Baroque Architecture and Interior Design, Explained

Baroque Architecture and Interior Design, Explained

Architecture
By Dikran Seferian June 08, 2022

Imagine beholding the palatial interiors and facades of baroque structures, a theatrical style of architecture and design that is anything but modest. Personified by exuberant ornamentation, baroque architecture is a testament to grandeur and opulence. It exudes divinity in and of itself. You might even say it’s the Caravaggio and the Rembrandt of the architecture world — the very artists who are actually known for painting on baroque ceilings and walls.

Deeply etched in the realm of art, the baroque era of architecture goes hand in hand with the classical music genre of the same name. Baroque composers such as Vivaldi, Bach, and of course Handel beautifully reflect this architectural style’s emphasis on perfection accented by expressiveness. 

The History of Baroque Architecture

Baroque architecture emerged in Rome as a result of the Roman Catholic Church’s need for a revival. In response to the turbulent times of the 16th century, statesmen and religious leaders began using art and architecture as a means of displaying power, wealth, and eminence.

These efforts were especially aimed at countering the Protestant Reformation. Since the Protestants opted for a minimalist and simple architectural style for their structures, the Roman Catholics did exactly the opposite with Baroque architecture. This counterrevolution manifested itself in the form of grandiose cathedrals and palaces.

The Catholic Church even commissioned artists such as Diego Velazquez, Nicholas Poussin, and Caravaggio to adorn the majestic cathedrals with Renaissance frescoes — only in a more intricate fashion. During this era, artists began to develop innovative methods in an effort to inspire fealty and sentiment through baroque art.

Baroque-style architecture eventually began to spread throughout Europe and — as a result of colonization — South America. As the style gained renown, countries made subtle alterations to resonate with their own ways of life. Over time, baroque architecture evolved into the rococo style. Otherwise known as late baroque, rococo architecture is slightly more toned down than its not-so-humble beginnings. 

Famous examples of baroque and rococo architecture include the Palace of Versailles, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Poli Palace, the facade of which forms the backdrop of the Trevi Fountain in Rome.

The Poli Palace behind Rome’s Trevi Fountain is synonymous with Baroque architecture.

The Poli Palace behind Rome’s Trevi Fountain is synonymous with Baroque architecture.

Characteristics of Baroque Architecture and Interior Design

Differentiating between certain architectural designs can be somewhat tricky, especially with the incorporation of elements from different styles. However, a number of key aspects distinguish Baroque architecture from other variations such as gothic architecture.

Heavenly Array of Colors

Historic pieces of architecture typically tend to be overly grayish and may even come off as gloomy. However, that’s not the case with baroque structures. Color plays a defining role in this architectural style, appearing abundantly in paintings on the ceilings and walls. These magnificent works of art are known as frescoes. Although they’re an optional feature in Renaissance buildings, they appear as a standard element in baroque architecture.

Besides the majestic paintings, ceiling adornments also feature colored or gilded cavities, resulting in a vibrant interplay of details. You can find these elements on wooden ceilings passed on from the Renaissance period. Stucco walls and ceilings also constitute baroque architecture and are often graced with floral designs, geometric shapes, as well as human forms such as cupids and cherubs.  

Grandiose paintings with vivid hues often characterize the walls and ceilings of baroque structures.

Grandiose paintings with vivid hues often characterize the walls and ceilings of baroque structures.

Visual Flow

The diversity of baroque architecture allows it to transcend the limits of mere geometric figures, resulting in a combination of shapes that aim to mimic natural elements. The sophistication of this plan gives way to endless possibilities for architects to come up with an array of forms in an effort to achieve visual flow.

Since baroque architects always hoped to exceed expectations and create flow in an otherwise static art form, they opted for curves. This resulted in curves and counter-curves becoming a recurring motif in baroque architecture and interior design. Artists such as Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Guarino Guarini used this technique to create movement along with architectural elements such as columns — a perfect example being Bernini’s Baldacchino in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Bernini’s Baldacchino is an excellent visualization of how baroque architecture utilizes a visual flow.

Bernini’s Baldacchino is an excellent visualization of how baroque architecture utilizes a visual flow.

Intricate Details

No architectural style thrives in detail more than baroque. Emphasis on detail is the cornerstone and fundamental purpose of baroque architecture. As a result, baroque buildings may seem rather ethereal and sometimes overwhelming to the eye. It’s almost impossible to process all the details at first glance, which is exactly as the architects intended. The entirety of the design is supposed to seem unworldly as if you are witnessing divinity and all that is glorious.

This attention to detail is evident on everything from walls adorned with wooden or stone sculptures to arched or painted ceilings. Grand entryways of baroque buildings don’t shy away from revealing these features to draw attention right away. Baroque artists and architects made use of materials accordingly, such as wood for complex designs, stone for durability, and marble for lavish elements. 

Attention to detail is a fundamental aspect of baroque architecture and interior design.

Attention to detail is a fundamental aspect of baroque architecture and interior design.

Trompe L’Oeil

One technique that is commonly used in baroque interior design is trompe l’oeil, which literally translates to “deceive the eye”. As the name suggests, trompe l’oeil is a painting technique that aims to trick the viewers into doubting their own perceptions. This method is essentially based on the Renaissance's interest in perspective. The figures portrayed in such frescoes give the impression that they are coming out of the painting. In addition to the illusion effect, such paintings can also make the interior structures appear more open — almost as if they’re reaching the sky.

Frescoes appearing on walls and ceilings of Baroque buildings often aim to deceive one’s perception.

Frescoes appearing on walls and ceilings of Baroque buildings often aim to deceive one’s perception.

Manipulation of Light

Light plays a key role in theater, indicating whether the scene is joyful or gloomy. The baroque style of architecture is no stranger to the manipulation of light as a way to create dramatic displays of style. Baroque architects created this effect by contrasting projections and complementing them with abrupt recesses and deep cavities. Another method involved forming irregular surfaces to reflect light differently.

The primary elements of baroque architecture that help in manipulating light, however, are the intricate carvings. From afar, these motifs lend the perception of movement by sheltering light as well as shadow. Achieving this effect is also possible by combining various materials, each of which bears light and shadow in a different manner. 

Baroque architects use a variety of different techniques and materials to manipulate light as a way of creating ethereal displays.

Baroque architects use a variety of different techniques and materials to manipulate light as a way of creating ethereal displays.

Illusion of Grandeur

A word that comes to mind when describing interior baroque architecture is “grandeur”, but in reality, it’s quite often the illusion of it. One would need a massive budget to cover the cost of the expensive materials needed to exude divinity and opulence. Such funds, however, weren’t always available, prompting architects to make use of illusion.

Using expensive materials such as marble, gold, and pearls — especially on a large scale — was normally out of the question. However, Baroque architects were brilliant enough to use illusion to give the impression of such materials. For instance, you might think the columns of an altar are made of marble when in reality, they are made of wood but painted over to give the impression of marble. Meanwhile, motifs and other adornments that appear as real gold are in fact painted in gold color to emulate extravagance. 

To give the appearance of splendor, baroque interior designers make use of various techniques such as mimicking gold or marble.

To give the appearance of splendor, baroque interior designers make use of various techniques such as mimicking gold or marble.

Interesting Facts About Baroque Architecture

Baroque Means ‘Imperfect Pearl’

The term baroque was coined centuries after the era as a way of capturing its drama and splendor. However, it originates from the French word that refers to irregularly shaped pearls. 

There Are Two Styles of Baroque

There are two different styles of baroque, namely full baroque and restrained baroque. While the former was mainly common in southwestern Europe throughout most of the 17th century, the latter enjoyed the spotlight in northwestern Europe during the Rococo era in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. 

Baroque is Closely Linked With Colonialism

The extravagance of baroque structures became possible with funding from European colonialism — French and Spanish in particular. Colonial money allowed those in power to build their ostentatious palaces to exhibit superiority.

DS

Written by
Dikran Seferian

Written by Dikran Seferian

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