architects.
Even columns were designed to undulate. Those of Bernini's great baldacchino in the centre of
St Peter's in Rome were only the first of a host of spiral columns to be placed in Baroque
churches. The Italian architect Guarino Guarini actually evolved, and put to use in some of his
buildings, an 'Undulating order', in the form of a complete system of bases, columns, and
entablatures distinguished by continuous curves.

Even excepting such extremes, during the Baroque period the taste for curves was nonetheless
marked, and found further expression in the frequent use of devices including volutes, scrolls,
and above all, 'ears' - architectural and ornamental elements in the form of a ribbon curling round
at the ends, which were used to form a harmonious join between two points at different levels.
This device was adopted primarily as a feature of church facades, where they were used so
regularly as to be now perhaps the readiest way of identifying a Baroque exterior. In spite of
their bizarre shape their function was not purely decorative, but principally a strengthening,
functional one.

Vaults, Arches, Buttresses

The churches of the period were almost always built with vaulted ceilings. A vault is in effect,
however, a collection of arches; and since arches tend to exert an outward pressure on their
supporting walls, in any vaulted building a counterthrust to this pressure is needed. The element
supplying this counterthrust is the buttress, an especially typical feature in the architecture of the
Middle Ages, when the difficulty was first confronted. To introduce the buttress into a Baroque
construction it had to have a form compatible with that of the other members, and to avoid
reference to the barbaric, 'gothic' architecture of the past. This was a problem of some
importance in an age enamoured of formal consistency - and it was solved by the use of scrolls.
The greatest English architect of the age, Sir Christopher Wren, unable for other reasons to use
the convenient scrolls for St Paul's Cathedral, yet having somehow to provide buttresses, made
the bold decision to raise the walls of the outer aisles to the height of those of the nave so that
they might act as screens, with the sole purpose of concealing the incompatible buttresses.

The Baroque Concept of Building Design: Architectural Sculpture

Another, and decisive, consequence of the conception of a building as a single mass to be

articulated was that a construction was no longer seen as the sum of individual parts - facade,
ground-plan, internal walls, dome, apse, and so on - each one of which might be considered
separately. As a result the traditional rules which determined the planning of these parts became
less important or was completely disregarded. For example, for the architects of the Renaissance
the facade of a church or a palace had been a rectangle, or a series of rectangles each of which
had corresponded to a storey of the building. For Baroque architects the facade was merely that
part of the building that faced outwards, one element of a single entity. The division into storeys
was generally retained, but almost always the central part of the facade was organised with
reference more to what was above and below it than to what stood on either side: in other words,
it was given a vertical emphasis and thrust which was in strong contrast to the practice of
horizontal division by storeys. Furthermore, in the facade the elements - columns, pilasters,
cornices, or pediments - projecting from the wall surface, related in various ways to the centre,
which thus came to dominate the sides. Although at first sight such a facade might seem to be
divided horizontally, more careful consideration reveals that it is organized vertically, in slices,
as it were. In the centre is the more massive, more important section, and the sides, as the eye
recedes froth it, appear less weighty. The final effect is that of a building which has been shaped
according to sculptural concepts, rather than put together according to the traditional view of

A Baroque building is complex, surprising, dynamic: for its characteristic features to be fully
comprehended, however, or for them to stand out prominently, it needs to catch the light in a

particular way. It was this requirement that led Baroque sculptors to achieve a number of

Architectural Manipulation of Light

It is not the light that falls on a particular point in a given building that varies, but the effect the
light produces in striking one surface by contrast with another. It is obvious that the texture of a
brick wall is not the same as that of a similar wall of smooth marble or of rough-hewn stone.
This fact was exploited by Baroque architects for both the exteriors and the interiors of their
buildings. Renaissance constructions, like many modern ones, were based on simple, elementary
proportions and relationships; and their significance rested in the observer's appreciation of the
harmony that united the various parts of the whole. These proportions were perceptible by
looking at the fabric alone: all that was required of the light was to make them clearly visible.
The ideal effect, sought in almost all the buildings of that period, was that produced by a
monochrome, uniform lighting. In place of the appreciation of logic that such an effect implied,
Baroque substituted the pursuit of the unexpected, of 'effect', as it would be called in the theatre.
And as in the theatre, this is achieved more easily by deployment of light if the light itself is
concentrated in one area while others remain in darkness or in shadow - a lesson mastered above
all by Caravaggio in Baroque painting.

How can this effect be achieved in architecture? There are various possibilities: by the
juxtaposition of strong projections and overhangs with abrupt, deep recesses; or by breaking up
the surface, making it unsmooth in some way - to return, for example, to the example used
earlier, by altering a marble-clad or plaster-covered wall to one of large, rough stones. Such
requirements of lighting dictated a use in particular for architectonic decoration, the small-scale
elements, often carved, which give a effect of movement to the surfaces of a building. It was in
the Baroque period above all that such decoration ran riot. In buildings of the Renaissance it had
been confined to specific areas, carefully detached from the structural forms. Now, parading the
exuberance and fantasy which were its distinguishing characteristic, it invaded every angle,
swarmed over every feature, especially corners and points where two surfaces met, where it had
the function of concealing the join so that the surfaces of the building appeared to continue
Undulating Order of Architecture

To the five traditional orders of architecture - Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, and
Composite, each of which had particular forms and proportions for its supporting members, the
columns and pilasters, and for the vertical linking members, or entablature - was added the
'Undulating' order. Another new and popular variant was the 'Colossal order', with columns
running up through two or three storeys. The details, too, of the traditional orders became
enriched, complicated, modified: entablatures had stronger overhangs and more pronounced re-
entrants, and details throughout sometimes attained an almost capricious appearance. Borromini,
for instance, in using the Corinthian order, took its most characteristic feature, the curls, or
volutes, which sprout from among the acanthus leaves at the tort of the capital, and inverted

The arches connecting one column or one pilaster to the next became no longer restricted, as in
the Renaissance, to a semi-circle but were often elliptical or oval. Above all they took the form,
unique to the Baroque, of a double curve - describing a curve, that is, not only when seen from in
front but also when seen from above. Sometimes arches were interrupted in form, with sections
of straight lines inserted into the curve. This characteristic feature was also used in pediments the
decorative element above a door, a window or a whole building. The canonical shape of a
pediment, which is to say that fixed by classical norms, had been either triangular or semi-
circular. In the Baroque period, however, they were sometimes open - as though they had been
split or interrupted at the top - or combining curved and straight lines; or fantastic, as for
example in Guarino Guarini's plan for Palazzo Carignano, where they appeared around doors
and windows like draperies rolled back.

Windows too were often far removed from classical forms: to the rectangular or square shapes
sometimes with rounded tops, which were typical of the Renaissance were added shapes
including ovals or squares topped by a segment of a circle, or rectangles beneath little oval

Other details, on entablatures, doors, and keystones of arches and at corners - everywhere -
included volutes; stucco figures; huge, complex, and majestic scrolls; and any number of

fantastic and grotesque shapes. One form of decoration not characteristic so much as striking was
the use of the tower. Sometimes a single one, sometimes pairs of them; but always complex and
highly decorated, were erected on the facade, and sometimes on the dome, of churches; and in
some countries, in particular Austria, Germany, and Spain, this arrangement was used often
enough to become in effect the norm.

These, briefly then, were the most obvious and frequently used motifs of Baroque architecture. It
must be remembered however that each individual work created its own balance between its
various features; and also that each country developed these components in different ways; and
an understanding of these regional and national differences is essential to a proper understanding
of the Baroque as a whole.

Italian Baroque Architecture

Italy, the cradle of Baroque, produced in addition to a proportionate number of good professional
architects a quartet who rate as excellent: Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Borromini, Pietro da
Cortona, and Guarino Guarini. The work of each was unmistakably Baroque, but each of them
had, as it were, a different accent. Bernini and to a lesser extent, Pietro da Cortona, represented
the courtly Baroque, majestic, and exuberant but never outrageously so, which was successful
principally in the Italian peninsula. This style possessed, at their most typical, all the features of
Baroque described above, and conveyed an air of grandeur and dignity that rendered it a classic
of its kind.

Bernini and St Peter's Basilica

The history of St Peter's is in itself a history of the transition from Renaissance to Baroque. Soon
after the death of Michelangelo, designer of St Peter's dome, Carlo Maderna (1556-1629) built
a nave which is not altogether a happy feature of the plan, considered as a whole, for every
attempt to expand one arm of the central space, as planned by Michelangelo, into a nave, was
bound to degrade the miraculous achievement to a mere intersection of nave and transepts.
Behind the facade, over 320 feet in width and 150 feet in height, the dome was concealed up to
half the height of the drum. It is true that the eight columns of the entrance, the giant order of
pilasters, the massive entablature, and the attic, are as Michelangelo intended. High Renaissance
forms are combined with the exuberance of the Baroque, in a premonition of the coming style. In
1667 Alexander VII set Bernini the great and difficult task of giving the Church of St Peter its
urban setting. He added a tower to Maderna's facade, but it collapsed and lay about in fragments.
No one dared again to subject the foundations to the weight of fresh building. The stumps of the
towers were left, rising to the level of the cornice of the attics, unduly widening the facade and
destroying the balance of the structure. But now, as before, the church was to be given a portico.
Bernini, in the most ingenious manner, took the opportunity of transforming the disadvantageous
widening of Maderna's facade into an improvement. To increase the actual height of the facade
was technically impossible, but Bernini, in the true spirit of the Baroque, produced an impression
of height by ingeniously misleading the eye. The open space before the church rose in a slight
gradient, and this was crossed by pathways which approached it obliquely, not meeting the
facade at right angles, but enclosing an acute angle. This obliquity escapes the casual glance,
which unconsciously transfers the smaller distance between the ends of the pathways to their
starting-point, so that the facade seems narrower and, owing to the upward slope, also higher
than it is in reality. In front of this forecourt, by which the eye is doubly deceived, Bernini now
levelled an open space which he enclosed with open colonnades, thereby enhancing the effect of
Michelangelo's dome, which had been diminished by the addition of the nave. Bernini
completed his Baroque illusion by enclosing, with his arcades, an oval courtyard, which appears
larger than it is in reality. The eye, expecting to see a circle, transfers the obvious width of the
oval to the depth, which is not so great. The colonnades, in their simplicity, play their part by
directing the attention to the facade. - But even as this facade was begun under an unlucky star,
so Bernini's plan has not been fully realized. He wanted to place a third portico, as a terminal
structure between the two semicircles. Owing to its omission - probably on account of the death
of Alexander VII - the gap which now exists between the colonnades forms part of a typical
Italian rondo, still further enhancing the overwhelming majesty of the whole, and especially the
effect of the dome.

Borromini's designs were quite different, arguably more restless and extravagant. They include
extremely complex ground-plans and masonry, and the deliberate contradiction of traditional
detail - in the inversion of the volutes, for instance, or in entablatures that denied their traditional
function by no longer resting on capitals but on a continuation above them.

A characteristic example of Italian Baroque design by Borromini is the little church of S. Carlo
alle Quattro Fontane. Significantly, the plan of this tiny church is built up of oval forms. The
centrally planned church, either circular or Greek cross, was used by early and High Renaissance
architects to express their ideal of perfect lucidity and order. The oval, producing a precisely
opposite effect, that of confusion and uncertainty, and above all, of movement, was in the same
way a favourite motive with Baroque architects. The effect of the interior is one of complete
plastic unity; the building might have been carved out of one block of stone, for there is no sense
of its having been constructed out of separate elements. The same applies to the facade, built up
of an elaborate and subtle combination of convex and concave forms, which again have no
constructive purpose.

Many of Borromini's ideas were adopted by Guarini, with the addition of a mathematical and
technical factor which was of great importance in itself - but even more because of its influence
on Baroque architects outside Italy, especially in Germany.

French Baroque Architecture

Personal variations apart, Italian Baroque could be said to correspond almost completely to the
norms described. The same cannot be said of France, which nevertheless produced during the
Baroque period a succession of excellent architects, even more numerous than in Italy: Salomon
de Brosse, Francois Mansart, Louis Le Vau, Jacques Lemercier, and, greatest of them all,
Jules Hardouin Mansart. But in France personality was less significant in its effects then the
'school' to which architects could be said to belong. The attempt of the French court to introduce
Italian Baroque into France, by summoning Bernini in 1665 to Paris and commissioning him to
design the reconstruction of the royal palace - the Louvre - was doomed from the outset. As a
critic rightly observed, there was in question a radical difference of temperament. To the French,
Italian exuberance verged on the indecorous, if not wilfulness and bad taste. Rather than as
artists, French architects considered themselves professional men, dedicated to the service and
the glorification of their king. At the court of the Roi Soleil a Baroque style was developed which
was more restrained than the Italian: ground-plans were less complex, and facades more severe,
with greater respect for the details and proportions of the traditional architectural orders, and
violent effects and flagrant caprices were eschewed. The textbook example and greatest
achievement of French Baroque was the Chateau of Versailles, the royal palace built for Louis
XIV outside Paris: a huge U-shaped mass with two long wings, disturbed hardly at all by the
small, low arcades on the main facade facing the gardens.

It was not in architecture, however, that the great glory of French Baroque was to be found, but
in the art of landscape gardening. Until the era of the Baroque, gardens had been of the 'Italian'
type, small parks with plants and flower-beds laid out in geometrical schemes. Andre Le Notre,
the brilliant landscape architect who created the new, perspective, form of garden, supplanted
these by the 'French' garden, of which the park at Versailles was to become both prototype and
masterpiece. In the centre stood the palace; on one side was the approach drive, the gates, the
wide gravelled area for carriages; and on the other were lawns and parterres, or flower-beds in
geometrical shapes, fountains, canals and broad expanses of water, and, beyond all this, the dark
line of woods pierced by long, wide, straight avenues which were linked by circular clearings.

The imposing and austere architecture created in France, with its balance between Baroque
tendencies and classical traditions, was gradually to become the cultural model for progressive
Europe. When Sir Christopher Wren, in the second half of the seventeenth century, decided he
should bring his own ideas up to date, it was not to Italy that he went, as had been the custom
until then, but to Paris. The Baroque architecture of Belgium and the Netherlands likewise bears
the mark of French inspiration.

German Baroque Architecture

Closer to the Italian model was the Baroque of the northern side of the Alps, in Austria and
Germany. This was the case, however, only in a restricted sense. Baroque influence came
relatively late to the German states, which in the first half of the seventeenth century had been
devastated by the Thirty Years' War. Once acclimatized, however, it underwent a remarkable
growth both in quantity and quality. The great architects of the period practised at a relatively
late time, at the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries; they were,
however, numerous, exceptionally accomplished, and blessed with enthusiastic patronage from
the several royal, ducal, and episcopal courts of Germany. All visited Rome, and were trained in
the Italian tradition: Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt

and his more gifted pupil Johann Balthasar Neumann; to these must be added Matthaus
Poppelmann, and Francis de Cuvillies - a Frenchman, but whose activity was almost entirely
confined to Germany.

One must remember that the Baroque style in architecture - as in Baroque sculpture - was one of
propaganda: in palaces, it impressed on the onlooker the importance of the absolute monarch; in
churches, it was at the service of 'the Counter-Reformation, notably in Catholic and absolutist
countries. It was therefore in the Catholic states of South Germany, such as Bavaria and
Austria, where the most magnificent Baroque architecture is to be found - as magnificent as
anything in Italy. The greatest of the South German Baroque architects was Johann Balthasar
Neumann (1687-1753) who produced a miracle of palace architecture in the Wurzburg
Residenz; this went hand in hand with the building of monasteries and churches; for bishops and
abbots, no less than princes, pretended to wordly importance. Neumann found himself
confronted, in the case of the ingeniously-designed wing of the Banz monastery at Bruhl, by the
necessity of inserting a well-staircase loin in a building erected by Schlaun in 1725-28. Here we
see at its highest his unique ability for producing an effect of unlimited space by optical illusion,
the inclusion of picturesque vistas, and by tricks of lighting. In the well-staircase and the
banqueting halls of Schloss Bruchsal he produced what is, in consistency, design, magnificence,
and lighting, one of the greatest masterpieces of German architecture. In church architecture his
most impressive creation was the Vierzehnheiligen (the Fourteen Saints) near Bamberg. On
entering the building one is overwhelmed by a flood of light. Everything is moving; the interior
seems to be enclosed by circling, undulating forms: even in the ground plan it appears to be
completely disintegrated. Even when no special circumstances are operative, as in the church of
the Fourteen Saints, we see that the customary ground-plan of a Baroque church has almost
completely abolished the straight line, and even the facades are curved. Unlike the facades of
Italian Baroque churches, German churches have usually kept their towers. It was in the
decoration of these churches that this whirling combination of forms reached its height. In the
churches in which the brothers Asam co-operated, as, for example, the monastery church at
Einsiedeln, and the Carmelite church at Regensburg, and, above all, the church of St John
Nepomuk, in Munich, they reached the limits of the possible in the combination of reality and
illusion. Effects of hidden lighting, the inclusion of fresco painting in stucco decorations, and

every other possible illusionist trick, make these churches seem now like a pompous Baroque
opera-house, now like a Rococo stage improvised for a festival, entirely without the quiet
solemnity and the piety which are bound up with the conception of Romanesque or Gothic art.

The style of Baroque created by German architects spread to Poland, the Baltic states, and
eventually to Russia. It had considerable affinity with Italian Baroque, with the addition of an
even greater tendency to exuberant decoration, especially of the interior; it also differed from
Italian forms by its avoidance of sharp contrasts of light and darkness in favour of a more
diffused and serene luminosity. Two features also presaged the 'Rococo' style that was to succeed
it, a style that found its widest application in these countries and was sometimes the work of the
same architects, for example Poppelmann, Neumann, and Cuvillies. In the two main forms of
construction, churches and palaces, the Baroque of the German-speaking countries adhered fairly
consistently to a few basic designs. On churches the device of two lateral towers with which
Borromini had experimented was universally adopted. Sometimes this was taken to the point of
upsetting the general layout, as Fischer von Erlach did in Vienna on his Karlskirche. On this, a
centrally planned building, in order to include the towers he added them as free-standing, empty
structures on either side of the main body of the church. The whole edifice exemplifies a
theatrical conception in the grand style, its form emphasized by two columns, reminiscent of
Trajan's Column in Rome, which stand beside the towers. In palace design, meanwhile, the
model was Versailles; but Germanic architects generally showed themselves able to surpass this
example in the articulation of large masses of masonry, accentuating the central section of the
building, and sometimes the lateral sections likewise.

Spanish & Portugese Baroque Architecture

At the same time that its influence spread north of the Alps, Italian Baroque also asserted itself in
Spain and Portugal. In these countries there was no obstacle to its success, but here too an
entirely individual style developed. Its salient, indeed its only particular, characteristic was a
profusion of decoration. Whatever the form of a building it appeared merely to be a pretext for
the ornamentation encrusting it. Many factors contributed to this result, chief among which were
the Moorish tradition, still alive in the Iberian peninsula, and the influences of the pre-Columbian
art of America, with its fantastic decorative vocabulary. This particular style, known as
'Churrigueresque' from the family name, Churriguera, of a dynasty of Spanish architects who
were particularly closely associated with it, dominated Spain and Portugal for two centuries and
passed into their South American colonies, where the decorative aspect was, if possible,
intensified to a frenzy of ornamentation. Its value is perhaps debatable, but as a style it is
certainly recognizable, in its subordination of everything to decoration.

Urban Planning

Going beyond the appearance of individual buildings, a number of more general themes were
also typical of the Baroque style of architecture. The first was the way in which Baroque
architects were the first to confront the task of town-planning practically rather than in theory.
Principally they dealt with it in terms of the circus and the straight road. Into the fabric of the
city they cut circuses, each dominated by some structure, a church, a palace, a fountain, and then
linked these points with a network of long, straight avenues aimed, so to speak, at these
structures. It was not a perfect solution, but it was ingenious for the time. Indeed, for the first
time a system was devised for planning, or replanning, a city, making it more beautiful, more
theatrical, and above all more comprehensible because subordinate to a rule. Through the use of
such schemes for town-planning, which parallel those of the French type of garden, conceived on
the same principle, there evolved the great monumental fountains, in which architecture,
sculpture, and water combined to form an ideal centrepiece and to express the Baroque feeling
for scenography and movement. It was no chance that Rome, the city which more than any other
was planned according to the new norms of the seventeenth century, is par excellence a city of

Domestic Interior Designs

Two other characteristic themes treated by Baroque architects concerned domestic interior
structures: the complex great staircases that began to appear in all aristocratic buildings from the
seventeenth century onwards, sometimes becoming the dominating feature; and the gallery, in
origin a wide, decorated corridor, and another showpiece, of which the Galerie des Glaces at
Versailles is an outstanding example. Often the gallery, like many other rooms in the Baroque
period, would be painted with illusionist scenes, conveying a realistic extension in every

direction of the gallery itself which would often actually intrude upon the architecture, reducing
it to a secondary role.

The Baroque is essentially an art of illusion, in which all the tricks of scene painting, false
perspective and trompe-l'oeil, are employed without scruple to achieve a total effect. It was also
the first step back towards a conception which the Middle Ages knew, but which the High
Renaissance abandoned, that of the subordination of painting and sculpture to the plastic unity of
the building they were to decorate, A Renaissance altarpiece or statue was conceived as an
isolated thing by itself, without very much relation to its surroundings; Baroque painting or
carving is an integral part of its setting, and if removed from it, loses nearly all its effect.The

new world of baroque –Latin America

Baroque art in Latin America is not a mere transposition of Spanish or Portuguese art. It is a
hybrid art. And it embraces more than two cultures, for along with the Spanish tradition it
received the Arab heritage in the form of the mudejar (4) style. It is said that the Indian
contribution is shown in a preference for a range of pure colours and in the use of abstraction in
the portrayal of figures. But the Black influence can also be seen, both in the dark complexion of
angels and Virgins and in the syncretism of African gods with the traditional Christian saints. A
marvellously enriched style emerged from all these influences, the style of an art that was
fundamental to a new world. Such is the art we know as "Latin American Baroque'.

By the end of the 17th century the grand Baroque style was in decline, as was its principal
sponsor, Italy. The coming European power was France, where a new and contrasting style of
decorative art was beginning to emerge. This light-hearted style soon enveloped architecture, all
forms of interior decoration, furniture, painting, sculpture and porcelain design. It was known
as Rococo.

Rococo Art Style (18th Century)


Centred in France and emerging as a reaction to the Baroque grandeur of the Versailles court of
the French King Louis XIV, the Rococo style was associated particularly with Madame de
Pompadour, the mistress of the new King Louis XV, and the Parisian homes of the French
aristocracy. It is a whimsical and elaborately decorative style of art, whose name derives from
the French word 'rocaille' meaning, rock-work after the forms of sea shells.

In the world of Rococo, all art forms, including fine art painting, architecture, sculpture, interior
design, furniture, fabrics, porcelain and other "objets d'art" are subsumed within an ideal of
elegant prettiness

Rococo art is exemplified in works by famous painters like Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721)
especially his 'fete galante' outdoor courtship parties; Jean-Honore Fragonard (1732-1806) with
his pictures of love and seduction; Francois Boucher (1703-70) with his lavish paintings of
opulent self-indulgence; the Venetian Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770) known for his
fantastically decorative wall and ceiling fresco paintings; and the sculpture of Claude Michel
Clodion (1738-1814), sculptor of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, best known for his terracotta
statuettes of nymphs and satyrs. In Britain, Rococo painting achieved its zenith in the female
portraits of Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88). Rococo was eventually replaced by Neoclassical
art, which was the signature visual style of Napoleon in France and of the American revolution.

Rococo: Origins

Rococo is the frivolous, wayward child of noble, grand Baroque. The parent was born in Italy,
the child in France. The Baroque (barocco, a rough pearl) developed in the early 17th-century
and spread rapidly throughout Europe. At first predominantly a sculptural and architectural style,
its greatest exponent and genius was Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) who, like Michelangelo
before him, was first and foremost a sculptor, but turned naturally to painting, theatrical
decorations and architecture while serving several Popes in the remodelling of Rome. His
"Ecstasy of S. Teresa" and the small church of S. Andrea al Quirinale in Rome both reveal the
tendencies which lead on to the rococo style: a brilliant use of light and shade on expensive and
elaborate materials, such as coloured marbles and bronze.

The seventeenth century was an age of grandeur, of strong religious sentiments expressed clearly
and forcibly in striking visual forms in the paintings of Caravaggio and Cortona, the sculptures
of Bernini and the architecture of Borromini. Its most important manifestations were Italian, and
it was really the swan song of Italy as a creative power, for already at the death of Pope Urban
VIII, Bernini's patron, the new star was making its appearance - France, which was to continue
her meteoric rise throughout the century and dominate fashionable and artistic Europe in the
succeeding century.

The Rococo Style in France

In 1651 the young Louis XIV came of age and by the 1660s any dissensions in France had been
totally suppressed, so that Louis could devote his attentions to the building and decoration of his
palace at Versailles. Here, the Italian baroque style was adopted and modified by Louis' all-
powerful artist, designer and interior decorator, Charles Lebrun, to glorify not the saints of the
Catholic Church, but the King of France: "Le Roi Soleil". Louis' absolute rule involved not only
visual proof of his supremacy, but an elaborate court etiquette as stiff and unnatural as the
gardens laid out by Le Notre around the Palace. This extreme formality was felt in such
apartments as the famous Hall of Mirrors and the multicoloured Ambassadors' Staircase, and it is
against this background that the Rococo is set; France was demonstrating that already she was
arbiter of taste and eager for novelty.

French Rococo Architecture, Interior Design and Decoration

The Rococo is rightly associated with the 18th-century in France, but even within the last years
of the previous century, indications of the new style appear, as in the work of the court architect,
Jules-Hardouin Mansart (1646-1708), at the Trianon at Versailles, and at Marly, another royal
residence. In these two buildings Mansart broke away from the stultifying use of marble and
bronze, turning rather to wooden panelling and paler colours. The very scale of the Trianon
indicates a desire to escape from the grandiose palace, a feeling which occasioned a number of
highly significant works in the 18th-century.

Louis XIV appears to have much encouraged this reaction, as illustrated by his famous
injunction to Mansart concerning the decoration of the room of the very young Duchesse de
Bourgogne in the Chateau de la Menagerie: "You must spread everywhere the feeling of
youthfulness". This was in 1699, and the King still had another sixteen years to live, years which
were to determine the course of art and decoration for at least the next generation, not only in
France but as far afield as Sicily and Austria.

If the Rococo was specifically a French creation, many factors from further afield influenced and
fostered the style, as, for example, the graphic works of such seventeenth-century Italian artists
as Stefano delia Bella, who spent a long time in Paris. In his designs delicate, feathery lines
enfold forms which are often purely decorative in intent, as much rococo art was to be.

Many engraved books from the last decades of the seventeenth century reveal the rococo style in
embryonic form. The tight scroll-work so characteristic of Flemish and German renaissance
decoration, and even of the School of Fontainebleau, was liberated, making it less severe and
symmetrical, and fantastic elements were introduced, unknown in the originals. This is seen in
France in the furniture of Andre-Charles Boulle and in Venice in the furniture of Andrea
Brustolon, where curving, intricate baroque forms began to be modified around the turn of the

One of the first appearances of the new style in a highly important setting is in the bedroom of
Louis XIV at Versailles. This was redecorated about 1701 mainly in white and gold, relying
entirely for its effect on the crisp contrasts of finely sculptured pilasters against rich areas of
gilded carving, and, set above the chimney-pieces, large mirrors with rounded tops. Large areas
of Venetian mirror-glass were, of course, important decorative features as early as the creation of
the Galerie des Glaces, and also of the Mirror Room in the Grand Trianon: they have often been
mistakenly identified solely with the advent of the rococo style, in which, indeed, they were to
play an important part. The design of Louis' bedroom, however, still bears witness to a strong
preference for the Classical Orders, with pilaster decoration in the typically academic
seventeenth-century tradition.

One of the problems of any examination of rococo decoration is that we are uncertain as to how
much of it originated from the small army of draughtsmen, whose leading figures such as
Mansart kept behind the scenes, and how much from the great architects themselves. Thus, while
a building or an interior passes as the work of Mansart or De Cotte, the novel details in it may
just as well have sprung from a 'ghost' designer with a certain sense of fantasy and an originality
which the Royal Architect passed off as his own.

These draughtsmen were in all probability familiar with books of decorative patterns derived
from the Italian Renaissance and illustrating the famous grotesques of Raphael in the Villa
Madama and the Vatican Loggie. Grotesques, descended from the stucco reliefs and paintings in
Roman tombs (or grottoes, hence 'grotesques'), played an important part in French decoration as
early as the 1650s and later appeared in some of Lebrun's own decorations, such as those in the
Galerie d'Apollon in the Louvre. They consisted of curving plant-and-scroll forms, often
originating in an urn or pot and winding upwards in a regular pattern, inhabited by playful
monkeys, insects and other creatures who provide a slight asymmetrical touch. The lightness of
this type of decoration was borne in mind by Pierre Lepautre when he decorated the King's
suite of rooms at Marly in 1699.

Lepautre's interiors at Marly are, tragically, known to us only from drawings. They show that he
dispensed with the heavy, rectangular frames around doors and mirrors, replacing them with
miniature curving decorations integrated into the corners of mouldings, which themselves were
finer and more elegant in effect than ever before. In place of the traditional painted and gilded
ceiling, Lepautre simply articulated the great white plaster expanse with a delicate gilded rosette
at the centre - this was to be imitated on both ceilings and panelling throughout the rococo

The rococo style developed most strongly during the Regency of the Duc d'Orleans (1715-23),
whose town residence was the Palais Royale. Here, licence was the rule, and the tone of rococo
society was set: a society which demanded constant novelty, wit and elegance - precisely the
qualities of the rococo style. Society opened its doors to people whom Louis XIV would never
have accepted: the newly rich and increasingly important intellectuals. During the Regency much

of the aristocracy, which had found itself confined to Versailles during Louis XIV's reign,
returned to Paris and commissioned new town houses, as in the Place Vendome, where the
transitional style can still be clearly seen.

Their interiors did not call for the elaborate ceiling-paintings of the previous century, and in their
place a new school of painters emerged who specialized in the gently curving trumeaux (over-
doors) and small-scale painted panels which form a great part of the output of (eg) Francois
Boucher (1703-70). Also in constant employment from this period until the Revolution were the
scupteurs, who executed the often minutely detailed carving on the boiseries, the decorated

It was in about 1720 that the transitional style began to give way to a clear rococo style. The term
'rococo' probably derives from the French 'rocaille', which originally referred to a type of
sculptured decoration in garden design. Certainly the leading designers of the rococo style,
Gilles-Marie Oppenordt, Nicolas Pineau and Juste-Aurele Meissonnier, were very much
aware of it. The grotesques of the seventeenth century were now transformed into arabesques
under Claude Audran, Watteau's teacher, full of a new fantasy and delicacy.

The main steps forward were made in interior decoration and painting, while little of importance
happened to the appearance of the exterior, except that a certain light sophistication replaced the
heaviness of the Louis XIV style, and, instead of relying on the Classical Orders, architects such
as Jean Courtonne and Germain Boffrand produced buildings whose main effect lay in the
subtle treatment of stonework and the skilful disposition of delicate sculpture against
sophisticated rustication. In Paris, two of the best examples are the famous Hotel de Matignon of
1722-23 and the Hotel de Torcy of 1714.

In interior decoration a steady progression towards extreme elaboration is seen during the
Regency, as demonstrated by the Palais Royale and Hotel d'Assy, culminating in such
triumphantly sophisticated rooms as the Salon Ovale of the Hotel de Soubise in Paris (1738-39)
by Boffrand, whose influence on German rococo architecture was to be considerable.

A tendency to replace the huge series of very formal apartments favoured in the Louis XIV
period with smaller, more intimate rooms is also seen, as in the Petites Appartements in
Versailles, where form follows function more closely. Sadly these, together with many of the
greatest rococo rooms, have disappeared without trace. Apart from Paris, much fine architecture
and decoration in the full-blown rococo style was effected at Nancy, where the dethroned King
of Poland lived.

French Rococo Painting

Paradoxically, the rococo style was heralded in painting, much earlier than in the other arts, by a
Flemish painter, Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). He moved to Paris in about 1702 and
began working as a theatrical scene-painter, before studying with the Keeper of the Luxembourg
Palace, Claude Audran, an artist who painted in a decorative, late baroque style. It was the
Rubens' Life of Marie de Medicis' series in the Luxembourg Palace which most impressed
Watteau and through him was to influence the course of French rococo painting. He studied
these together with the great Venetian painters and, in the words of Michael Levey, although he
had "no public career, no great commissions from Church or Crown; seldom executed large-
scale pictures: had no interest in painting historical subjects", he became the greatest French (by
adoption) artist of the first half of the century.

Watteau's pictures, with their combination of Rubens' colour and his own delicate eroticism,
were always more than a little melancholy. The lyrical quality of his painting, with its suggestion
of sophisticated amorality, was precisely that sought by French society in the Regency years:
Watteau was not only catering for a taste but also creating one. For more about nudity in Rococo

The other two major painters of the French rococo period, Francois Boucher (1703-70) and
Jean-Honore Fragonard (1732-1806), both purveyed an entirely different variety of the style
from that of Watteau and are often thought to have vulgarized where Watteau had refined.
Whereas Watteau achieved an all-enveloping aura of aristocratic distancing, Boucher and
Fragonard produced a more intimate and obvious effect.
Significantly, Boucher's career opened as an engraver of Watteau's pictures, and from then on
assumed the pattern of traditional success. Winning the Prix de Rome, he worked in Italy from
1727 to 1731. In 1734 he became an Academician, and with the help of his friend and Louis
XV's mistress, Madame de Pompadour, he became the most sought-after painter in France for
every type of picture, but in particular for his vivid renderings of mythological and classical
subjects. In these, often rendered in a somewhat unsubtly erotic vein, Boucher, like Watteau,
revealed a strong debt to Rubens and Venetian art, especially to Paolo Veronese, his finest
predecessor in painting brilliantly clothed and displayed mythologies. Boucher became Director
of the Academy in 1765, and altogether made a highly important contribution to the rococo
movement through his many paintings and his designs for tapestries and other decorations.

In the unreality of most of his later forms one recalls Sir Joshua Reynolds' sense of outrage at
discovering Boucher had forsaken models. By comparison with the unreal world of Watteau,
Boucher's settings are even less real, while the contrast with Thomas Gainsborough, who
composed his landscapes with pieces of mirror, twigs and moss, is still more extreme. Miniature
trees surround rustic buildings, which appear to have been made in icing-sugar, and water looks
as if it were made of glass. There is no real light and shade, perhaps so as not to contrast too
strongly with the surrounding pale and shallow rococo boiserie decoration into which it was set.

While there were a number of great individual artists, there were also families of painters who
followed an almost unchanging stylistic tradition. Among these are the Coypels, who executed
the chapel ceiling at Versailles, the Van Loos and the De Troys, all of whom painted
consistently amusing pictures for the upper classes and for the rising middle classes, who appear
for the first time in the rococo period as important patrons and to some extent account for the
increased demand for portraiture. Some of the most delicious evocations of the sophistication of
society are found in the portraits of Nattier, Drouais, Roslin and, of course, Boucher himself,
whose delicate likenesses of Madame de Pompadour are among the finest portraits of any
woman in that century.

Alongside portraiture, many other specialized branches of painting arose, such as the still life,

where Jean Baptiste Oudry (1686-1755) and Francois Desportes (1661-1743) were foremost.

In the field of still life one man is outstanding: Jean Chardin (1699-1779). His delightfully
simple and deeply sincere genre subjects and his still life paintings have a quality which seem at
first glance closer in feeling to Dutch Realism - with an added dash of French precision and
sensibility - than to the prevailing rococo style. A masterpiece could be born from a tiny picture
of a Delft vase with a few flowers or from a simple two-figure study. It is their very delicacy and
refinement that links them to the rococo.

French Rococo Furniture and Decorative Arts

The same delicacy characterizes the furniture and other decorative arts of the period. Between
about 1715 and 1770 French craftsmen created furniture which remains unparalleled in its beauty
of line and detail, minute finish and costly materials expertly used. Also in this period most of
the furniture types with which we are familiar today came into being: such pieces as the writing-
table (bureau plat), the secretaire (of many different types, notably the drop-front and cylinder
type) and the sofa in many guises (canapes, lits de repos).

The heavy pieces of the later 17th-century inlaid with brass and tortoise-shell in the manner of
Boulle were replaced from the Regency onwards by smaller, lighter pieces, a development that
coincided with the decrease in the size of rooms and the lessening formality. The chest-of-
drawers (commode) was lifted off the floor on delicate curving legs, and bombe fronts were
covered with sinuous ormolu which often flowed over the entire piece and in which much of the
finest decoration of the Rococo is found. In this rococo craft, superb uses were made of inlaid
woods of all types, often imported from the Orient, contributing both to the high cost of the piece
and to the craze for the exotic which invaded French society and led to the use (often entirely
misplaced) of terms such as "a la polonaise", "a la grecque" and "a la chinoise". In furniture the
major manifestation of this interest in the Orient was in the use of imported or imitation lacquer,
many good pieces of Oriental lacquer suffering badly in the process of dissection and reshaping.

The display of luxury in rococo craftwork was not, of course, confined to furniture, and the stark

appearance of many rococo ensembles today is misleading. The frivolities and trimmings - frills,
ribbons, elaborate hangings on beds, doors and windows, festoons of fringes, gimps and baubles
- often only associated with the Victorians, added to the atmosphere of luxury and comfort, a
quality little known in seventeenth-century French interiors.

In spite of the extreme rigour of the Guild system, possibly even thanks to it, French furniture
achieved, in the eighteenth century, such a state of perfection that it was sought after through-out
Europe. The Guild regulations encouraged specialization and incited the sons of master
craftsmen to continue in their fathers' trade by the prospect of economic advantages. The result
was exceptional professional skill, and the rise of veritable dynasties of joiners and cabinet-
makers, handing down the secrets of their craft from father to son.

Thus, the menuisier practised only the creation of the actual form of the furniture; the ebeniste
created the elaborate layers of inlay and surface decoration and yet another craftsman was
responsible for fitting the gilt-bronze decoration over the prepared framework; no guild was
permitted to intrude on the territory of another. As with the other arts, great names arose in each
field: Foliot, Lelarge, Sene, Cressent, and an increasing number of Germans: Oeben, Riesener,
Weisweiler. They rose to positions of great influence and a signed piece by one of these
craftsmen was as sought after as any painting by Boucher or Fragonard.

The Rococo was a style in which the feminine element predominated, demonstrated in furniture
in the supple and often sensuous curves, fragile appearance, and even terminology: duchesse
(duchess) and sultane (sultana). Flowers decorated much of the wall-panelling and furniture of
the period, and many rococo boiseries contain elaborate trompe d'oeils of garlands and sprays of
flowers inhabited by tiny birds and animals, the direct descendants of the grotesque. The small
scale of much of the furniture, particularly pieces designed for writing, almost precludes its use
by a man, although, paradoxically, one of the finest creations of the period, Louis XV's own desk
executed by Oeben and Riesener between 1760 and 1769 is large and surprisingly masculine.

Porcelain was sometimes incorporated into French furniture design, usually in the form of
painted plaques or discs set in bronze frames. Much of it is from the factory of Sevres. Louis XV

had himself provided funds to back a porcelain enterprize at Vincennes, near Paris, specifically
to imitate Meissen porcelain, which moved in 1756 to Sevres. Although not the first factory in
France to produce porcelain (Rouen and Saint-Cloud were both operating in the last years of the
seventeenth century), Vincennes-Sevres was certainly the most successful in its production of
hard-paste porcelain, counting important painters such as Boucher among its designers.

The value attached to Sevres porcelain is attested to by the number of individual pieces or sets
such as that made for the Empress Maria Theresa in 1758 sent by Louis XV as diplomatic gifts.
Other famous sets include the services made for Catherine the Great and Madame du Barry. The
colours perfected at Sevres are not so different from those found in Boucher's paintings - greeny
blues and a wonderful pink known as rose Pompadour. The types of objects manufactured
ranged from wall-sconces to ink-wells and pot-pourri vases, of which some of the finest
examples are in the Wallace Art Collection, London.

For more about Rococo porcelain and Rococo sculpture, read about two important French
sculptors Jean-Baptiste Pigalle (1714-1785) and Etienne Maurice Falconet (1716-1791).

The rococo style in France represented her greatest artistic contribution before the rise of
Impressionism in the nineteenth century and embraced all the arts to an extent found nowhere
else in Europe apart from Germany. The amazing quality of French Rococo is due to the
maintenance of the highest standards throughout. It has the added appeal of patronage by such
figures as Madame de Pompadour, with whom the style is identified, and it stood at the end of a
long tradition of the finest French craftsmanship.

The Rococo Style in Italy

A large part of the story of the Rococo in Italy is that of painting in Venice - especially painting
by the great genius Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770) - since the important products of the
style in its most original form are found there. With the exception of some buildings by Juvarra
and Bernardo Yittone, Italian architecture of the first half of the century passes fairly directly
from the late baroque style to early Neoclassicism, with little evidence of a definite rococo style.

Italian Rococo Architecture, Interior Design and Decoration

Architecture and decorative art was dominated by the work of two men at the turn of the century,
Bernini and Borromini, but in particular the latter. Soon, however, the leading architect in Rome
was Ferdinando Fuga (1699-1782), a Florentine whose greatest works were the Palazzo delia
Consulta (1732-37) and the facade of Santa Maria Maggiore (1741-43). In the former, a delicate
rhythm was created not by massive orders of columns but by subtly proportioned and slightly
recessed panels. Against these were set highly decorative windows, and the whole was crowned
by a large central sculpture of angels supporting a cartouche. It is much more sculptural in effect
than any French building of the same date, and links up rather more with German Rococo. The
same central emphasis is found in the facade of Santa Maria Maggiore, but there the whole
facade is conceived as an open loggia, relieved only by light sculpture. Elsewhere in Rome, other
architectural undertakings were coming closer to the spirit of the Rococo, as for example, in the
Spanish Steps (1723-25) by Francesco de Sanctis.

While French architects such as Boffrand were searching for an economical means of expressing
the sophistication of their interiors on the exterior, Italian architects were still very moch more
concerned with the exterior as the vehicle for an immediate impression. They often devoted their
energies to this at the expense of the interiors and as a result only succeeded internally where
huge spaces were involved, as in some of the works of Filippo Juvarra (1678-1736).

Juvarra was born in Messina into a family of silver-smiths and was trained in Rome under Carlo
Fontana, gaining his first successes as a designer of elaborate and decorative stage scenery, an
experience which was later to stand him in good stead. After being appointed First Architect to
the King at the Court of Savoy in 1714, he travelled to Portugal, London and, in 1719-20, Paris,
probably seeing French Rococo in its earliest stages. On his return he became Italy's closest
parallel to the French architect-designer, involved with not only architecture, but interiors,
furniture and the applied arts. His outstanding achievements are the hunting lodge he designed
between 1729 and 1733 for the Court at the Castle of Stupinigi, the Church of the Carmine
(1732-35) in Turin, and the sanctuary of the Superga near Turin (1717-31). Of these, Stupinigi is
his most exciting creation. Gigantic wings radiate from a domed central core Surmounted by a

bronze stag, the white exterior preparing one for the incredible spatial acrobatics and colour
inside the central Great Hall, which is close to many of Juvarra's architectural fantasies and
theatrical drawings. Much use is made of illusionistic painting, trompe l'oeil urns filling giant
niches painted above the many chimney-pieces in the hall, while a gently swaying gallery runs
round the walls and seems to pierce the great piers. It is a theatrical tour de force. By
comparison, the Superga and the Carmine seem a little pedantic, but the former is sensationally
sited on a hilltop dominating the surrounding area with its elegant portico and high dome flanked
by onion-domed towers.

Comparable to Juvarra was Bernardo Yittone (1704-1770), who worked exclusively in

Piedmont, where he was born and to which he returned after studying in Rome and editing the
great baroque architect Guarini's 'Architettura Civile'. His most important works are in obscure
villages in Piedmont and unite Guarini's spatial complexity with Juvarra's lightness and brio. In
this vein, his masterpieces are the Sanctuary at Vallinotto (1738-39) and the church of Santa
Chiara at Bra of 1742.

While Vittone's domestic architecture is pedestrian, Juvarra's is not, and his rococo interiors are
among the finest in Italy. Unlike France, Italy was not ruled by one monarch, so patronage was
usually limited to a particular area of the country, as in Juvarra's case. His patron, Vittorio
Amadeo II of Savoy, was fortunate in having such an able court architect, and for him Juvarra
designed the facade of the Palazzo Madama in Turin (1718-21), and some of the few interiors
which approach the French in quality; such is the Chinese Room of the Royal Palace in Turin
with its lacquer and gilded boiseries, influenced, possibly, by JA Meissonnier's book of
ornaments published in 1734. A comparison of Juvarra's interiors with others in Italy shows that
he alone stood on an equal footing with other European designers.

Italian Rococo Furniture and Decorative Arts

Unfortunately the history of Italian rococo furniture does not follow such an easy pattern as the
French. The style of the seventeenth century overlapped into the eighteenth, and pieces which are
ostensibly datable before the turn of the century are often in fact much later. Much of Juvarra's

furniture remains fairly heavy, using natural forms in quite a different way from French
designers such as Nicolas Pineau or Meissonnier.

Splendour, left over from the baroque age, was still the dominant mood for all major interior
designs, and there was no feeling, as in France, or even Germany, for the small scale. Thus were
produced more sophisticated but equally imposing furniture and settings. Whereas the French
taste was for constant novelty, Italian interiors changed little after the initial swing to the Rococo
had been accepted. As in France, and to a greater extent in England, the newly rich or moderately
well-off were now trying to keep abreast of contemporary developments.

What surprised most foreign travellers to Italy was the emptiness of the great suites which lay
behind the facades of most large palaces. Apart from the few splendid apartments on view, the
palaces contained many undistinguished rooms and their contents could not compare with French
furniture and the chic of Parisian styles, for which the Italians substituted tasteless extravagance.
The pictures by Pietro Longhi of Venetian interiors conjure up the sparsely furnished rooms of
many Italian rococo houses.

The figures of Andrea Brustolon and Antonio Corradini dominated Venetian design at the
beginning of the century, their heavy baroque forms continuing to be produced by succeeding
craftsmen well after their deaths, almost until the end of the century. The Venetians were
nonetheless the only Italians who took the rococo style seriously to heart and emulated the
French, producing exaggerated bombe commodes often teetering on tiny, fragile legs. Few great
names are known in the domain of Italian eighteenth-century furniture and one thinks mainly of
highly important individual pieces such as G. M. Bonzanigo's painted and gilt firescreen in the
Royal Palace at Turin. In Italy, even more than in France, an apparently insatiable demand for
curious or unusual pieces arose, elaborately painted in the Venetian style with rustic scenes or
flowers, inlaid, but never with the intimate skill of the French ebenistes. Lacquer, heavy gilding,
mirrors, painted glass and combinations of other materials led to a bewildering and not always
happy mixture of styles.

Outstanding in the art of inlay was Pietro Piffetti (1700-77), who worked for the House of
Savoy at Turin, creating highly individual furniture combining wood and ivory inlays with such
refinements in metal as masks at the corners and mounts for legs. The Royal Palace at Turin
contains some breathtaking pieces, literally covered with ivory inlay and occasionally seeming to
be supported solely by chance, so fragile are the legs beneath their elaborate upper parts. In the
Museo Civico in Turin is a card-table by Piffetti, stamped and dated 1758, with a wholly
convincing trompe l'oeil of playing-cards in ivory and rare woods.

In the minor arts nothing of great significance was produced in Italy compared with elsewhere in
Europe, and certainly no ceramics factory appeared to rival that of Sevres. But two factories
produced porcelain, much of which is certainly very beautiful - Vinovo in Piedmont and
Capodimonte outside Naples. Capodimonte porcelain is characterized by the brilliance of its
colouring, often in unexpected combinations as seen in the famous Porcelain Room from the
Palace at Portici (1754-59).

Italian Rococo Painting

Turning to Venice once more, we find painting dominated towards the mid-century by
Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770), and, slightly later, by his son, Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo
(1727-1804). In the elder Tiepolo, and in him alone, can one speak of a pure rococo style, related
to the late Baroque in many ways, but creating an entirely new type of visual experience. Not
surprisingly, many of the greatest Venetian qualities from the past are present in his work: the
colour and original imagination of Titian; the figure types and luxurious materials of Paolo
Veronese, together with his love of opulent classical architecture as a backdrop for rich pageants
of history and mythology.

The artificiality of the atmosphere in his early frescoes links Tiepolo at once with the mainstream
of rococo art, but at a time when he could not have known much about contemporary French
painting. From then on his career was a meteoric success until his eclipse in Madrid at the end of
his life at the hands of the neoclassicists under Mengs.

His greatest commission came in 1750, when he went to Wurzburg to paint frescoes for the
newly completed palace there and stayed until 1753 to decorate the staircase (the largest fresco
in the world), the Kaisersaal and the chapel. Shortly before leaving for Wurzburg, Tiepolo had
decorated the Palazzo Labia in Venice with the story of Anthony and Cleopatra, one of his most
evocative recreations of classical history.

A comparison of Tiepolo's style with that of his exact contemporary, Boucher, reveals a different
and perhaps more intellectual temperament. His glacially elegant but still voluptuous nudes and
his subtle juxtaposition of types, as in the Wurzburg staircase where the 'Continents' are
brilliantly contrasted, is more original and complex than anything by Boucher. It was no accident
that Boucher admired Tiepolo above all others; "much more than Watteau's, his art is that of the
theatre, with a stage that is deliberately elevated above us, and actors who keep their distance",
says Michael Levey. Indeed his art is the last which is truly representative of aristocratic ideals,
soon to be replaced by the republican values of the French Revolution, an art which could only
have flourished in a city-state as decadent as Venice in the eighteenth century.

While Tiepolo, father and son, were the finest decorators in the city, there were the vedutisti, or
view-painters, such as Canaletto (1697-1768), whose great fame brought him to England
between 1746 and 1756, and his nephew Bernardo Bellotto (1720-80) .

The paintings of Francesco Guardi (1712-93) are triumphs of atmospheric study and
understanding of the singular effects of Venetian light on water and architecture. With a minimal
palette, reduced in some cases almost entirely to simple greens and greys, Guardi evokes
landscape and views of the canals in much the same way that Tiepolo executes figures, and with
magic dots of colour suggests people hurrying or engaged in conversation in the Piazza San
Marco or any of the many squares of Venice which he so clearly loved.

Pietro Longhi (1702-85), in contrast, specialized in somewhat gauche renderings of

contemporary life; in their gaucheness however lies their great charm, and in the often
delightfully unexpected choice of subject such as the 'Rhinoceros' (National Gallery, London) or
the 'Moorish Messenger' (Ca' Rezzonico, Venice).

But Italy was never as happy with the rococo style as it had been with the preceding style of the
Baroque or that of Neoclassicism, both of them heavier and more capable of expressing the
grandezza so beloved of Italian post-renaissance art. This, however, appears in Tiepolo in a
modified form, and it is his name which remains outstanding.

The Rococo Style in England

Of all the European countries which had adopted or contributed to the baroque style, England
was the one which paid least attention to the Rococo.

English Rococo Architecture, Interior Design and Decoration

In architecture, at least, England moved directly from the baroque style of Wren and Vanbrugh
to Palladianism, a transition so swift that it allowed of no intermediate development. With
buildings such as Walpole's Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, built from 1748, and Arbury,
Warwickshire, of the same date and the other Gothick buildings erected during the eighteenth
century it is sentiment which places these works in the rococo category rather than any
relationship with the rocaille.

In fact English Gothick is divided into two distinct categories - 'associational' and 'rococo', the
latter being a light-hearted form of decoration loosely based on medieval precedents but
frivolous enough to become almost a counterpart of Continental Rococo in its sense of abandon
and superficiality. William Kent (1684-1748), architect and decorator, devized his own
vocabulary of Gothick decoration, which spread as quickly and as effectively over England as
the arabesques of Continental Rococo. But, apart from this, rocaille in England touched only a
handful of interiors, some high-quality furniture, certain paintings and some porcelain, in
particular the products of Chelsea and Bow.

The earliest example of rocaille in England was the commission given to the great French
designer Meissonnier by the Duke of Kingston in 1735 for a suite of table furniture in silver. But
this was a fairly rare instance and rococo design was generally confined to engraved decoration
on sobre forms almost entirely unaffected by the style. The new tendencies were disseminated
predominantly by pattern-books such as Matthias Lock's, or Jones's "The Gentleman's or
Builder's Companion" of 1739, which made rococo or quasi-rococo details available to every
craftsman who could afford the volume. The fact that these were only details, detached from
their surroundings, accounts for the frequently gauche quality of much English rococo furniture.
since the craftsman could not be expected to appreciate the organic nature of the style from mere

As in Italy and France, the eighteenth-century patron's taste often extended to the Oriental in one
form or another. accounting for the few rococo rooms of note in England such as the bedroom at
Nostell Priory, Yorkshire, of 1745, or, the most important. Claydon House in Buckinghamshire
(c.1768), where a series of rooms were decorated by a certain Lightfoot, about whom little is
known. In these rooms, however, the style is by no means as pure as Continental Rococo.

Rococo decorative art appear in other English town and country house interiors and issometimes
of the highest quality - notably in the hall at Ragley, at nearby Hagley, and in the swirling
plasterwork of the Francini brothers. who executed much stucco work in Ireland, and are
particularly famed for their work at Russborough. But this attractive local craftsmanship is a far
cry from the consummate, all-embracing schemes of the Continent.

English Rococo Furniture and Decorative Arts

Unlike the French, English cabinet-makers did not usually sign their pieces, and so
comparatively little is known of men such as John Linnell, John Cobb, Benjamin Goodison
and William Vile, who all appear to have worked extensively in the new fashion. The name of
Chippendale is, however, outstanding, not only because of the quality of his pieces, but also
because of his publication "The Gentleman and Cabinet-maker's Director" (1754).

In his designs for mirrors and overmantels, often flavoured by chinoiserie, one sees exotic
examples of the rococo style, every bit as meticulous as French boiserie but designed to be used
as isolated features and rarely as part of a whole decorative scheme. Likewise, the elaborate and
fantastic carvings in the hall at Claydon are isolated in an otherwise classical setting.

English Rococo Painting

In painting, two English artists made certain concessions to the rococo - William Hogarth
(1697-1764) and Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88). Hogarth reacted strongly against the type
of baroque history painting which was so sought after by the 'amateurs' and introduced into his
own work the so-called 'Line of Beauty', which he explained in his "The Analysis of Beauty"
(1753) and which was a serpentine line rather like an elongated 'S'. This was, of course, precisely
the form of much rococo decoration.

Gainsborough, on the other hand, began life as a painter of small, stilted portraits later
developing a more sophisticated style after his move to fashionable Bath. He painted some
portraits in a rococo style surprisingly close to Boucher, their floating brushwork and feathery
landscapes, bright pinks and silvery greys pronouncedly more rococo than any contemporary
English painting.

Neoclassicism swept England from the return of Robert Adam to the country in 1758, but even
his chaste and epicene style echoes the dainty, meticulous quality of most French rococo
decorations and his Gothick is as rococo as any decoration of that period in England.

The Rococo Style in Germany

In contrast to the superb restraint of the finest French rococo, Germany provides a breathtaking
range of some of the most outrageous and magnificent rococo architecture and interior
decoration in the history of European art.

German Rococo Architecture, Interior Design and Decoration

This high standard of excellence spread from architecture to applied art - furniture, furnishings
and porcelain - though these rarely surpassed those of France. Nothing in 18th-century France,
Italy or England rivals the sheer excess of such architectural masterpieces as Melk or the
Dresden Zwinger, and in the number of first-rate churches and palaces alone, Germany easily
outstrips the others. This may stem from the fact that what we now call Germany, was, in the
eighteenth century, divided into several different principalities, kingdoms anq bishoprics, so that
a certain rivalry must have determined the creation of buildings of major importance - unlike
France or England where the really important commissions were invariably confined to a small
number of patrons.

German rococo can be seen to trace its origins to Roman churches of the baroque period such as
Bernini's Sant' Andrea al Quirinale, where colour, light and elaborate sculpture are all combined.
This is apparent for the first time in Germany in the Abbey Church of Weltenburg, built after
1714, with its oval dome cut away internally to reveal a frescoed vision of the heavens above.

Colour was the main string to the bow of German rococo - pink, lilac, lemon, blue - all were
combined or used individually to telling effect, as in the Amalienburg, near Munich. The heavier,
curving forms of the Baroque are turned into more staccato rhythms in German rococo, and one
finds the influence of a major baroque monument such as Bernini's baldacchino in St. Peter's
Rome, transformed by J. Balthasar Neumann (1687-1753), into a confection of the order of the
high altar at Vierzehnheiligen, perhaps the most complex and satisfying of German churches.

While room shapes in France during the eighteenth century did not change a great deal, and the
plan of ecclesiastical buildings hardly at all, German rococo architects explored every possibility.
Walls not only seem to sway despite their huge scale, but whole sections appear to have been cut
away, with the effect that the enormous frescoed ceilings, which entirely dominate most of these
churches, seem to float above the worshipper.

One of the most exciting features of German rococo architecture is the highly dramatic siting of
some of the most important examples, such as the Abbey of Melk by J. Prandtauer, begun in
1702. Deliberately placed in a commanding position high above the Danube, the two great
towers dominate a courtyard in front opened to the outside world by a great Palladian-type arch.
Such a feeling for drama, and for the total involvement of the faithful both externally and
internally, is also found at Ettal, in a reversed role, with the monastery dominated by surrounding

Secular building also reached a high level of perfection. Perhaps the most sophisticated examples
are to be found in and around Munich where, as court dwarf and architect, Francois Cuvillies
(1695-1768) was involved in many buildings, perhaps the finest being the Amalienburg. This
small pavilion, built between 1734 and 1739 and named after the Elector's wife, has, in Hugh
Honour's words, 'an easy elegance and gossamer delicacy'. Its gently swaying front, shallow
rustication and unusual pediments herald one of the loveliest rooms in Europe - the famous Hall
of Mirrors with its silver rocaille against powder-blue background and glittering glass. At the
opposite end of the scale, Cuvillies Residenz-theater in Munich (1751-53) uses richly gilded
figures and musical instruments to frame the entire auditorium, contrasting vividly with the red
damask and velvet of the walls and seats.

Potsdam and Dresden never produced a rococo style as refined as that of Munich, but buildings
such as the Zwinger (1709-19) by Poppelmann in Dresden overwhelm by their scale and
superabundance of decorative detail. The effect of this type of architecture is also felt in the little
Palace of Sans Souci at Potsdam (1745-51), which was built for Frederick the Great.For sheer
scale, opulence and overpowering grandeur of detail, the Rococo of Germany is foremost in

Later Variants of Rococo

The rococo style never really died out in provincial France. With the arrival of Historicism in the
1820s, many craftsmen found it comparatively easy to produce whole interiors and buildings in
the 'Second Rococo' style so favoured by Louis Phillipe and his queen, examples of which are to
be found throughout Paris.

The rococo architectural and design revival came to England as early as 1828 with Wyatville's
Waterloo Chamber in Apsley House, the interiors of Lancaster House and the Elizabeth Saloon
at Belvoir Castle. It appealed naturally to the rich of the day, and the Rothschilds decorated
several houses in the style, even incorporating actual 18th-century interiors at Waddesdon Manor
in the 1880s.

Royal assent was given to the style by Ludwig of Bavaria in his Linderhof Palace and
Herrenchiemsee of the same period. It became the accepted taste in the decoration of the many

new hotels of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and 'Le gout Ritz' was to be
synonymous with luxury and elegance.

Mexican Muralism

Muralism or Muralismo is an important artistic movement generated in Latin America. It is

popularly represented by the Mexican muralism movement of Diego Rivera, David Alfaro
Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco, and Rufino Tamayo. In Chile, José Venturelli was an
influential muralist, and Pedro Nel Gómez. Santiago Martinez Delgado championed muralism in
Colombia as did Gabriel Bracho in Venezuela. Some of the most impressive Muralista works
can be found in Mexico, Colombia, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and
Philadelphia. Mexican Muralism "enjoyed a type of prestige and influence in other countries that
no other American art movement had ever experienced."[2]

Mexican painter Frida Kahlo may be the best-known female Latin American artist in the United
States. She painted self-portraits and depictions of traditional Mexican culture in a style
combining Realism, Symbolism and Surrealism. Kahlo's work commands the highest selling
price of all Latin American paintings and the second-highest for any female artist

Neoclassical Art (Flourished 1770-1830)

The artistic style known as "Neoclassicism" was the predominant movement in European art and
architecture during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It reflected a desire to rekindle the
spirit and forms of classical art from ancient Greece and Rome, whose principles of order and
reason were entirely in keeping with the European Age of Enlightenment. Neoclassicism was
also, in part, a reaction against the ostentation of Baroque art and the decadent frivololity of the
decorative Rococo school, championed by the French court - and especially Louis XV's mistress,
Madame de Pompadour - and also partly stimulated by the discovery of Roman ruins at
Herculaneum and Pompeii (1738-50), along with publication in 1755 of the highly influential
book Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works of Art, by the German art historian and scholar
Johann Winckelmann (1717-68). All this led to a revival of neoclassical painting, sculpture and
architectural design in Rome, from where it spread northwards to France, England, Sweden and

Russia. America became very enthusiastic about Neoclassical architecture, not least because it
lent public buildings an aura of tradition and permanence. Neoclassical painters included Anton
Raphael Mengs (1728-79), Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807)
and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867); while sculptors included Jean-Antoine
Houdon (1741-1828), John Flaxman (1755-1826), Antonio Canova (1757-1822), and Bertel
Thorvaldsen (1770-1844). Among the best known exponents of neoclassical architecture were
Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723), Jules-Hardouin Mansart (1646-1708), Jacques Germain
Soufflot (1713-80), Claude Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806), John Nash (1752-1835), Jean Chalgrin
(1739-1811), Carl Gotthard Langhans (1732-1908), Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841), and
Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820).

Origins & Scope

The revival of artistic canons from Classical Antiquity was not an overnight event. It built on
Renaissance art itself, as well as the more sober styles of Baroque architecture, the mood of
Enlightenment, the dissatisfaction with the Rococo, and a new respect for the earlier classical
history painting of Nicolas Poussin (1593-1665), as well as the classical settings of Claude
Lorrain's (1600-82) landscapes. Furthermore, it matured in different countries at different times.
Neoclassical architecture actually originated around 1640, and continues to this day.
Paradoxically, the abundance of ancient classical buildings in Rome meant that the city at the
heart of the neoclassicism movement experienced little neoclassical architecture.

In addition, despite appearances, there is no clear dividing line between Neoclassicism and
Romanticism. This is because a revival of interest in Classical Antiquity can easily morph into a
nostalgic desire for the past.


Neoclassical works (paintings and sculptures) were serious, unemotional, and sternly heroic.
Neoclassical painters depicted subjects from Classical literature and history, as used in earlier
Greek art and Republican Roman art, using sombre colours with occasional brilliant highlights,
to convey moral narratives of self-denial and self-sacrifice fully in keeping with the supposed
ethical superiority of Antiquity. Neoclassical sculpture dealt with the same subjects, and was
more restrained than the more theatrical Baroque sculpture, less whimsical than the indulgent
Rococo. Neoclassical architecture was more ordered and less grandiose than Baroque, although
the dividing line between the two can sometines be blurred. It bore a close external resemblance
to the Greek Orders of architecture, with one obvious exception - there were no domes in ancient
Greece. Most roofs were flat.

Neoclassical Painters

Founders and famous artists of Neoclassicism include the German portraitist and historical
painter Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-79), the Frenchman Joseph-Marie Vien (1716-1809) (who
taught J-L David), the Italian portrait painter Pompeo Batoni (1708-87),the Swiss painter
Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807), the French political artist Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825),
and his pupils Jean-Germain Drouais (1763-88), Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy-Trioson (1767-
1824), J.A.D. Ingres (1780-1867) the French master of academic art, and the American
expatriate Benjamin West (1738-1820). In Britain, celebrated followers of Neoclassicism
included: Sir Joshua Reynolds and the Irish virtuoso James Barry.