The introduction to baroque architecture is a style that goes through history, it never pretended to be understood by reason, by intelligence, but captured by the senses, it sought emotional effects in the viewer, not rational ones. The Universe was no longer the same, the world had expanded and the individual wanted to experience a new kind of contact with the divine and the metaphysical.


The exuberant forms of the Baroque, its elliptical space, definitely anti-Euclidean, were an answer to these needs. With the advance of Protestantism, the old Roman Christian order was supplanted by new worldviews and new attitudes toward the sacred.


The Church felt the need to renew itself in order not to lose the faithful and saw in the promotion of a new aesthetic the opportunity to identify with this new world. Baroque forms were promoted by the institution throughout the world, making it the Catholic style par excellence.


Revilla believes that in the 17th century baroque architecture proper emerged, characterized by the alteration of the proportions of the architectural elements, the multiplication of arch forms, broken pediments, abundant irregular and rough moldings and the appearance of the twisted or historic shaft column. For Revilla it is in the XVIII century when the style acquires maturity and then it can be given a different name than the simple baroque, it can be called churrigueresque.


Baroque Architecture, Definition and Origin

The word comes etymologically from the Portuguese baroque, which means "irregular pearl". The origin is also pointed to the French baroque, which is a figure of the syllogism of the scholastics.


Originally, in Spain, the term "baroque" denoted an irregular and oddly shaped pearl, while in Italy it referred to a pedantic, contorted argument of little dialectical value. It eventually became, in almost all European languages, synonymous with the extravagant, deformed, abnormal, unusual, absurd, and irregular; and in this context it was adopted by eighteenth-century critics to apply to the art of the previous century, which seemed to them to possess such general characteristics of Baroque architecture conspicuously.


In Central Europe, Baroque architecture spread soon after, but even despite this condition it flourished in the works of Baroque architects such as the Austrian Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. The impact in Britain can be seen in the works of Christopher Wren. The late Baroque style is known as Rococo or, in Spain and Latin America, Churrigueresque.


What is Baroque Architecture?

Baroque architecture is an architectural style of highly decorative theatrical context, which appeared in Italy in the early seventeenth century and gradually spread throughout Europe. Initially, it was created by architects of the Catholic boom, mainly by the Jesuits, in order to combat the Reformation and the Protestant Church by imposing a new architecture that inspired surprise and astonishment.


Baroque architecture is a composition of great formal complexity, with a particular taste for curved lines, irregularity and ornamental exuberance. Among the great Italian exponents was Gian Lorenzo Bernini.


Its cultural apogee and the theory of Baroque architecture occurred in the High Baroque, when this architectural style was used in churches and palaces in Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, and Austria. During the period of late Baroque architecture, it reached Russia and Spanish and Portuguese colonies throughout Latin America. Around 1730 an even more elaborate and decorative variant of Baroque religious architecture called Rococo appeared and flourished in Central Europe.


In some European countries such as France and Northern Europe, an even more rationalist movement derived directly from the Renaissance called Baroque Classicism was generated.


Among the outstanding architects of Baroque architecture in Italy were Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Carlo Maderno, Francesco Borromini and Guarino Guarini. On the other hand, Baroque architecture in France was subjected to classical elements.


Baroque Architects

  1. Gian Lorenzo Bernini: Prodigious sculptor and visionary architect, Bernini left his immense talent at the service of the popes and the transformation of Rome into the artistic capital of Christianity. One of his works as an architect is the bronze baldachin in the basilica of St. Peter's at the Vatican in Rome.
  2. Francesco Borromini: He was an Italian architect, who was recognized as one of the greatest exponents of the Roman Baroque style. Borromini's most important construction is the church of "St. Charles of the Four Fountains" in the shape of an ellipse, the facade with rior walls and the oval medallion.
  3. Jules Hardouin Mansart: His baroque style is more similar to the Italian one: less complicated floor plans, more serious facades and traditional details of the architectural orders. One of his most famous works, in which he stands out is the Palace of Versailles with Luis Le Vau.
  4. José Benito de Churriguera: He was a Spanish baroque architect and altarpiece artist, member of a family of artists of which he is considered the most outstanding. The influence of his work, together with that of his brothers Alberto and Joaquín, determined the so-called Churrigueresque style, characterized by the abundance and prominence of decoration.


Characteristics of Baroque Architecture

As an introduction to Baroque architecture and its characteristics, this architecture took the basic elements of Renaissance architecture, including domes and colonnades, and made them taller, larger, more decorated and more artistically dramatic. In the interior, the effects were often achieved with the use of Quadratura, or trompe-l'oeil painting combined with sculpture; the eye is drawn upward, giving the illusion that one is looking skyward.


In addition, Baroque architecture was also characterized by what is now known as urbanism, the layout of cities according to predetermined schemes and the creation of large parks and gardens around the city.


Bouquets of sculpted angels and painted figures formed part of the decoration on the roof. Light was used for dramatic effect; it flowed from the domes and was reflected in an abundance of golden hues. Twisted columns were used to give an illusion of upward movement, and cartouches and other decorative baroque architectural elements occupied all the free spaces. In Baroque palaces, grand staircases became a central feature.


Elements of Baroque Architecture

Baroque architecture also abounds in ornamental elements, whether on the exterior or the interior of buildings. All the superlatives are applied to it: abundant, triumphant, theatrical, festive, sensual, exuberant, even pompous. It would seem that the Church wants to show its triumph and vitality. As if a church were heaven on earth. So what are these elements or ornaments in question?


  • The angels of musicians floating in space.
  • The garlands of juicy fruits and flowers bursting with beauty.
  • The vases, braziers and candelabra from which a flame is emanating.
  • The friezes carved with plump putti, cherubs.
  • The architectural plants that abandon their circular shape, symbol of Neoplatonic perfection, to adopt elliptical shapes, with movement in itself.
  • Its facades that have evolved with great liveliness and movement, both in plan and in entrances and exits.
  • The openings are of complex oval shapes, with cantilevered windows.
  • The supports, free or fixed, are used mainly for decorative purposes: atlases, caryatids, corbels and purely baroque supports appear.
  • The interplay of light was evident both inside and outside, due to the alternation of openings and walls, openings and walls.
  • The coverings are preferably arched, of known and new types: ellipsoids, mixed line plants. They can also be false and are called encamonadas.
  • Large Renaissance domes, seeking contrast with towers of different profiles and locations.
  • The pediments, moldings and entablatures were broken into fanciful shapes that gave rise to lugs, scrolls and cylinders.


What is the difference between Baroque and Gothic architecture?

Baroque architecture began at the end of the 16th century. The Catholic Church wanted to keep people from leaving the church for Protestant churches. Therefore, they made their churches much more elegant, hoping that people would feel more heavenly in their churches.  Baroque architecture was based on the use of ovals and circles, which were believed to enhance emotion and spirituality. It has a lot of very detailed work. It has many paintings on the walls and ceilings.


Gothic design dates back to the mid to late Middle Ages. Gothic architecture is composed of stone, the interior designs are carved in wood. Its Gothic style is the design form of many of the greatest churches and cathedrals in Europe. It is very simple in its interior. The term is usually used to refer to buildings that have pointed arches, ribbed ceilings, large windows and unique, fanciful exteriors.

Baroque Architecture in Spain

Italian Baroque spread north of the Alps, but it also spread to Spain and Portugal. In these countries, however, there was no obstacle to its success, but it also developed a totally individual style. The most outstanding feature of Baroque architecture in Spain, and indeed the only peculiarity, was the profusion of decoration. Regardless of the form of a building, it seemed to be simply a pretext for the ornamentation that embedded it.


This result is attributed to many factors, among them the Arab tradition, still alive in the Iberian Peninsula, and the influences of pre-Columbian art from America, with its fantastic decorative vocabulary.


Known as "Churrigueresque Baroque Architecture" after its family name, Churriguera, from a dynasty of Spanish architects who were particularly closely associated with it, it dominated Spain and Portugal for two centuries and passed on to its South American colonies, where the decorative aspect was intensified, if possible, into a frenzy of ornamentation. Possibly its value is debatable, but as a style it is certainly recognizable, in its subordination to decoration.


Baroque Architecture in Mexico

Most of the Renaissance had been lost to Spain despite a religious war that lasted almost 800 years for the fate of the Iberian Peninsula. Desperate to catch up to the wealth of other European nations, it financed a risky voyage in 1492 and ended up building the largest empire in the world at the time. One of the jewels of the Spanish Empire was Mexico (then called New Spain).


When Spain used its new wealth to eagerly seek out the kind of art it missed in the Renaissance, those arts found a unique ability to thrive in Mexico. The Baroque was no exception. Baroque architecture flooded Mexican cities, representing the wealth of the Spanish in the Americas. However, these Mexican structures were often built by indigenous artists and craftsmen, and over time developed unique traits of their own that later became known as Mexican Baroque.


Baroque Architecture in Italy

Italy, the birthplace of Baroque architecture and a key destination of those participating in the tour, has produced, in addition to a proportionate number of good Baroque architects, a quartet that is considered excellent: Bernini, Borromini, Pietro da Cortona, and Guarino Guarini.


The work of each was unmistakably in the Baroque architectural style, but each 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 mainly on the Italian peninsula. This style possessed, in its most typical form, all the features of the Baroque described above, and conveyed an air of grandeur and dignity that made it a classic of its kind.