Baroque Art and Architecture


The baroque was a style of art that existed from the late 1500s to the middle of the 18th century. The works of art were rich, dramatic and had a lot of detail. Baroque was a contrast to the Renaissance, which dominated much of European life in the period before. Renaissance art was orderly and balanced. It often used geometric figures and shapes. Baroque artists and architects concentrated on curves and arches.

Many European rulers wanted to show how powerful they were during the baroque period. They paid architects to build palaces with great gardens in baroque style. Versailles near Paris and the Belvedere in Vienna are examples for such architecture.



Versaille Palace - Marc Vassal


Baroque buildings were not the same in all of Europe. In Austria, Spain and Latin America the inside of these buildings were covered with many decorations. Baroque architecture of France was more classical and orderly. In England, Sir Christopher Wren was the prime architect of the period. He rebuilt London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral after it had been burned down by a fire in 1666 and replaced the old Gothic with a newer baroque style.

Baroque sculpture was characterized by movement. The most famous representative was Giovanni Bernini of Italy. He created marble sculptures, designed fountains and made altarpieces. He also played an important role in rebuilding St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In the 1650s he designed the great square, or piazza, in front of the Catholic world’s most important cathedral.

Baroque paintings were famous for their large forms. Italian artists painted the ceilings of churches with massive colourful figures. Michelangelo Caravaggio was thought to be the first great painter of the baroque era. We worked mainly in Rome, where he painted scenes of the New Testament on large canvases. He chose biblical stories and put them into modern settings.

In Flanders, present-day Belgium, Peter Paul Rubens was the main baroque artist. He painted majestic scenes of Christ’s birth, as well as altarpieces and other religious objects. All of them were huge and expressed dynamic movement. In Holland, Rembrandt was the great painter of the era. He painted portraits of individuals, groups and sometimes himself. Jan Vermeer specialized in painting the interior of rooms of middle class houses.

Adoration by Paul Rubens

"Adoration" by Paul Rubens

In Spain, Velazquez created scenes of everyday life, as well as portraits of the Spanish royal family and other historical figures.


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  •   altarpiece = a painting or sculpture behind an altar
  •   arch = something with a curved top and straight sides
  •   balanced = here: the right amount of everything
  •   canvas = the cloth on which you paint
  •   ceiling = the top wall of a room
  •   century = a hundred years
  •   contrast = difference
  •   cover = to have something all over
  •   create = make
  •   decoration = nice and beautiful objects that you paint on something to make it more attractive
  •   design = plan, create
  •   express = show
  •   fountain = a structure from which water is pumped into the air
  •   huge = very big
  •   interior = the inner part of
  •   main = most important
  •   marble = a hard rock that becomes smooth when you polish it; it is used to make buildings and statues
  •   movement = here: to make something dynamic, with a lot of life
  •   orderly = arranged, in order, logical
  •   period = time
  •   prime =most important
  •   Renaissance = Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries; a time in which art, literature and philosophy became very important
  •   replace = to make instead of something else
  •   representative = a typical painter of this period
  •   ruler = a person who governs a country
  •   sculpture = an object made out of stone, wood or another material by an artist
  •   setting = location
  •   shape = form
  •   work = piece