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Last edited 30 Jan 2019
Baroque architecture is a style that emerged in Italy in the late-16th century.
It was a more theatrical version of Renaissance architecture, with dramatic lighting and colour, illusory effects such as trompe l’oeil, and designs that played games with architectural features, sometimes leaving them incomplete.
Its buildings typically include central towers, domes, portico or other central projections in the main façade. As Baroque architecture coincided with European colonialism, it can be seen throughout much of the world; and in some regions, notably Germany and colonial South America, it lasted until the 18th century.
Baroque developed in the Counter-Reformation period, when the Catholic Church needed to reassert its waning influence across Europe in the face of the Protestant Reformation. One way of attracting new followers was to create overtly emotional and sensory displays in art and architecture. Church architecture appealed as much to the emotions as to the intellect of the faithful, attempting to persuade them into unconditional loyalty to the church. Approaching and entering a church became a symbolic, sensorial and mysterious experience.
While initially finding form in church and cathedral design, the style was later used as a visual demonstration of absolutist regimes in the form of elaborate royal palaces.
 Style and characteristics
Baroque architecture is characterised by dynamic designs and complex architectural plan forms; intended to heighten feelings of motion and sensuality, and frequently based on the oval. There is often a mixture of the repetition, break-up and distortion of Renaissance classical motifs.
Common elements include:
- Curves and twists.
- Rich surface treatments.
- Gilded statuary.
- Bright colours.
- Vividly painted ceilings.
- Fragmented or deliberately incomplete elements.
- Large-scale frescoes.
- Dramatic central projections on an external façade.
- Use of plaster or stucco, marble or faux finishing.
- Illusory effects such as trompe l’oeil.
- Pear-shaped domes (more common in Eastern Europe baroque).
The most notable practitioners of the baroque style in Italy included Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Carlo Maderno, and Francesco Borromini. Developing later, in central Europe the most notable architect was Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. In Britain, baroque was adopted by Christopher Wren and Nicolas Hawksmoor.
- St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.
- Winter Palace, St. Petersburg.
- Karlskirche, Vienna.
- Palace of Versailles, Versailles.
- Les Invalides, Paris.
- St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City.
- San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Rome.
- St. John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta, Malta.
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