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"Dans l'intérieur de l'église , à la croisée droite , il y a un tableau de Salvator Rosa, qui représente S. Côme & S. ... comme une idée baroque l'homme qui est culbuté dans un coin du tableau & donc on ne voit que les jambes , le reste ..."--Voyage d'un François en Italie, fait dans les années 1765 & 1766 (1769) by Joseph Jérôme François de Lalande

"Man hat sich gewöhnt, unter dem Namen Barock jenen Stil zu verstehen, in den die Renaissance sich auflöst oder — wie man sich öfter ausdrückt — in den die Renaissance entartet."--Renaissance und Barock (1888) by Heinrich Wölfflin

"BAROQUE (quaint) style, 1600-1800. The simple beauty which distinguished the works of art of the fifteenth century , and the richness and dignity which they displayed in the sixteenth, were succeeded in the seventeenth by a style in which were exaggerated all the defects of the Renaissance, and from which almost all its merits were left out, and which reflected the unbridled licence and effeminate luxury of the age. It was neither classical nor gothic. Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini (1598—1680) was the chief master of this style, and the extent to which: unmeaning and capricious decoration was indulged in is seen in his bronze Baldacchino (i.e. canopy) covering the high altar of St, Peter's. His greatest architectural work is the colossal colonnade in front of St. Peter's (Fig. 50). Bernini was also famous as a sculptor. One of his best works is a group of Apollo and Daphne, finished in his eighteenth year. His rival, Francesco Borromini (1599— 1667), endeavoured to outdo him by even greater exaggeration of ornament. From his buildings rectilinear forms disappear almost entirely,—even the gables of the windows, the cornices, and the entablatures are broken and contorted, so that all regularity of design is last, and an effect produced of painful confusion and instability."--An Elementary History of Art (1874) by Nancy Bell

"BAROQUE is an excellent example of the necessity for looking at the culture that is responsible for a style of art and the reasons for the character of that culture. The coming of the seventeenth century marked the decline of the Renaissance in Italy, as the sixteenth marked its maturity and the fifteenth its youth. Hence one expects to find complexity and contradiction, technical virtuosity, and theatrical realism. A secular life centered in display found its needed stimulation in a grandiloquence that surprised and overwhelmed the senses. A complacent, decadent Church, threatened with disintegration by the progress of the Reformation in northern Europe, aroused itself into reform through the Counter-Reformation, and saw in the pomp and circumstance of the rising baroque style a type of expression that could overawe with splendor. This trend was confirmed by the Jesuits, recently established in Spain, whose influence was powerful not only in missionary endeavor but also in holding adherents loyal in the face of powerful heresies. Hence the motivation of both secular and religious interests was to feed strained emotionalism with grandiloquent brilliance. One is not surprised to find Italian opera developing rapidly, and the aria, with much florid embroidery, the vogue of the day; or the rise of the viol family among instruments, culminating at Cremona in the creations of the Stradivarius family."--Gardner's Art Through the Ages (1926) by Helen Gardner

Iconologia  (1593) by Cesare Ripa was an emblem book highly influential on Baroque imagery
Iconologia (1593) by Cesare Ripa was an emblem book highly influential on Baroque imagery

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In the arts, Baroque is a 17th century period as well as a style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, literature, dance, and music. The style started around 1600 in Rome, Italy and spread to most of Europe. The word "baroque" came from the Portuguese word barroco, meaning "misshapen pearl." It is also said to hail from Federigo Barocci (1528-1612), a founder of the style.



According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word baroque is derived from the Portuguese word "barroco", Spanish "barroco", or French "baroque", all of which refer to a "rough or imperfect pearl", though whether it entered those languages via Latin, Arabic, or some other source is uncertain. The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica 11th edition, thought the term was derived from the Spanish barrueco, a large, irregularly-shaped pearl, and that it had for a time been confined to the craft of the jeweller. Others derive it from the mnemonic term "Baroco", a supposedly laboured form of syllogism in logical Scholastica. The root can be found in bis-roca, a Latin word.

In informal usage, the word baroque can simply mean that something is "elaborate", with many details, without reference to the Baroque styles of the 17th and 18th centuries.

The word "Baroque", like most periodic or stylistic designations, was invented by later critics rather than practitioners of the arts in the 17th and early 18th centuries. It is a French transliteration of the Portuguese phrase "pérola barroca", which means "irregular pearl", and natural pearls that deviate from the usual, regular forms so they do not have an axis of rotation are known as "baroque pearls".

The term "Baroque" was initially used in a derogatory sense, to underline the excesses of its emphasis. In particular, the term was used to describe its eccentric redundancy and noisy abundance of details, which sharply contrasted the clear and sober rationality of the Renaissance. Although it was long thought that the word as a critical term was first applied to architecture, in fact it appears earlier in reference to music, in an anonymous, satirical review of the première in October 1733 of Jean-Philippe Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie, printed in the Mercure de France in May 1734. The critic implied that the novelty in this opera was "du barocque", complaining that the music lacked coherent melody, was filled with unremitting dissonances, constantly changed key and meter, and speedily ran through every compositional device.


  1. Ornate, intricate, decorated, laden with detail.
  2. Complex and beautiful, despite an outward irregularity.
  3. Chiseled from stone, or shaped from wood, in a garish, crooked, twisted, or slanted sort of way, grotesque.
  4. Embellished with figures and forms such that every level of relief gives way to more details and contrasts.
  5. Characteristic of Western art music of about the same period.
  6. figuratively Overly and needlessly complicated.

Modern usage

In modern usage, the term "Baroque" may still be used, usually pejoratively, describing works of art, craft, or design that are thought to have excessive ornamentation or complexity of line, or, as a synonym for "Byzantine", to describe literature, computer software, contracts, or laws that are thought to be excessively complex, indirect, or obscure in language, to the extent of concealing or confusing their meaning.

The word was first rehabilitated by the Swiss-born art historian, Heinrich Wölfflin (1864–1945) in his Renaissance und Barock (1888); Wölfflin identified the Baroque as "movement imported into mass," an art antithetic to Renaissance art. He did not make the distinctions between Mannerism and Baroque that modern writers do, and he ignored the later phase, the academic Baroque that lasted into the 18th century. Writers in French and English did not begin to treat Baroque as a respectable study until Wölfflin's influence had made German scholarship pre-eminent.


Baroque painting

A defining statement of what Baroque signifies in painting is provided by the series of paintings executed by Peter Paul Rubens for Marie de Medici at the Luxembourg Palace in Paris (now at the Louvre), in which a Catholic painter satisfied a Catholic patron: Baroque-era conceptions of monarchy, iconography, handling of paint, and compositions as well as the depiction of space and movement.

Baroque style featured "exaggerated lighting, intense emotions, release from restraint, and even a kind of artistic sensationalism". Baroque art did not really depict the life style of the people at that time; however, "closely tied to the Counter-Reformation, this style melodramatically reaffirmed the emotional depths of the Catholic faith and glorified both church and monarchy" of their power and influence.

There were highly diverse strands of Italian baroque painting, from Caravaggio to Cortona; both approaching emotive dynamism with different styles. Another frequently cited work of Baroque art is Bernini's Saint Theresa in Ecstasy for the Cornaro chapel in Saint Maria della Vittoria, which brings together architecture, sculpture, and theatre into one grand conceit.

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

A rather different art developed out of northern realist traditions in 17th century Dutch Golden Age painting, which had very little religious art, and little history painting, instead playing a crucial part in developing secular genres such as still life, genre paintings of everyday scenes, and landscape painting. While the Baroque nature of Rembrandt's art is clear, the label is less often used for Vermeer and many other Dutch artists. Flemish Baroque painting shared a part in this trend, while also continuing to produce the traditional categories.

In a similar way the French classical style of painting exemplified by Poussin is often classed as Baroque, and does share many qualities of the Italian painting of the same period, although the poise and restraint derived from following classical ideas typically give it a very different overall mood.


The Baroque originated around 1600, the Council of Trent (1545–63), by which the Roman Catholic Church answered many questions of internal reform, addressed the representational arts by demanding that paintings and sculptures in church contexts should speak to the illiterate rather than to the well-informed. This turn toward a populist conception of the function of ecclesiastical art is seen by many art historians as driving the innovations of Caravaggio and brothers Agostino and Annibale Carracci, all of who were working (and competing for commissions) in Rome around 1600.

The appeal of Baroque style turned consciously from the witty, intellectual qualities of 16th century Mannerist art to a visceral appeal aimed at the senses. It employed an iconography that was direct, simple, obvious, and theatrical. Baroque art drew on certain broad and heroic tendencies in Annibale Carracci and his circle, and found inspiration in other artists like Correggio and Caravaggio and Federico Barocci (illustration, left), nowadays sometimes termed 'proto-Baroque'. Germinal ideas of the Baroque can also be found in the work of Michelangelo. Some general parallels in music make the expression "Baroque music" useful: there are contrasting phrase lengths, harmony and counterpoint have ousted polyphony, and orchestral color makes a stronger appearance. Even more generalized parallels perceived by some experts in philosophy, prose style and poetry, are harder to pinpoint.

Though Baroque was superseded in many centers by the Rococo style, beginning in France in the late 1720s, especially for interiors, paintings and the decorative arts, the Baroque style continued to be used in architecture until the advent of Neoclassicism in the later 18th century. See the Neapolitan palace of Caserta, a Baroque palace (though in a chaste exterior) whose construction began 1752.

In paintings Baroque gestures are broader than Mannerist gestures: less ambiguous, less arcane and mysterious, more like the stage gestures of opera, a major Baroque art form. Baroque poses depend on contrapposto ("counterpoise"), the tension within the figures that move the planes of shoulders and hips in counterdirections. See Benini's David.

The dryer, less dramatic and coloristic, chastened later stages of 18th century Baroque architectural style are often seen as a separate Late Baroque manifestation, for example in buildings by Claude Perrault. Academic characteristics in the neo-Palladian style, epitomized by William Kent, are a parallel development in Britain and the British colonies: within interiors, Kent's furniture designs are vividly influenced by the Baroque furniture of Rome and Genoa, hierarchical tectonic sculptural elements, meant never to be moved from their positions, completed the wall decoration. Baroque is a style of unity imposed upon rich, heavy detail.

The Baroque was defined by Heinrich Wölfflin as the age where the oval replaced the circle as the center of composition, that centralization replaced balance, and that coloristic and "painterly" effects began to become more prominent. Art historians, often Protestant ones, have traditionally emphasized that the Baroque style evolved during a time in which the Roman Catholic Church had to react against the many revolutionary cultural movements that produced a new science and new forms of religionReformation. It has been said that the monumental Baroque is a style that could give the Papacy, like secular absolute monarchies, a formal, imposing way of expression that could restore its prestige, at the point of becoming somehow symbolic of the Counter-Reformation.

Whether this is the case or not, it was successfully developed in Rome, where Baroque architecture widely renewed the central areas with perhaps the most important urbanistic revision.

Modern usage

In modern usage, the term "Baroque" may still be used, usually pejoratively, describing works of art, craft, or design that are thought to have excessive ornamentation or complexity of line, or, as a synonym for "Byzantine", to describe literature, computer software, contracts, or laws that are thought to be excessively complex, indirect, or obscure in language, to the extent of concealing or confusing their meaning.

See also

Baroque literature, Baroque architecture, Baroque art, Baroque sculpture, 17th century art

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